When Salespeople Are Talking, They're Learning Nothing

Bill Lee

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When I was in college, the curriculum offered several courses on speaking, but I can’t recall a single one on listening. Yet a minimum of 50% of communication is attributed to a person’s ability to effectively listen. So if you are looking for a way to improve your communications skills with customers, suppliers, coworkers, friends and family members, consider the following six techniques designed to enhance effective listening:

1. Ask well-designed open-ended questions. If you want to be more in control of your sales calls, talk less and ask more questions. When you’re talking, you’re learning nothing, but when you ask good questions, you’re getting inside your customers and prospect’s heads. You’re learning more about how they think and how they make decisions.

Here are several of my favorites:

Question: What criteria do you use when _? The reason for the blank is because this question is so flexible. You can fill in the blank with different words. For example:

Question: What criteria do you use when making a decision to change brands?

Question: What criteria do you use when selecting a supplier?

Question: What criteria so you use when making a buying decision?

Since I am a big believer in consulting selling, it is critical for me to understand what objectives my clients are trying to achieve. If you can help a customer make more money, be more successful or solve their most pressing problems, you will never again have to worry about your income level.

Here is one of my old standbys that should not be used until you have developed a good enough relationship with the customer or prospect to have earned the right to ask it.

Question: When the end of the year rolls around, what sort of evidence do you look for to determine if you’ve been successful or not?

Key: Ask the question and shut up long enough for the customer to answer. Too often, salespeople can stand periods of silence for too short a period of time. So be patient!

When you ask a customer for an order and the customer tells you that your price is too high, try asking this question:

Question: Are you telling me that if my prices were line for line, item for item identical to the competition, that you and I would be doing business?

This question enables the salesperson to determine the “real reason” for a “NO” answer. Here’s another:

Question: If it were not for _, are you telling me that we would be doing business together?

Fill in the blank with words like PRICE or whatever reason (or excuse) the customer offers for not buying.

The best conversationalists have mastered the art of asking probing open-ended questions. People don’t care how much you know until they know you much you care.

2. Lip read. When listening, focus on the person’s lips. Because you are able to think so much faster than another person can speak, it’s natural for your mind to wander as you listen. Avoid actually moving your lips as the person speaks, but silently repeat each word that comes out of their mouth. This technique greatly enhances retention and reduces the tendency to allow your mind to wander.

3. Paraphase. When you are not quite sure that you got the precise meaning of a statement, use the paraphrasing technique; that is, repeat back to the person what you believe you heard him or her say. If you heard correctly, you’ll receive confirmation, but if you heard incorrectly, the other person can set your straight.

4. Ask people to repeat to repeat themselves. Let’s say that you accidentally do allow your mind to wander; we’re all guilty of this communication sin from time to time. Don’t try to fake it, but rather, ask politely: “I’m sorry, I missed your last point. Would you please repeat it?”

5. Resist interrupting. Especially if you are short on patience, you may have developed the bad habit of interrupting before others finish making their point. Get into the good habit of waiting until the other person finishes what they are saying before jumping in with your own two cents worth. Make a quick note to yourself if you want to remind yourself what you wanted to say when you thought about interrupting.

6. Love learning. Once again, when you’re talking, you are learning nothing. When you are listening, you are gaining insight into another person’s experience. If you ask customers and prospects enough well-designed open-ended questions, they will tell you everything you need to know to make the sale.

Bill Lee is a South Carolina-based consultant and sales trainer. He is author of Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line ($29.95) and 30 Ways Managers Shoot Themselves in the Foot ($21.95) http://www.BillLeeOnLine.com


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