Two of my favorite sayings regarding listening come from my work bestie Bill, who always says, “you have one mouth and 2 ears – do the math” and “you learn more with your mouth closed”.
REALLY listening to someone is a true gift. Constantly striving to be a better listener is worth it. When you have a better, fuller understanding of a person; what motivates, scares, and even inspires them, you will attract people and inspire trust and confidence.
Historically, salespeople have been taught that every interaction with a customer or prospect needs to be focused on moving the sale forward. You’ve been taught to mirror body language, you’ve been taught to establish rapport by making small talk. I’m not saying that you must throw critical relationship development skills out the window. If what you are doing comes from a place of 100% authenticity, keep doing it. For a lot of us, though, becoming a better listener will require a real cognitive shift as well as one where we have a different core intention and a different goal.
So how do you do this?
1. Position the situation both internally and explicitly. Your only goal when it comes to talking with a customer or prospect is TO SEEK TO UNDERSTAND. Especially in a new relationship, you are not selling. You are discovering. You are exploring whether a relationship makes sense for both parties. It is advisable to state this at the outset, out loud. For example, “Today my entire purpose is to understand your business challenges and discover if there are any opportunities for me and my company to be of service.” It may be humbler than you are used to. It may seem like you are adding steps to the process. Yes. It may take more time. The person on the other end of the exchange will appreciate your authentic desire not to sell but to understand, and that will pay off for you. I promise.
2. Eye contact. This is basic. But do it any way.
3. This is an oldie but a goodie, so I’m keeping it. Make sure that you understand what a person is saying by repeating back to them what they have said or use their own words in your summary as you prepare to move from one topic to another, or to take the process to the next level. You don’t have to use the tired, “what I think I hear you saying” though. You can try, “It sounds like” or “it seems like what you’re getting at” or any other version. It’s still a necessary step to making sure you’re all on the same page.
4. Ask Deeper Questions. It can be hard to come up with the kinds of questions that will help you turn prospects into customers. Here are a few radical ones: “What’s on your mind?” “Why am I here?” and even more provocative ones like “what are the kinds of circumstances that would need to be present for you to consider trying something new?” It takes courage to ask questions like these. I’d love to hear your favorite questions.
5. Don’t be afraid of the WHY. Even though sometimes it may feel like you put a person on the defensive by asking them a WHY question, there is a lot to be gained and learned by asking them. So, take the time to craft some questions that begin with WHY as long as you are intentional about WHY you need to ask them. Examples include “Why is that important to you?” or “Why did you choose that solution?”
Some parting thoughts. Avoid putting words in anyone else’s mouth. Don’t interrupt. Don’t assume. Let people express themselves. Don’t have preconceived notions about what you think you know. Listen without expectation, without agenda, but just to seek to understand, and reap the benefits.
Check out her book, co-authored by Bill Farquharson: Who’s Making Money at Digital/Inkjet Printing…and How?
As a sales and marketing coach and consultant at Success In Print, Kelly Mallozzi advocates for graphic arts companies to start a revolution and fight to keep print relevant. She may be irreverent, but what she lacks in convention, she makes up for in smart-assery.
Listen to Kelly’s Podcast From The Printerverse: Strategies for Sales Success with Bill Farquharson and Kelly Mallozzi