We hear, on average, 25,000 words every day. But how many do we actually listen to? Research suggests that it is only a tiny percentage.
This is particularly true is sales. We think that to be great in sales we have to have the ‘gift of the gab’. We want to tell our prospects all about our products and services. We talk more than we listen.
But the best salespeople in the world do it entirely differently. They turn the focus on to their customer and they listen deeply. In fact, on average the top salespeople spend 80% of their sales calls just listening.
This is because listening is a powerful selling tool. It gives us clues around our customer needs. It builds trust and rapport. It allows the customer space to talk deeply about their situation. And, done well, it will give you everything you need to build a compelling solution, that recognised the needs and challenges of the customer.
In this blog, we are going to share with you three tips to allow you to improve these important listening skills so that you can transform your sales conversations into stronger, interdependent partnerships.
1. Tune your ear to hear customer problems
Often customers will not tell us specifically that they have a problem and, instead, hint at it through the things they say. For example, at BMS performance, we hear our prospective clients say phrases like this:
“I’m so busy”
“The team just seem so demotivated”
“Half the team haven’t hit target “
These clues hint that there is a deeper problem underneath. Something that we can help with.
Sometimes, however, clues may be more subtle than actual words. It could be the way they sigh, the anxious tone in their voice, their body language, or if you feel the words they say do not match the tone in which they say them.
Have a think of the problems that you can solve with your product, service or solutions. How may your prospects hint that they are experiencing a problem? What clues should you listen out for?
2. Listen to understand (rather than to respond).
A big challenge when it comes to listening is that often we think we are listening when, in fact, we are not. This is because, in the words of Stephen Covey,
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”
There are three levels of listening: hearing, linking and active listening. Only with “active listening” do we listen with the intent to understand.
When we are in ‘hearing’ mode, we hear a problem but are not really listening. We are thinking about our own agenda, our next question and steamrolling the conversation to where we want it to go.
Customer: “Most of our team have already been trained”
Salesperson: “OK, so have you heard of our company? We have 50 offices worldwide…”
When we are in ‘linking’ mode, we hear a customer’s problem but instantly link it to a solution we can provide. Although on the surface it seems we are trying to help, we are actually making assumptions and jumping in too soon with our proposed solution.
Customer: “We have too many people under performing at the moment”
Salesperson: “OK, well we have some great training courses that could be perfect for them….”
When we are in ‘active listening’ mode we hear the customer’s problem and really concentrate on understanding the whole situation. Our focus is on the customer and we are curious to know more.
Customer: “We can’t get people to hit target this quarter”
Salesperson: “Oh really? Tell me about it…”
At this point, we want to ask as many probing questions as possible.
Who… What… When… Where… How… Why…?
Imagine that you are painting a picture in your head about the customer’s situation. Fill in any gaps, colour it in, until you can really visualise it and even feel what they are saying. Only when you understand the situation, and you are certain how you can help, should you offer your solution.
3. Make silence your friend
Many salespeople are scared of silence. We like to fill gaps and keep the customer talking. But silence is a powerful tool. Once you have asked a question, remain quiet. If they are taking time to answer your question, it is probably because you have asked them a good question and made them think. Be courteous of them. Don’t interrupt them, talk over them or fill the silence.
Instead, hold your nerve for a few seconds. Pause. Allow more space in the conversation and they will feel more inclined to open up, fill the silence themselves, and give you the piece of information you really need.
Next time you have a sales call take a second to reflect on the situation. Are you doing all the talking? If so, then you are working too hard!
Take a step back, pause and listen to the customer. Everything you need to know is inside of the customer. Start actively listening to them, understand their situation, and you will soon find you uncover bigger, better and stronger solutions for your customers.