If you’ve been in sales for any amount of time, this scenario probably sounds familiar to you….
A sale rep has a meeting with a prospect, and the meeting seems to go great. The prospect has a definite need for the sales rep’s product. The prospect asks a lot of questions about the product and seems interested. The sales rep diligently explains all the benefits and demonstrates how the product would meet the prospect’s needs. It couldn’t go any better.
In her meeting with her manager, the sales rep expresses confidence about the prospect and declares that the sale should close very soon. But then something changes. The prospect won’t commit to a follow-up meeting. Then he won’t return calls at all. The sales rep tries to salvage the sale, but isn’t sure what went wrong.
Eventually, the sale falls out of the pipeline and the sales rep is left to wonder what happened. Her product was exactly what the prospect needed. The price seemed to be right. He didn’t have any major objections. Where did things go off-track?
This happens all the time in sales. A deal that has strong potential just never comes together for some reason. If you’re a salesperson, you’ve experienced it. If you’re a sales leader, you’ve probably heard it from your team.
In my experience working with salespeople and sales organizations, I’ve found that there’s one big reason why many potential deals never get off the ground. It’s not that the salesperson is unprofessional or unskilled. It’s not that the product is wrong or the pricing is too high.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve talked to a salesperson about a prospect and the salesperson doesn’t know even the most basic facts about the potential deal. Why is the prospect interested? What is their primary need or fear? What would keep them from going through with the deal?
Salespeople don’t know this information because they aren’t really listening to the prospect in the meeting. Sure, they heard what the prospect said, but they didn’t take time to comprehend what the prospect meant. It makes it hard to move the relationship forward when you don’t know what your prospect is trying to achieve.
Today, more than ever, buyers want to know that you’re on their side. They want you to be part of their team, helping them find the best solution to their challenge. To do that, you have to listen to them. That’s not just hearing their words, but truly understanding what their words, body language, and inflection really mean. When you comprehend their meaning, you can elevate the relationship and work with them to find the best solution.
The good news is that it’s not hard to become a better listener. You just have to be mindful of your listening and make an effort to be better. If you do that in every conversation, you’ll soon become a more active listener by habit.
Here are three steps you can take today to become a more engaged and active listener in your sales meetings:
Clear your space – both physically and mentally.
Multi-tasking is never a productive activity. That’s especially true when one of the tasks is listening. It’s nearly impossible to be a good listener when your mind is focused elsewhere.
Before you go into a meeting with a prospect, take some time for a quick pre-meeting ritual to clear your physical and mental space. First, rid yourself of anything that won’t be needed in the meeting. Pens, computer, cell phone, notebooks…..whatever you have on you, don’t take it into the meeting unless it’s something that will be of use.
When you get into the meeting, neatly set out the most important items, such as your pen and notepad, so that there’s nothing else that on the table to steal your attention. This act of physical decluttering will help set your mind to the fact that this meeting is your sole focus and your thoughts shouldn’t wander to your flashing cell phone.
Also, take a minute to mentally declutter. Jot down the stressing items that could pull on your attention during the meeting. What are you worried about? The meeting with your boss later in the day? Getting your kids from school and to soccer on time? How you’re going to pay for the new air conditioner at home?
Whatever is causing you stress or anxiety, write them down on a list and leave that list somewhere for when you get back. That’s a good way to tell yourself that these items are important, but they can wait and you will get to them later. That should free your mind to only focus on the meeting at hand.
Pause and paraphrase.
You’re not alone. We all do it. Your prospect is talking. A thought pops into your head. You don’t want to interrupt, so you hang onto the thought. Then as soon as your prospect stops talking, you immediately blurt out what you were thinking.
The problem with this is that instead of listening to your prospect, you’re focused on your response. You may be losing valuable information about the prospect’s fears or concerns or why they may go with a competitor instead of you. Prospects usually aren’t upfront about this kind of information, so you have to absorb every word to look for signals.
If you’re thinking about your smart retort, you’re not going to be receptive to those signals.
Instead, get in the habit of pausing before you speak. Take a second to comprehend what they’ve said. If you’re unsure, paraphrase what they told you before moving forward with your own comments.
For example, you could say….
“Just to make sure I’m understanding you……” or “So you want this kind of solution but also want these features….”
Your prospects will appreciate the check-in and that you’re taking time to genuinely listen to their concerns. And by pausing and paraphrasing before you speak, you’ll force yourself to listen to their words. After all, you can’t paraphrase what you don’t hear.
Practice active empathy.
Listening goes hand-in-hand with being empathetic. As I mentioned earlier, your prospects want to know that you’re on their team. You can’t fake that. Buyers are too savvy. They can smell a disingenuous salesperson a mile away.
Being empathetic simply means that you understand their perspective. You may not agree with it. You may not think they’re right. But you understand how they feel and why they feel the way they do.
The next time you’re in a meeting with prospect, try to look past their words and get to the root of their concerns. Put yourself in their shoes. If they’re a buyer at a big retail organization and they’re balking at your prices, think about why. Better yet, ask them why.
Maybe you’ll find out that they have a manager who makes life difficult if they go over budget. Maybe you’ll find out that they made a buying mistake last month and they’re being overly cautious because they can’t make the same mistake this month. If you know that information, perhaps you can structure your pricing or product to help them out.
If a business owner seems hesitant, ask them about it so you can get to the true feeling. Maybe cash flow is tight and they’re afraid the ROI on your service won’t justify the expense. Perhaps they’ve had bad experiences in the past and are afraid of having another one.
Sales is about people. People want to buy from other people who they like, respect, and trust. You can’t fake your way to earning someone’s trust. The only way to get there is by being empathetic and working to understand their thought process.
It will take some practice, but with time you can become a more active and empathetic listener. Once you get there, you’ll find yourself asking more questions and learning much more about your prospects. With that information in hand, you can move the relationship forward and prevent the deal from disappearing into thin air.
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