Sales Listening
and Sales Questioning

The best way to make sales is by applying sales questioning and listening to understand what the customer wants.

Henry Ford knew this when he said,
"If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as from your own."

Furthermore, did you know that most Fortune 500 companies require listening training, even though many employees think it's a waste of time. The truth is, poor listening skills account for the majority of communication problems. Studies show that poor listening skills are still responsible for 60 percent of all misunderstandings.

Dale Carnegie wrote many years ago, 
"that listening is one of the most crucial human relations skills."

And ... Listening is how we find out people's code, preferences, desires, wants, and needs. It is how we learn to customise our message to our prospects. Of all the skills one could master, listening is probably the one that will pay you back the most. There is a positive relationship between effective listening and the ability to adapt to your audience and persuade them.

I’ve written about follow up and the language we use, maybe it’s time we looked at the other side of the sales partnership ? 

The client.

Client's Complaints About Salespeople's Listening Skills

Top Listening Complaints:

  • Jumping to conclusions.
  • Constantly interrupting.
  • Already having a predetermined solution.
  • Little eye contact.

Good listening is not just looking at someone and nodding your head in agreement. You must acknowledge what is being said and let the other person know that you understand. The more you can acknowledge what is being said, the greater ability you have to persuade and influence.

My Sales Mentor's Advice on Listening

In my early days in sales, I had an astute boss and mentor. 

He always reminded the sales team that,
"you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that ratio". 
(i.e listen twice as much as you talk)

Listening is THE most important aspect of sales. 

The more you can understand about your prospect, the more likely you’ll make the sale. 

I don’t just mean listening to the words your prospect says but also to the tone of voice they use and their reactions. 
(if you are face-to-face).

After all it was Dale Carnegie who said,

"You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you." 

So, why do we struggle with listening?

1. We talk too much.
Just like my first sales mentor said, and I mentioned above

2. Thinking About Our Response.
Instead of thinking about what the other person is saying and trying to understand their position, we often think about what we want to say next or where we want the conversation to lead. We often focus on our own agenda rather than the other person’s needs.

3. Jumping in too soon (interrupting)
This was covered in the book “SPIN Selling” as a major cause of failure to close big sales. The unsuccessful sales people saw an opportunity and went into their close routine immediately. SPIN suggested to be patient, wait, draw out the situation more and get the client deeply involved in their problem or the possible benefits they might gain.

4. We drift instead of concentrating
We talk at a rate of 120 to 150 words per minute, but we can think at 400 to 800 words per minute. This allows us time to think in between words that are being said. We can pretend to listen while we are really thinking of something else.

5. We don't Focus on the prospect.
Now this shouldn’t be rocket science, should it?
It’s obvious, isn’t it ?

You want to convince the other person to act. So, first you must find out where they are at and then determine how and if your product or service will benefit them.

Yet I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched a senior person from a company droning on enthusiastically about the virtues of his company or his new product while the customer sat glassy-eyed and totally disinterested.

The distinction here is to be interested in your prospect’s business rather than trying to interest them in your product or service.

Eliminating these bad habits will raise you up a level in your sales results.

Consider employing Active Listening Techniques to further enhance your sales results.

Non- Verbal Communication

It's not just about listening to the words they speak.
I hinted about this a couple of sections ago.

Have you ever considered the silent language of non-verbal communication in your sales conversations?
It's a language that speaks volumes.

Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice - these elements can whisper, shout, or sing about a prospect's feelings and attitudes.
For instance, isn't it true that a prospect leaning in, eyes locked on yours, signals interest, while crossed arms might raise a red flag of skepticism or defensiveness?

Decoding these non-verbal cues can be your secret weapon in sales. It's like having a backstage pass to your prospect's mind, helping you gauge their level of interest, sniff out any reservations, and fine-tune your approach on the fly.
Imagine you detect a hint of frustration in a prospect's tone of voice.
Wouldn't you slow down, clarify your points, or invite them to share their thoughts?

But here's the catch - it's not just about reading the signs; it's also about sending the right signals. I call this being congruent.
Your own non-verbal communication can be a powerful ally.

Positive body language, such as maintaining eye contact, nodding to show understanding, and subtly mirroring the prospect's body language, can help build rapport and put the prospect at ease.
And let's not forget the power of your voice.
A confident and enthusiastic tone can captivate your prospect, making your product or service come alive in their mind.

Selling Has Changed

The old image of the salesperson is that of a flashy, quick talker.

I think that salespeople are (for the most part) not like that anymore.

However, many salespeople spend a lot of time putting together a presentation that will be interesting to their prospects where they would often be better served just cultivating an attitude of curiosity about their prospects business, learning how to ask questions effectively and knowing their own product or service well enough to recognise when it could solve a problem that the prospect is facing.

When you listen to your prospect you hear their wants and if you sound interested and curious you may find out a lot of detail about how their business works.

If you ask the right questions and listen carefully, you may also be able to find out your prospect's pain (what keeps them awake at night) or what they would really like to achieve and what they perceive as being important.

Then, from that point you may be able to determine what they need (as distinct from want) and frame your offer based upon what they think is important.

That means being patient and asking more questions to clarify.

Sound confusing ? 

To Clarify

Let’s clarify what I’m saying with a simple example.

A prospect comes into hardware store to buy an electric drill.
The salesperson from that department is interested in drills and proceeds to advise the customer about the pros and cons of each of the brands available.
The customer chooses a brand of drill and buys it. 
Has the salesperson done their best ? 
The sale is made ?

I would argue that the salesperson should have done more.

Personally, I would ask why the customer wanted the drill.
It may just be to replace an old drill that has broken. 
In which case it would be fine to proceed down the path that the salesperson took.

What if the customer said he was making a certain piece of furniture and he thought an electric drill would speed up the process ? 
He was busy and couldn’t afford to spend much time on the project. 
You may then enquire more about the piece of furniture and discover you have exactly what he was looking for already in the store, assembled. 
You sell a $200 piece of furniture rather than a $50 drill. 
The customer’s time is saved. 
The customer would be ecstatic.

Where Does the Word "Sales" Come From ?

Do you know the origins of the word "Sales" ?

It comes from the Norwegian word " Selje" ,
which translates literally " TO SERVE ".

I believe that the sale of the furniture served the customer better than the sale of the drill. 
And you know what ? 
The only way to find out is to be interested in what your prospect is doing.
Interested enough to ask. 
And to keep asking and listening until you understand. 
Only then can you be sure you are truly serving your client.

Zig Ziglar has said, 
"Your attitude determines your altitude" 

I believe if you want to climb the heights in the sales game, you need to develop an attitude of curiosity about your client's needs and ask enough questions so that you can serve them better.

Here's to YourSalesSuccess.