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Listening - the secret to sales success

You have probably heard about the shift in the buying process from sellers to buyers. With information more readily accessible to buyers, it is becoming more difficult for your sales team to engage and connect with prospects. So, how have you countered this so far? Put more pressure on your marketing team to build brand awareness? Write more content or send more emails? How about more training?  Building upon a fundamental skill that doesn't get taught in school can be what sets your sales team apart from the competition. 

Let me get straight to the point and quote one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink, "You suck at sales because you're a horrible listener." There, I said it. But that's alright, we are all terrible listeners until we learn how to listen in the correct way. 

Selling is not about having the best sales pitch anymore. Buyers don't want that. They are seeking education and engagement. Your job in a sales role is to build that expertise, authenticity, and trust with the buyer. How do you do that? First, you can utilize old-school selling techniques to build expertise. Second, you can utilize modern technologies to allow for social listening. Finally, you can invest deeply into sales and marketing alignment, driving improvements to sales process for a total customer experience that meets today's buying demands. 

ATTUNEMENT

In Daniel Pink's book, To Sell is Human, he defines the new ABC's for selling. Pink states that selling is moving away from the used car salesman mantra of always-be-closing to attunement, buoyancy, and clarity. The one that has resonated with me the most is attunement. As defined by Pink, attunement is getting out of your head and into someone else's. Take a look at the situation through their eyes. 

We are often biased in our thinking as we start to formulate our response to someone before they're even done speaking. Admit it, we are all guilty of this. On average, most people usually only remember about 17 to 25% of the things they listen to. When your mind starts to respond before the other person is done speaking you could miss vital cues and retain even less of what they are actually saying. It's important to pause and refocus on their perspective. Find out what they really think about your product or service by finding the true meaning behind their words. Don't hesitate to ask questions. 

Some of the best learning experiences can come from understanding someone's viewpoint and then using that as a way to connect with other customers later down the road.  However, don't confuse attunement with empathy as empathy focuses on people emotions, not their perspective. 

ACTIVE LISTENING 

Active listening is concentrating on what is being said so that you can understand and respond appropriately. A term most people know but may not be that effective at. If this is not a strong suit for you or your team, there are many things you can start practicing to improve your skills.  

The great thing about listening is that you don't need to wait 6 months for a certificate. You can start now!

Set Intentions

Prior to your meeting, set your intentions for the conversation. What do you want to get out of this meeting? Is your goal to sign them up for a demo? Or is it to gain their trust so they want to continue learning more about your product? Either way, it sets the tone and the direction in which the conversation should move. 

Then listen for keywords or phrases so you can respond accordingly and guide the conversation towards your goal. By not setting your intentions it will be easy for your conversation to get off topic.

Body Language

If the conversation is face to face, be aware of how you are using your body to demonstrate that you are listening. Do you have an open body posture? Which way are your feet facing? I attended the HubSpot Inbound 2017 conference this year and went to Kit Pang, Founder of BostonSpeak, session on effective listening. I didn't realize it before but Kit pointed out that your feet point you in the direction you truly want to go, even if it is inadvertent.  

Using an example from Mr. Pang's presentation, consider your body language and feet placement when you are walking out the door as someone is still telling you goodbye. Which way are your feet facing? Most likely towards the door. What type of message are you sending? Depending on the type of person that message may not always be clear to them but you are signaling that for you the conversation is over and you are now leaving. 

Words only convey about 7% of what you're trying to say. While the other 93% is communicated through facial expressions and the tone of your voice. While working in hospitality, we would always be reminded to smile when we spoke with guests or prospects. May seem like a silly reminder but it can be surprising how often we let our true emotions reflect through our facial expressions. Body language can speak louder than words so make sure that your body demonstrates that you are truly listening.

Even on conference calls, body language can be crucial. Surprising or not, if you are slouched at your computer while giving your presentation, that can be heard in your tone. Sit up straight, be square with your computer, and focus all attention on your prospect. Face to face or over the phone, don't miss out on closing a deal because your body language is sending a message to your prospect that you don't care about what they are saying.

Demonstrate Understanding

Along with setting intentions and focusing on body language, you need to demonstrate that you understand what they are saying and that you can relate. Maintain your attention by asking questions and summarizing what they are saying. This is a good way to keep your mind in check and help it from wandering. 

If you are in Sales, you understand that you do more than just sell. You also educate. To understand your prospect's pain points you must make a conscious effort to listen when they describe their current sales process, talk about real-life scenarios or open up about their concerns. How well you listen can result in building trust or losing it among potential customers and that difference can lead to lost sales. 

Consider putting together training exercises for your sales team. Have them each take turns being the speaker and then the listener. While they are the listener they should be focusing on their body language, pausing before they respond, and asking questions to learn more. 

SOCIAL LISTENING 

In a world where cold calling and traditional selling is a dying skill, you will need to learn to shift your listening skills toward the digital world. Sharpening your social listening skills is just as important as your verbal listening skills. Social listening isn't just monitoring what your audience is doing on social media, but instead, watching for trends in engagements and likes. Look at aggregated data over a period of time and then ask yourself, why. These key insights can be applied to your sales strategy and act as a guide to building upon selling techniques. 

Social Listening Techniques

If you are not already practicing social listening techniques then you are missing opportunities to build expertise and trust with your audience. To break into the social world, start by staying on top of industry-related content and follow industry-related hashtags. It is important to understand how your audience talks so that you can relate to them. This can be done by subscribing to or creating your own Twitter lists. Don't worry, you can set these to private. That way no one knows that you secretly receive daily cat gifs. You can even create advanced searches on Twitter around words, phrases, people or places.

For B2B sales managers, start by researching your accounts on LinkedIn and utilize LinkedIn's sales tool, LinkedIn Sales Navigator. What is happening within their company? Did they just hire a new Executive to their team? This could be valuable information to know later down the road when key decision makers come into play. 

Additionally, for your target account, find out who your key contacts are and then use social media to learn their personal interests or if they are apart of a community or group. Again, you want to be able to relate so you can provide them with the right content and start building a relationship. Selling doesn't just involve the quick in and out scenarios like they use to. Make sure you and your team are constantly working to strengthen their listening skills so they can build relationships now and eventually turn prospects into customers, and customers into evangelists. Listen to your audience, so they will listen to you. 

Both types of listening, active and social, take practice, strategic implementation and are crucial in building expertise, authenticity, and trust with your buyer. As so every correctly stated by Pink, “In the new world of sales, being able to ask the right questions is more valuable than producing the right answers."

Unfortunately, listening is only half of the battle when it comes to modern selling techniques and sales systems. The other half is to help salespeople close deals so they can generate revenue. Our Sales Enablement team has built many different kinds of sales systems that allow businesses to better manage, plan, and sell more business.

Find out how you can improve your company's sales system by reaching out to our Sales Enablement team today!

 

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