January 31, 2008
Successful selling is far more than being a smooth talker. It requires the ability to listen attentively and move within the conversation. This principle is discussed in a ManageSmarter.com commentary titled Build Sales Relationships: Consultative Questioning.
The opening recollection of the author’s first sales position is excellent:
I marched into orientation, ready to close like a champion. That’s when my real learning began. My manager opened training with a startling insight:
“Want to be successful in sales? Keep your mouth shut and your ears open.” His approach contradicted everything I read: He stressed dialogue instead of dominance and questioning in place of presenting. And he always customized his approach based on what the other party shared. In his world, sales was not a game of breaking down a prospect’s barriers. It was a means to identify a solution and determine whether forging a partnership had value to either party.
Consultative selling is a buzzword you hear often in today’s sales world. I’m not sure what that term encapsulates, but the approach is sound. Good questions are the backbone of good qualifying. The ability to listen to the prospect’s answers is the second phase that leads to success.
Listen. Let your prospects open up. Identify what they value in a solution and a business relationship. Listen for what isn’t being said and probe. Your prospects won’t always share the most accurate or pertinent information. Their narrative will naturally be compromised by a lack of exposure to a problem, a discomfort with revealing specifics or even personal biases and agendas. That’s why patience and guidance are so key: the more your prospects talk, the sharper the picture that emerges.
Pre-canned presentations are a thing of the past. It is uncomfortable to watch a salesperson prematurely click into presentation mode. When this happens, you can watch the prospect’s eyes glaze over right in front of you.
Listening to the prospect allows the salesperson to move within the discussion. The author’s point is an important one – typically, prospects do not start the discussion by saying, “Thank goodness you are here. What dollar amount should I write on the check and when can you start?” In fact, they are usually coy about the real problem, depth of a problem or even that they have a problem.
The ability to dig out this information through questions is the key differentiation between average salespeople and superstars. Keep this fact in mind when you are hiring salespeople. Their questions will reveal much about their abilities.