Listen Up!

I’ve always heard the key to sales is always be closing (ABC, right?)  However, in my experience many salespeople try close too soon or close the wrong sale.

Too many professionals go into an appointment with an agenda.  I.E. I am going to said clients office to close X units of ‘Y’.  But do they even need ‘Y’ at all?  How do you effectively discover a clients needs while still leading them toward a potential purchase?  It starts with listening.

“People like to buy, they don’t like to be sold” -overheard

I started working for Wyndham hotels when I was in college.  The hospitality industry bases all their success on the impression they leave on a customer.  They subscribe to the theory that someone with a bad experience tells 10 people, where someone with a good experience tells one.  They expected to have a good time, that’s why they came to the hotel in the first place , so why would they feel compelled to rave about it?  In their world this means that they need a 91% satisfaction rate, just to break even!

So, what steps do they take to make sure people are happy?  Well, at least when I was there, they taught something very basic.  The method of good communication.  It sounds almost absurd or trivial, but once you do some self analysis, you may find how often you violate the rules.

Here is the process as I learned it, and as I try to implement it today.

1) Listen to the customer– This means listening actively, with confirmation that you are hearing what they say.  This means you are providing an environment and encouragement for them to tell you all their wants and needs.  This means that you are NOT introducing point-counterpoint statements along the way, or addressing issues in isolation as they arise.  You need to hear them out completely.  If they leave out information, you do want to ask for more information where you need it, or ask pertinent questions to keep them moving along the path.  Anything you say in this phase is to keep the customer in a mode of expressing their wants, needs, frustrations, and expectations.

2) Clarify what you heard– We all have filters on when we listen.  The worst thing you can do is launch into a solution after you have patiently listened to the customer describe what they need.  It is not the time.  After the listening is over, you need to restate what you heard, asking for affirmation that it is right. i.e. Mr Jones, as I understand it, you have 3 small children, and you are very interested in family security.  You also have a wife who has dedicated herself to raising the children full time, and who has to manage the home on a daily basis.  It sounds like you are looking for an affordable option, that is easy to use and understand, that does not take time to operate, and that assures the safety of your family while you are away, while minimizing the work your wife has to do in her already hectic day.  Did I hear that correctly?”

At this point he may say “Yes”, or if you missed a priority, he will add it in for you.  This is what clarification is for.  Skipping this step, means launching into a sales pitch on something he may or may not be interested in, and he will become frustrated that you didn’t hear what he said.

3) Offer a solution- Here is where you get to talk.  Play back the items you clarified, and how they address issues or priorities that have been expressed.  Use any information you garnered in the listening process, including names, relationships, etc to position your product in a personal and practical way that makes the reason for its purchase very intuitive to the buyer.

4) Ask for suggestions- In my experience this can be as key as step 2.  Putting an option and its logic on the table is great.  Now you need to put it back in the customers hands.  Not for a take it or leave it decision, but for their thoughts and input.  Take a humble, serving approach to this.  “Based on what you told me, it seems to me at least that this addresses all of your concerns and priorities.  Do you have any suggestions on something I may have left out, or on any part of the proposal that seems unnecessary?”

Open the door for conversation again, giving the client control of their destiny.  This is where they will ask questions, and you can replay any basis for the design/product that you have offered.  It gives you another chance to establish credibility by showing that the basis for everything you proposed is grounded in their specific needs, based on what they themselves said was important.

Remember, this is not about you, they are the hero in the story.  You are the mentor.  You help them get to where they need to go, but the journey is theirs (Thanks Nancy Duarte!).

When you approach sales this way at the start, you will find much less resistance at decision time, as they will buy out of education and need, and not because they were “sold”.

Maybe it should be “ABL”, Always Be Listening?


3 thoughts on “Listen Up!

  1. mark nagle says:

    I tend to do SMALL systems, I am excited to actually sell a complete surround sound,(which I’m lucky if it is $4000) vs installing all the pick and chooses items they have already purchased, or go somewhere else to buy. I tend to give them what they ask for, I struggle to up sell them, When I ask if they would be interested this or that feature, they usually say yes, then my bid is much higher than the “other guys” that don’t ask the questions so don’t include those features. My client base is typically cheap, but they are paying my bills so I have to cater to them.My goal is to do more complete systems, where I control the brands and ultimately outcome of the system. For me it seems to almost always come down to price even if they are losing features in the process.

    I show pics of mine and “the other guys” work, some times they have been referred by 2 or 3 of their friends, and it is always about price. I have good re-pour with clients, once they use me the come back, but the prospects, most of which are referred, are the ones I struggle with, and even the ones that come back dont want to spend much, Now I understand that since I have fulfilled their cheap ness in the past, that is what they expect, and that is what they refer me to. I am trying to build the higher end side so I can slowly slip out of the lower end side.I have been in business for 5 yrs and each year is better than the last, the higher end clients are slowly coming, but still seem to not want to spend much

    I feel that I give them what they ask for but I don’t SELL

    Thanks again for the help

    Mark Nagle
    Infinite Entertainment

  2. avcuracy says:


    I can identify wholly with what you are saying. You love what you do, and do a great job, or you wouldn’t be getting referrals.

    You just need to get pointed in the right direction. I know a couple things that may help. I’ll make them the focus of the next couple posts.

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