Stop-Look-Listen

Long ago, a trusted friend and mentor gave me an insider’s tip to success. He took me aside, and in hushed, semi-secretive tones said simply,

You know, there are only two rules for success in business. The first one is: Don’t tell everything you know.”

As I moved to the edge of my seat anxiously awaiting the revelation of the all-important second rule, he just looked at me with a knowing smile, patiently waiting for the significance of the first rule to sink in.

I finally caught on, to his obvious delight. He wasn’t going to tell me rule number two, because if he did, he would have violated rule number one!

In this simple exchange, I realized three important lessons:

a. The value of speaking clearly,

b. The secret of listening actively,

c. The importance of live communication

Further, the consequence of not maintaining a proper balance between these three elements may be even more important.

New sales people often think they have to become expert at fast-talking to convince the prospect to buy from them. The exact reverse is true.

To become expert in selling, you have to become an expert in listening and responding appropriately.

You may be talking too much – listening too little – and selling less than you could and should be as a result. More often than you may think, you could be talking someone out of the deal, rather than getting him or her interested in doing business with you.

Yes, it is commonly accepted in the sales business that you are paid to talk to people, get them interested, to give presentations, generate and present proposals, and close deals. And all of this requires an almost constant outflow of communication, right?

Well, not exactly.

While you do have to become comfortable and competent in speaking to people, a total focus on this element of the job and a neglect of the elements will leave you wondering why you aren’t closing more contracts. A slight adjustment in the way you approach selling could give you greater returns–and in less time–than you ever imagined.

All you need to do is stop talking for a moment, and begin listeninging. It is the mark of the master salesperson, the true professional, who understands how, why, and, most importantly, when to speak, and when to keep his mouth shut and listen.

Most salesmen talk too much

True story: One very able salesman I know monitors how much he is talking by whether or not he is getting dizzy while continuing a fire-hose-like approach to his presentation.  Not that he is uninteresting, but the avalanche of words is almost too much for anyone. The listener reaches the point of saturation, and eventually turns off entirely. Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon in the sales profession.

Now, it’s easy to point fingers at blowhard salesmen from our own experiences as buyers:

The car salesman who talks non-stop through the whole test-drive. The unbidden phone solicitor. The open house real estate agent who won’t leave you alone for a moment and insists on rapid-fire narrative through the whole tour.

When you try to get a word in edge-wise, it seems these CO2 machines grudgingly let you blurt out your question or comment, then continue with complete disregard to your concerns.

Whatever the individual reasons behind it, it is a very real situation that affects adversely far too many otherwise able salespeople. But, as with bad breath, people don’t normally mention it. They just go away as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, some salesmen never realize the value of listening. Why? Because they become stunted by an early fluke success.

Every now and then the sales filibuster approach actually works, as a prospect becomes so spellbound with the “magical” presentation before him that he hypnotically signs whatever is put under his pen.

The salesman then credits that experience as the key to his success. But this is nearly the worst thing that can happen.

As time passes, he still continues working acting as a green rookie – despite years of experience under his belt – filling every available bit of space with the sound of his own voice.

So what’s the answer, anyway?

Well, if you suppress the urge to over-talk, fight back the fears that cause it, and relax, you will begin to really see those presently in front of you. And, I think you’ll agree, they are not threatening in the main. Instead, they are mostly there to gain something from the interaction with you. You’ll find they are usually willing to let you entertain, enlighten, and inspire them – adding a little life to what is often an otherwise dull and ordinary day.

From your position as a potential source of help for them, you have the opportunity to really see what they want, what they are reacting to, positively or negatively, and handle accordingly. There will never be any canned, memorized script that substitutes for a real live person communicating to the prospect. This is your big advantage. Most of the people you are talking to have never really been communicated to before.

Live communication (not a canned or memorized script) in the fullest sense of the word, is probably the second most desired element of human interaction. Yet it is so seldom found, that if you can accomplish this in your sales efforts, you will be noticed – if only from the lack of competition in this arena. You’ll be in “rare air,” and stand out from the crowd, that’s for sure; and in this over-communicated society, you can use all the help you can get!

The moral is: you can’t hope to succeed consistently if you only communicate to people and not with them. Of necessity, you must engage in communication with them; it must be a mutual exchange.

Now, since I’ve designated communication as our buzzword, we’ll take a closer look at it.

Luckily, it’s is not difficult to know about, understand, and apply.

Communication
We frequently hear that communication is the stock in trade of the professional salesman, but what does this mean in the real world?

It seems that communication is interpreted commonly to mean just talking. Indeed, when you are speaking, you are communicating. But if your communication is never received by anyone or if you never connect with anyone else by any means of exchange, it becomes a solitary exercise.

Now, there might be some therapeutic value in this much like punching a heavy bag for thirty or forty minutes, but for our purposes it is useless. Without becoming too philosophical about it, there simply has to be someone putting something out there and connecting with someone else who receives it.  All leading to a willing interchange of ideas.

Merriam-Webster agrees, defining “communicate” as an act of transmitting or exchanging information, making something known; or, to connect one with another.

Minimally then, we can say that communication is composed of the following:

  1. The ideas we deliver (the sales presentation and other information exchange).
  1. The ideas the prospect delivers (concerns and requests regarding the product).
  2. The interaction and mutual interest that is accomplished as a result of this connection.

Though we may be accused of being a bit simplistic, it would appear that if we were able to duplicate merely the fundamental definitions and apply them, we might be light-years ahead of the competition.

The major hurdle is getting everyone on the same page at the same time, gaining agreement, and thereby generating some “mutual interest.” This is when deals are made. There is a greater willingness to compromise, to work to get the deal done. So how do you reach this ideal state of becoming interesting to a prospect?

We already know that stale patter and a relentless torrent of rhetoric does the opposite: It interests your prospect only in figuring out the nearest exit.

Surprisingly, the most effective way to get someone interested in you is to be interested in the customer and find something you both have in common.

This is counter-intuitive, but remarkably effective. Interest is commonly expressed as curiosity, and as such, it creates a “reach” or “desire” in the direction of something or someone. In turn, your interest becomes itself a cause for curiosity.

If you doubt the effectiveness of this principle, use it for a few days and see what happens. You’ve got nothing to lose. I think you’ll discover that when you find things about people in which you can be genuinely interested, they will suddenly find you more interesting in return!

Applied to sales, this is helpful in fostering a fertile relationship of communication interchange. It is in this environment that most successful sales are conceived, nurtured, grown, and finally delivered.

Happily, there is a definite action we can take to create that environment.  So let’s take a closer look at a subtle aspect of communication that will lead directly to increased sales.

The secret
Assuming you’ve already introduced yourself and your product or service in quick, broad strokes, your first step is . . . ask a question.

Why? How? When? Who? Where? Almost any variety of questions will work. Three important things happen when you do this:

1. You withdraw slightly, thus creating a perception of distance that will allow the prospect to reach toward you and contribute something of their own.

2. You find out more about him through his answers.

3. You remain in the driver’s seat.

For clarification, a delivered communication is a “reach” while shutting up for a second or two to listen is a “withdraw.” Thus, the chain of events would be to “reach” to the prospect, then “withdraw” to listen to what he says in response to your question.

As a salesman, you have to let the prospect in on the process. Let him add something. Ask a question. Let him fill up the space verbally or mentally. Relax and give him a chance to tell you what he really wants. And that’s really what you want to know, isn’t it?

They’ll often tell you the exact way to solve the problem confronting you if you just ask.

One successful salesman I know uses this concept to good advantage when handling a tense situation simply by saying, “Now, help me out here.“

He then asks the prospect a question designed to get him talking about his thoughts and concerns.

For example:

So, what are you hoping to accomplish here?”

“How would you describe the problem?”

“So far, what would you add to what we’re talking about?”

The key is to solicit input and then let them talk and pay attention to what they say, don’t just think about what you’re going to say next.

If the prospect does have a serious objection, the over-talkative salesman will never find it out until it is too late. Never forget that the objection you fail to uncover and handle will often come back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Now, when it’s your turn to talk, address what the prospect has told you as completely as necessary, but don’t overdo it.

Give him what he needs, not more or less. Answer his question. Align your answer to what information he needs to feel comfortable, not to how much you may know about the subject.  Again, refer to the only two rules for success in business from the beginning of this article.

The big punch line here is that the whole enterprise becomes ridiculously easy if you break it down to its basic fundamentals.

Establish contact by whatever effective means at your disposal, but always based upon an interest in the prospect and how you can help him achieve his goals.

Impart information that he can understand, and orient your product or service to his needs and wants.

Listen to his opinions and ideas, while still communicating, to build agreement, confidence, trust, and mutual understanding.

Demonstrate how he will benefit directly by use of your services until the “benefit light bulb” goes on in his head about why he should do business with you.

After all, the prospect is probably telling you over and over – in subtle and not so subtle ways – exactly what they really need and want from you and your company.  Show them how they can get those things from you and they’ll actually help you close them.

Think about that for a second.

They are telling you how they can be sold – but only if you stop talking, look at the prospect in front of you and listen to what they’re telling you.

You just might discover that they are trying to tell you how they can be sold, if they can just get a word in edge-wise!

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