Sales professionals often have to appear more confident than they might actually feel, which means adopting a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach often seems like a great idea. The problem is when they project that same positivity onto their customers and prospects — a mistake experienced reps will describe as “happy ears” syndrome.
When you have your “happy ears” on, for example, sales teams will be filtering out all the potential reasons why a customer or prospect will pass on a product or service. Instead, they hone in on the most encouraging aspects of a client phone call, meeting or e-mail exchange. Those with “happy ears” can turn even the vaguest of “maybes” into “most likely.”
That’s dangerous for a number of reasons. When reps aren’t getting a proper read on buyer intent, they may be putting their company’s entire sales forecast at risk. They’re also limiting their opportunity to learn and grow from each customer interaction by failing to pick up on the signals they’re getting. In some cases they might even jeopardize customer relationships by making assumptions about their plans that just aren’t true.
“Happy ears” syndrome existed long before the advent of technology, but with tools such as Sales Cloud, there’s one sure way to cure it: Data. Listen up:
Before getting too far into a pitch, it’s not uncommon for reps to ask customers and prospects how much they know about the firm’s products, services, value proposition or even their pricing models. The customer or prospect — perhaps not wanting to look out of touch or as though they haven’t done their homework — might nod affirmatively with a slight smile, suggesting they like what they’ve seen and heard so far.
“Happy ears” might take this as evidence that they are pitching to an open-minded and even eager audience. That only sets them up for disappointment later, though, if it turns out the customer or prospect comes back with questions or concerns that could have been addressed a lot earlier in the sales process.
Rather than taking their word at face value, why not look at data in your CRM solution that integrates with marketing automation such as Marketing Cloud to get a better sense of how they’ve engaged with your brand digitally? Some of the data you might want to look for includes:
Number of white paper downloads
Attendance for webinars or virtual events
Open rates and click-throughs to e-mail newsletters or promotional collateral
Web site visits to product landing pages or even blog posts with product backgrounder information
Depending on whether they’re an existing customer or even a well-nurtured lead, your CRM will contain critical information that can provide a reality-check against what someone tells a rep.
“We’re definitely interested,” will be music to someone with “happy ears,” for instance, but those kinds of statements don’t commit anyone to anything. In fact, there could be a number of unforeseen obstacles behind the scenes that reps new to a particular account might be quick to overlook amid positive sentiment.
CRM data could indicate, for instance, how long the purchase cycle for the customer in question typically takes, when budgets are set or updated, who needs to be part of the decision-making process and even what kind of follow-up details they need in order to move ahead with a purchase.
If there are any gaps , reps should look to more experienced peers or even a sales manager with knowledge of the account to supplement what’s already in CRM.
Customers may be willing to prolong a sales meeting because they’re not looking forward to their next meeting. They may have only agreed to hear a pitch because their boss asked them. If they’ve already come close to signing a deal with a competitor, the meeting might just be a quick way to make sure they’re not making a mistake.
It’s not that customers are inherently dishonest, but there are venues where their true feelings are much more likely to come out. One of them is social media. They may not discuss the details of purchases they’re making, but social listening can help sales teams understand what their accounts are up to on a minute-by-minute basis. This includes their triumphs but also their challenges, the questions they’re trying to answer and the content they engage with and share.
The other area where customers tend to be honest -- even brutally honest -- is during service and support conversations. If sales teams are plugged into the questions and issues being resolved through tools such as Service Cloud, their “happy ears” will be quickly removed and replaced with a solid understanding of what customers expect. Setting them up for success earlier in the pitch process may be a critical way to closing more deals.
The great thing about data is that it’s impartial. When paired with the right technology, it tells you what happened, why it happened and (using artificial intelligence such as Einstein) what is most likely to happen next and what you should do.
Data shouldn’t discourage reps or put them in a more negative frame of mind when they approach customers, but it will help ensure “happy ears” don’t lead to errors in nurturing critical relationships and ultimately, growing the business. Instead, the best sales teams leverage data to strategize around worst-case scenarios and ask deeper questions, look for unspoken objections and verify the superficial impressions they get during a customer interaction.
Then, if and when the customer actually does make a purchase, it’s not just the rep’s ears that are happy — they’ll have the proof points that can help propel them forward as they follow up with genuine confidence on their next sales opportunity.
For more ideas on how to help your sales team succeed, check out our ebook, “4 Steps to Transforming Your Sales Process."