I just came across some research that confirmed what many of us in the profession of educating sales consultant have known for years: That purchasers would be "much more likely" to buy from a sales consultant if that sales consultant would just "listen" to the customer. The survey found that some of the worst offenders were experienced sales consultants.
Listening is one of the four fundamental competencies of a professional sales consultant, and yet, the profession is, in general, so poor at it that most customers remark on our inability to do it well.
Gee, if there is anyone I wouldn’t want thinking I was a poor listener, my customers would be towards the top of the list.
Why is listening such a powerful sales competency? First, it is our primary way of digging beneath the surface of a customer’s needs and uncovering deeper and more powerful needs and motivations. That makes it a primary tool – of which the skillful use separates the master sales consultants from the mediocre. For example, it doesn’t take any skill whatsoever to pick up an RFQ, a set of blueprints, point to a vehicle or to write down a list of what the customer says he needs. You don’t have to be a master listener to do that. But to dig deeper and uncover deeper issues, that takes the ability to listen.
Here’s an example. In a routine sales call with a regular customer, the customer says, “We’re thinking of going another vendor. What’s your price?” Lots of sales consultants would look at the window sticker, or look up the price in their rate sheet, turn on the computer or call the office and provide it. There. Job done.
The master would hear the words “Thinking of going…” and dig a little deeper. “What makes you interested in that?” he says. The customer replies: “Well, we’re looking for a solution for a problem with our production performance, and one of the managers mentioned it as a possibility.”
“I see. What sort of problem are you having in the area of performance? ”
“An abnormally slow recovery period after achieving a certain speed.”
“I may have some other solutions. Can I talk to your production manager?”
I don’t have to take this scenario much further to make the point. A visit with the production manager could very well result in a deeper understanding of the problem and the development of an alternative solution with a whole lot more gross margin to it. The master sales consultant, exercising excellent listening skills, hears opportunities where many sales consultants don’t. Listening is the primary tool for digging deeper and uncovering deeper and more significant issues in our customers.
But that’s not all. When we listen, we send a powerful message that we care about the other person. Conversely, when we don’t listen, we send the message that our agenda is far more important than the customer’s trivial ideas and issues. That makes effective listening one of the all time great relationship-building devices.
Listening requires us to take in information, ideas and opinions that are outside our comfort zones. It is, therefore, one of the primary tools we use to grow intellectually, to broaden our views, and ultimately, to become wiser and more knowledgeable. If we never listen to someone with a different perspective, we never consider the possibility that we might be wrong.
From a sales consultant’s perspective, the more we listen, the more different positions, motivations, opinions and nuances we are able to understand and accommodate. The wiser and more capable we become.
Listening positions us as a consultant, not a peddler, in the eyes of the customer. Ultimately, listening provides us our competitive edge.