Sales Management Digest

To Open More Opportunities, Just Listen
Heather Baldwin
In a world where customers and prospects can simply go online to watch demos and read FAQs, sales professionals still have one advantage: They can listen.

Excellent listening skills arm sales reps with valuable clues about how to move the deal forward and tailor a solution specifically to a prospect's needs. Scott Ginsberg, a.k.a. "The Nametag Guy" and founder of Hello My Name Is Scott, a company that advises businesses on branding, offers the following tips for cultivating listening skills that will open opportunities.

Listen to whose comments are important and whose aren't. "In your daily sales activities," says Ginsberg, "ask yourself: Does this feedback truly reflect who I am, or is this person projecting insecure concerns and character flaws?" For instance, Ginsburg's older brother always makes fun of Scott's site; his customers, however, consistently rave about it. Ginsberg's ears know where to tune in. "Who is worth ignoring and where is the gold?" he asks. "When your customers tell you why they didn't place the order or that they had a hard time getting through on Monday morning, that's worth listening to."

Listen to find customers' passions. How? Ask what Ginsberg calls "PFQs" – passion-finding questions. When you do so, customers become relaxed, energized, and open – exactly where you want them to be. Ginsberg's Website offers a list of 85 PFQs to get you started. They range from the simple – "What keeps you busy outside of work?" – to the more thought-provoking – "If you were the last person on Earth, what would you still do every day?" Ask the right question, and customers will walk away thinking they just had one of the best conversations they can remember.

Listen to what's not being said. When a prospect tells you he or she can't pay $40,000 for your product, for instance, what you're being told is that you haven't yet delivered enough value for that price. Learn to hear that underlying message. Learn, too, to key into prospects' initial reactions to your questions. Do they laugh? Stall? Smile? Rant? Perk up? First reactions tell you volumes about their perspective.

Listen, and show it. It's vital that customers know you've been hearing them. Here's how: As your customer conversations are wrapping up, say, "Mr. Jackson, I've been taking notes today, and in about five minutes I'm going to email you a copy of those notes so that we know we're on the same page." Don't make it too fancy or polished; just a bulleted list is fine.

Think you're already a good listener? Ask yourself this question: When was the last time someone complimented your listening skills? If it wasn't in the past 30 days, Ginsberg says you've got some work to do.
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