Which of the sales professional’s skills do you think is the most important? I think it’s the skill of listening. This underrated skill often gets overlooked since too many people, salespeople included, think that talking is far more important. What you say is important in sales. You can do a much better job of saying something persuasive that compels your prospects and customers to buy when you listen.
Prepare to listen.
You may think that you don’t need to prepare to listen as part of your sales call preparation. You would be wrong. Too many salespeople think that skillful listening will simply come to them. It won’t. Part of becoming a more skilled listener is realizing that listening is more than hearing words. Active listening is taking in what you see as well as what you hear. When you prepare to listen, you will train yourself to focus on the person who is speaking. You will avoid thinking of your answers as the other person is talking. You’ll prepare to notice facial expressions, body position and other nonverbal feedback that will allow you to become a better listener.
Listen with your eyes to identify interest or the lack of it.
Students of communication know what to believe when what people say (the words) mismatch what they do (the nonverbal). Skilled listeners believe the nonverbal. You should be looking for these nonverbal clues as part of your listening strategy. One clue will show you whether your prospect or customer is interested or not.
What does interest look like? An interested prospect or customer will slightly lean in to you when you talk. As you begin your sales conversation watch for changes in body position. Let’s say your customer is leaning back in their chair when you start the conversation. As the conversation continues, you notice they move their upper body and lean in closer to you. That’s a sign of interest. Shorter distance is how we communicate interest. You might have noticed this when standing and talking with someone. When someone moves closer to you they are showing greater interest. Moving away indicates a loss of interest. Similarly, if the sales conversation started with the prospect leaning in and then later leaning away, that would signal a loss of interest.
Another clue about interest that comes from distance is how close your sales and marketing materials are to your prospect or customer. Watch the distance between your prospect and the materials you give him. The closer they are to him, the more interest he has in what you’ve given him.
Listen to uncover psychographics.
A psychographic is how someone thinks or indicates their aspirations and attitudes. An example of psychographics are whether someone is a risk taker or not. Other psychographics show that someone values health and wellness. Other psychographics show people who have a strong sense of personal responsibility. Psychographics influence how someone buys. A risk taker buys because he is comfortable with risk. More risk averse customers don’t tolerate as much risk. They need you to demonstrate that the purchase is less risky before they will be comfortable buying from you. How can you listen and determine your prospect’s or customer’s psychographics?
Ask questions that uncover your prospect’s psychographics. Your sales strategy must include addressing a risk averse prospect’s perception of risk. Ask questions like, “How long have you been working with your current supplier?” Long-time suppliers mean there’s less customer risk. You can ask about food preferences when you take a customer to lunch and learn about their interest in health and wellness. You can learn about a sense of personal responsibility when you ask about deadlines, how work will be delegated or not, and listen to the answers you get.
I often think of words as the tools of a salesperson’s trade. It’s by listening to customers that you are able to determine the right tools to use when you sell.