Asking and listening to make sales: Successful Selling - Jan 2018

By Sandy Smith

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In its purest practice, selling is supplying a customer with something they want or need. The ideal outcome of the transaction is that the buyer and seller are both pleased.

It’s not that simple, of course. Customers need to know the features and advantages of products and services and why they are being offered at such fair prices and with sterling warranties. So salespeople talk. Sometimes loudly. They explain, demonstrate, point out, provide good reasons, guarantee, promise, and on and on. Sometimes they even interrupt their customer or potential customer to make their point. Rarely do we get the image of a sales professional asking a series of thought-provoking questions and then patiently listening for their customer’s response. We have all heard customers say, “They talk too much.” But we have never heard the complaint, “They listen too much.”

Successful sales professionals know that the communication skill that transforms the buyer-seller relationship from skepticism to trust is the ability and willingness to listen to their customers. Listening is more than a step in the selling process.

In her article in entitled “3 Powerful Skills You Must Have to Succeed in Sales,” Sharon Michaels writes, “A key to successfully sharing and selling a product, service or idea, is to ask questions and then listen quietly and carefully to the answers. Many of us try too hard to convince people to buy instead of discovering what our future customer or client really wants, needs and desires from us.” Michaels said that successful listening skills include:
• Asking questions to help your customer make a wise purchase decision
• Listening without an agenda since the process is not about your needs
• Hearing what they want without trying to talk them into something else

In their book, Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others, Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas make the case that knowing the right question to ask is actually far more important than having a ready answer. So, you must be thinking, “What questions should I ask?”

In his article, “The Power of Quiet Selling,” Rob Thomas suggests asking thoughtful questions that help you as a salesman and them as a buyer to understand what the priorities really are. He says, “By asking questions, you invite the prospect’s active involvement. You approach a decision together.” Based on this collaborative approach, Thomas said that his clients see him as a genuinely helpful and trusted advisor.

After this atmosphere of trust has been established, Thomas advises salespeople to “follow up with even more questions to help them reach their own conclusions.”

Of course, the partner skill to asking questions is listening to responses. Michaels suggests taking a relaxed approach. “Too many of us come to the sales table with our own agenda. We are sometimes too busy thinking about quotas, promotions and commissions. A salesperson with an agenda tends to push too hard and often doesn’t listen well.”

She says that a sales representative serves the customer best by finding out what they need, want and expect from whatever is being sold.

In my seminars, I have offered attendees a personal reflection sheet that allows them to assess their own listening characteristics:
• What are some of the common mental distractions that keep me from paying attention to what someone is saying?
• How would a speaker/presenter know that I have lost interest or am not paying attention?
• In what kind of situation and to what kind of people do I tend to talk too much?
• In what kind of situation and to what kind of people do I tend to jump to conclusions or interrupt?
• In what areas do I need to improve as a listener and in what ways can I make progress?
• Identify someone in your personal or professional life that is an effective listener. What makes them effective?

Consider how effectively you interact with customers or potential customers and whether improving your skills at asking pertinent questions and listening to the responses might help you in your sales success. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life that you want if you just give enough other people what they want.”

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