Oh, our wicked ways!
A reading of much of the Old Testament sounds like a modern day sales meeting-a great deal of hearing, very little listening of what is being said.
When we read those passages where the Israelites hear the words being spoken but understand nothing because they don't really listen, we self-righteously tend to think "oh, those evil Israelites, they deserve all the wrath that descends upon them." And in reality, they do.
But listen in on many of our sales calls and the only conclusion we can come to is "oh, that wicked salesperson, they deserve all the failure that descends upon them," for we salespeople tend to be just as guilty of hearing without listening as the Israelites 2,500 years earlier.
Just as the wages of sin is death, the wages of not listening to our prospect is the equivalent of death in sales-no sale.
The problem is most of the time we aren't even aware that we're not listening because it is just plain human nature to hear what we want to hear and to be thinking about what we want to say instead of what our prospect is saying.
No, I don't think listening is the natural human state. Talking is. Probably more correctly is talking without thinking is the natural human state.
In terms of hearing, what is natural is to be thinking of our rebuttal while the other is takling and to be listening for the words we want to hear and to skip over the ones we don't.
Listening, really listening to what is being said rather than what we want to hear, is something we have to learn to do.
We have to force ourselves to concentrate on the words being said by our prospect which means consciously NOT thinking about our next statement.
We have to force ourselves to listen to the meaning of our prospect instead of reading into their statement what we want to hear.
Let me give a couple of recent examples from a couple of my coaching clients. Names have been changed but the words are real:
"Paul, I've got a great referral coming from one of my new clients," said Richard. "He said he'd talk to his business partner and see if he could set up a lunch meeting with the three of us."
A few days later I got this email reply when I asked if he had spoken with his new client about the referral lunch: "He said he hadn't spoken to him yet and probably wouldn't anytime soon since his partner is in the process of getting a divorce and is in a surly mood and pre-occupied most of the time."
That's not what I was expecting. I asked Richard what led him to believe his client would be setting up a lunch meeting. He said he had recorded his session with the client as he often does and would play the referral meeting request section for me if I wanted.
Here's what his client actually said: "Well, I'll see if I can set up a lunch with Don. I'm not sure now is really the right time since he's got some really serious personal issues he's dealing with, but I'll see if maybe there might be a good time to ask in the next few days. If now isn't good, can we wait until he has worked through the issues that are occupying him right now?"
My client heard "I can set up a lunch meeting with Don." The rest, to Richard, was just filler. He heard the words he wanted to hear.
What I heard most loudly was "If now isn't good, can we wait until he has worked through the issues that are occupying him right now?" The client wanted to help Richard but was obviously uncomfortable asking Don for the meeting at this time and was asking permission from Richard to wait for a better time but Richard didn't hear the request because it wasn't what he wanted to hear, consequently he was disappointed and a bit upset when the referral lunch didn't happen.
Another example happened last week when I was doing a web meeting "ride along" while one of my clients was doing a web based presentation to a prospect. I was a silent attendee of the presentation, in the background as an observer only.
My client, Henri, was sailing along with the presentation when the prospect said "I really like this. I need to get you set up to do this for Grace Turner; she's the one I'm using to compare the various systems and will make the final recommendation."
Henri, in a stunned voice, said "I'm sorry, Bill, I understood you to say that you were the decision maker on this."
"I am," he replied, "but Grace is the primary evaluator of the systems. She is the one who is comparing each of the systems, so will be the one making the final recommendation and I seriously doubt I'll not take her recommendation. I thought you understood that last week when we set up this meeting and I said I'd see if Grace could sit in on the presentation also."
"I'm sorry, Bill, I guess I should have asked what role Grace would be playing in the process."
Henri heard what she wanted to hear-Bill was the decision maker and therefore she ignored anything and everything else. In her mind she had THE MAN. And she did in terms of who would authorize the purchase. But she failed to listen when he indicated there was someone else involved in the decision process. Henri believed that since he was authorizing the purchase, he was the only person she needed to influence.
Ouch. Both of these situations were easily avoided with just a bit of careful listening.
So if not listening is our natural state and we have to force ourselves to listen, how do we do that?
Concentrate on the Prospect: Hard to do, at least at first, but the single most effective thing you can do is to consciously concentrate on each word your prospect says.
Focus on Context and Agreement: While listening to your prospect, consciously focus on what your prospect is saying in the context of the overall discussion. Are there hidden meanings? Is the prospect giving a subtle message between the lines (i.e., "please give me permission to wait to ask Don for the lunch meeting")? Also, do the words your prospect is saying match their body language? Concentrating on what they are saying in context and examining to make sure words and body language are in agreement force you to really concentrate on what is being said.
Pause Before Talking: When we're anxious to get our point across we tend to interrupt and break into our prospect's discourse. Not only is this rude, it is a solid indication we really aren't listening. Wait two seconds after your prospect finishes talking before putting your mouth in gear. Not only will this keep you from stepping on your prospect's tongue, that pause gives you a bit of time to think of your response and if you know you have time to construct your thoughts, you will feel less pressure to construct your rebuttal while not listening to your prospect.
Restate Your Prospects Statements: Once your prospect has finished their statement, reword it back to your prospect to make sure you understand. Say something like, "So, Ms. Prospect, I understand that your concern is . . ." or "I want to make sure I fully understand, you are suggesting that . . . . "
Although hardly natural for most of us, listening is a skill we can-and as sellers must-learn.
Now, go my children, listen well and sin no more-and if you catch me slipping up and interrupting you, obviously thinking about my next argument while you're talking, or just plain ignoring what you're saying, feel free to remind me that I deserve all of the sales failure I'll experience.
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