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Sell More by Listening to Your Customers

Sell More by Listening to Your Customers

Much like seeing, smelling or tasting, listening is something we do so naturally that it might seem a little strange at first to concentrate on it, but these are some examples of how you can train your ears to become one of your most effective sales tools:

Sales people aren’t usually known for their shyness. Even if they’re not all complete extroverts, they tend to have enough confidence and charisma to walk into rooms full of strangers and essentially ask them for money. Another top sales skill includes being able to talk to anyone from the most junior employee to the CEO of major firms. Most of all, though, great sales professionals know they need to listen as actively as they talk, or they won’t sell a thing.

It might be easier to define active listening by contrasting it with the passive way in which many of us take in what others tell us — absorbing just enough to keep the conversation going but not really connecting with them. Active listening is about bringing the kind of clarity and focused attention that you would use when trying to solve a particularly challenging problem. As a result, active listening is a technique used in training, counseling and in conflict negotiations, but it’s a powerful technique in sales, too.

After all, even if customers have more or less made up their minds about a purchase, there are still opportunities for sales people to cross-sell, upsell or find other ways to increase the potential value of a deal. Perhaps even more importantly, demonstrating strong listening skills makes it more likely customers will see the salesperson as someone who can become more of a trusted advisor than a vendor or supplier.

When you think about the more data-driven way in which sales teams operate today, meanwhile, active listening will ensure you don’t miss any of the salient details about a customer interaction that could prove useful later. Good data is what makes a CRM such as Sales Cloud even more useful to teams that want to increase their close rates, their share of wallet within a given territory and more.

Much like seeing, smelling or tasting, listening is something we do so naturally that it might seem a little strange at first to concentrate on it, but these are some examples of how you can train your ears to become one of your most effective sales tools:

Preparing to listen

A good sales professional never walks into a customer meeting or calls blindly, but when you’re planning to practice active listening, the prep work becomes critical. Look into CRM and over sales call recordings prior to connecting with the customer or prospect and review any interactions they’ve had with the company to date, for example. What questions might they have raised that have yet to be answered? What kind of impressions or perceptions about the company or its products and services did they convey, or about your competitors? Did they already allude to some pain points?

These are all areas that may or may not come up in the next conversation with the customer, but they help develop a strategy for the conversation beyond merely closing a deal. You’re developing ideas on what you really want to learn about this person, and what clues or cues you should be listening for in order to build an effective discussion that provides value to both of you.

Noting what you hear

You can scribble with a pad and paper. You can type on your laptop. You can jot on a tablet or you can even use your thumbs to write on a smartphone. There are so many ways to take notes today that there’s really no excuse for salespeople to miss any of the important points a customer is going to make.

Some people find note-taking difficult because they’re trying to act almost like court stenographers, capturing every single word that’s being said in the conversation. You don’t need a transcript, however. Think of organizing the way you listen around the following and take notes accordingly:

  • What does the customer need? These can be notes on their goals and their challenges, but it can also be supplementary information that you can supply later on.
  • What must be checked? You may not have all the answers right away. Note the items that will require more research, whether it’s a quote or some other detail.
  • What are the immediate action items? Next steps are critical to moving a deal along. Set firm deadlines for each of these.
  • What are the long-term opportunities? Note other potential sales or offers you might make with the customer, even if you can’t make the pitch right away.

Playing it back

Customers don’t want to repeat themselves or rehash things that have already been discussed. What they do want, however, is some reassurance they’re on the same page as the sales rep and that their needs will be met. Active listeners tend to provide this by playing back a summary of the conversation.

“So here’s what I’m hearing,” they might begin, then offer a bullet-point version of the discussion, using as many of the customer’s own words as possible. This doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it should be accurate. If you’re having the meeting in person, some sales pros use a flip chart or white board to take notes in front of the customer so that this step becomes even easier. If you’re connecting virtually, you can share your screen to do the exact same thing, or even cut and paste the summary notes into a quick follow-up email or text message afterwards.

Listening all over

If you want to go above and beyond as an active listener in sales, consider the fact that there’s a lot to be “heard” outside of a specific customer discussion. Those same people might be sharing things on social media, writing posts for their company blog or speaking at industry events.

Take in what they’re saying through all these channels as well. It will add more context to what they say in direct conversation with you, and they’ll appreciate the fact you’re taking the time to do some extra homework as part of the sales process.

When salespeople prove they’re great listeners, customers may be more open to hearing what they have to say, too. Remember: the best deals come from an ongoing dialogue where both parties appreciate they’ve been heard.

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