The day you sit down with a potential customer is exciting. You’ve done your homework, figured out what they are looking for, know exactly why this would be a great partnership and are 100-percent ready to pull out all of the stops to land this client. You sit down, and everything starts off great – you use everything you planned, you tell them what they are looking for and why you are the best person to provide it, and you seem to woo them over. They leave saying they will follow up. You did everything right, and you are feeling confident. Score!
Then, you don’t hear anything for one, two and three weeks. You’ve been following up by calling and emailing – and nothing. The relationship that seemed to have been going so well has gone into radio silence.
Maybe, this isn’t the first time this has happened.
Too often, we go into autopilot: When we think we know what a client needs, we set up our agenda and talking points. We miss information, ignore our audience and lose the sale. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit. And sometimes, it’s because we forgot the most important part of making a sale: active listening. While there is no shortage of information on how crucial active listening is to sales, the question often lies in how to immediately start using and benefiting from active listening. Below, find three ways to start effectively using active listening to enhance your sales skills or the skills of your sales team.
1. Start with an open-ended question, and be quiet.
Think of your last client meeting. Who spoke first? If your answer is, “I did, of course; I had to tell them what I was offering!”, you might be focused more on your agenda than on your client’s needs. A simple way to start using active listening immediately is by asking an open-ended question – one that has a longer answer than “yes” or “no.”
An easy question to start with is, “What are you looking for?” Clearly, you know they are looking for something you offer, but this question gives them the control to tell you additional information and gives you the opportunity to sit back and listen, adjusting your planned information and customizing your response to their needs. Let them really answer the question, even if they have a few moments of silence first. During this time, you can take notes; show you are paying attention by doing more than just smiling, nodding and waiting for your turn to talk.
2. Think of two points and one question.
Smiling, nodding and taking notes are great ways to show that you are listening, but too often, the listening ends there. To show that you have been listening and that you are absorbing the information, try to find two big points and one question you can ask. You can use the points in a summary of what the potential client is looking for or in the description you give of your services. Placing the client in the context of your services or goods is excellent. Referencing specific points that they just made shows you are really listening.
By asking a clarifying question or one that requests more information, you show that you are not only listening but also processing what the other person is saying. Be careful the question isn’t generic or simply inserts you and the sale into the conversation. Make it count, or don’t use it.
Listening and attention are powerful because they are choices. Allow the potential client to feel both that they are being heard and that their specific situation will be your priority. Don’t be nervous if there is some silence while your potential client is thinking about what to say next. If it’s appropriate to ask a question and you have a good one, feel free! If you are comfortable in some silences and don’t immediately insert nervous chatter, you show strength and confidence.
3. Adjust your language to your audience.
The listening part of active listening is only half the battle. You must also adjust your personal style to talk to your audience, not at them. If you spend all of that time and energy with the first two techniques and then slide into your prepared pitch, why bother?
Aside from bringing their specific examples and language into your sale, it’s important to connect with your client and his or her language. We all have individual manners of speaking – make sure yours matches your potential client’s! If you’re overly casual, and they are extremely professional, chances are they aren’t going to see the synergy that could happen if you work together. The same goes if you are overly professional, and they are casual. Don’t be someone you aren’t, but use the information you picked up on while actively listening to adjust to the best version of yourself for that moment.
You can use all of these techniques immediately used in your next sales pitch or meeting. If one is difficult, keep trying it until you master the skill and move on to the next step. Remember, you can’t fix anything in a day; it’s going to take time to refine these critical skills.