By Mark Schabes
What makes someone successful in sales? Is it just a natural gift, or is it a learned skill? It’s probably safe to say natural ability has something to do with one’s ease of understanding and excelling in the field of sales, but this may be because they already exhibit what others must first learn. Society tends to think of good salespeople as fast talking, good looking, smart individuals who either outwit or outlast their prospect. This is not true. Some of the most successful salespeople are unassuming, calm, caring, nonabrasive individuals.
In the water treatment business the development of sales talent is directly proportional to an organization’s ultimate success. The largest and most successful water companies in the country didn’t reach that level with just an owner, a service manager and a Yellow Pages ad. Aggressive marketing and intelligent sales efforts are required to become one of the most successful, highest volume dealers in the industry.
What are intelligent sales efforts?
All successful salespeople are alert, observant, clear communicators. When hiring and training salespeople, always remember: if they listen, adapt, respond and react to the environment they find themselves in, they will be productive at selling. Great salespeople don’t just memorize and regurgitate a presentation book—great salespeople can focus their concentration in the moment and adapt by listening clearly and paying attention to their prospects. This sounds simple, but it’s not.
People think much faster than they listen
While a sales prospect is talking, the average salesperson is thinking at a much more rapid rate. Often the salesperson is thinking about how he should or will reply, at the expense of comprehending what the prospect is actually telling him. The challenge is for sales personnel to learn how not to construct their ideas and responses during the most critical stages of the selling process. This is not easily done, given the sales prospect is also subject to the same listening distractions. No wonder so many sales calls fall apart after the salesperson missed a key point made by the prospect and consequently lost (or never got) the order. Few salespeople have even scratched the surface of developing their optimum listening skills.
Can a salesperson learn to listen better?
A comprehensive study completed by the University of Minnesota examined the listening ability of several thousand people and concluded that immediately after the average person had listened to someone talk, they remembered only about half of what was actually said. By understanding our basic inability to listen we can and must make a systematic effort to concentrate more on what is said and less on what we are about to say. This simple change in priorities will provide a significant selling advantage in almost every scenario.
Six steps to improving selling/ listening skills
1) Use your eyes to get the whole story
By listening with your eyes (i.e., paying attention to the prospect’s body language) you can absorb what the individual’s whole body is telling you, not just her mouth. Nonverbal facial and body movements and hand gestures can either clarify what is being said or communicate what is not being said. Most people don’t have a good poker face. A great salesperson is a lot like a trial lawyer: one knows how to utilize this listening skill to ‘read’ the judge and jury, uses it to direct her line of questioning and select witnesses, and relies on it to steer the focus of the entire trial in the direction she desires.
2) Validate communicated information
Validate the accuracy and importance of information shared by the prospect by taking notes during the presentation, especially information that will be shared in the continued presentation. Note taking sends an immediate signal that you are concertedly listening. Validating his information will make the prospect feel at ease and will go a long way in developing the trust needed to conclude the meeting successfully—with a sale.
3) Learn to understand and not judge
Work to understand what the prospect is saying versus the natural tendency of judging (approving or disapproving what is said), so as to better absorb what is actually said. Simply ignoring your own biases (and we all have them) will do a lot for your overall listening skill. Failing to do so traps many good salespeople, perhaps more than any other potential error.
4) Utilize ‘active listening’ techniques
By verbally summarizing the major points communicated by the prospect and reaffirming your interpretation of these points, you add a tremendous amount of clarity to the information exchanged.
5) Learn to anticipate
During the dialogue, try to anticipate where a discussion is leading and determine the conclusion in advance of your required response. This allows you to relax and improve information absorption. This is not, however, an excuse to stop listening altogether. Anticipation is more difficult for new salespeople who are less likely to know what to anticipate and are more often focused on remembering what they are supposed to say or do rather than listening to the prospect.
6) Maintain a mental ‘vault’ of common responses
By developing and rehearsing responses to common sales objections, you will create the time to listen more efficiently. A comprehensive mental inventory of such responses will also give you more confidence in any selling situation.
Mastering your listening skills by practicing these tips can give you extraordinary power. Your language will be clearer to your prospects, improving the give and take communication necessary in any transaction. Your prospects will appreciate your role in the sale more and therefore respond to you better, which may provide the margin of victory in your next sales situation.
Today’s successful salesperson is, ultimately, an effective listener. As they speak with an existing or potential customer, the most successful salespeople continuously strive to hone their listening skills to accurately define the customer’s intentions. Properly trained and with constant practice, salespeople will quickly realize that refined listening skills are the key to their success. How well they talk or present their product or service is relatively unimportant when compared to how well they listen.
About the author
Mark Schabes is Director of Marketing and manages dealer conversions for The LeverEdge and ISPC. Schabes has over 11 years of experience with the firm. He can be contacted by telephone (800) 345-4472 x247 or via email at [email protected].
About The LeverEdge and ISPC
The LeverEdge is a leading OEM supplier of residential water treatment equipment. Its unique approach to supporting its dealer network by using product branding, marketing support, exclusive selling territories and proprietary consumer financing sets them apart. ISPC, a sister company, offers aggressive financing exclusively for The LeverEdge’s products. ISPC is widely known for its industry-leading 991® program (9.9 percent APR and one percent minimum payment). Visit the companies’ websites at www.theleveredge.com or www.theispc.com for more details, or contact them by telephone at (800) 345-4472.