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THOUGHTS ABOUT SALES AND STRATEGY IN THE 21st CENTURY – Part 3 (Active Listening)


Listen Actively

In the previous two posts, we’ve discussed ways to staying focused on the needs of the buyer as well as the need to create clarity.  Today’s post will look at “Active Listening” as a way to change a buyer’s vagueness into clarity.

As previously mentioned, one of the key principles to keep in mind is that most customers don’t care about what we do or how we do it.  They don’t really care about our past successes unless it closely ties into their situation.  And they don’t care about our fancy tools, or all of our continuing education, or how skillful we are at hiring qualified workers.  They may be polite and let us ramble on about how good we and our product or service is, but in the end all they really care about, besides price, is  WHAT WILL THEY BE LEFT WITH AFTER WE’RE GONE!

I read an article some time back that stuck with me because of a specific quote that I thought was both simple and profound.  I wish I could give credit to the author but I have no idea who it was, but here’s the quote:

  1. “Most of us like to talk and be heard,” and
  2. “Most of us don’t like to listen because, well, we’d rather be talking and being heard!”

Simple, right?  But it also shows one of the biggest obstacles we’ll run into when trying to make a sale:  Ourselves!  So how can we listen for what the customer is REALLY saying, and then determine if we are a good solution?

The first rule is:  Stop Talking!

The second rule is:  LISTEN!  When listening, make an effort to listen to them IN THEIR ENTIRETY and avoid adding your own suppositions.  Rather than planning your response, allow their real needs and concerns to sink in before responding.

Here are some other tips on how to make certain you are REALLY HEARING what the customer is saying:

QUESTION:  Ask relevant questions throughout the conversation.  Customer-oriented questions are most valuable, such as:

  1. “What are you looking to achieve?”
  2. “When we are finished with this assignment, what will success look like?”
  3. “Looking back a year from now, what will need to happen now to convince you that you made the right choice?”

REPEAT/PARAPHRASE:  Repeat or paraphrase what the speaker is saying.  (Obviously, don’t overdo or you’ll become really annoying!).  Paraphrasing what the customer is saying will not only reinforce it in your own mind, but it will assure the customer that you care enough to listen closely.

CLARIFY:  Use open questions in effort to clarify any confusion.  The simple act of clarifying will make certain that your mind is in the hear-and-now rather than looking for an oasis in the desert!

SUMMARIZE:  Periodically summarizing what the customer has been saying will help you to remember the key points for when you need to respond.

TAKE NOTES:  Even if you are an attentive listener, which you’re probably not, and you use all of the tricks we just discussed, which you probably won’t, you’ll forget 90% of what you discussed by the time you get back to the office to draw up a proposal.  And taking notes portrays a sense of importance to the customer, which is important.

So once you’ve listened actively to understand what the prospective client’s needs and concerns are, and you’ve focused questions based on their needs, the next tool you need is story telling!  A well prepared story will explain your product or service far better than rambling on about the details of how you do what you do.  And that will be the 4th and final installment of this series.