This article was first published in

The truism “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is profoundly true. If you try move a conversation straight from “how ’bout them Saints” into your pitch, you’re dead.

First, you have to do some serious listening.

And I don’t mean listening to identify needs. I mean the act of listening itself—not just waiting for data you may extract to justify the pitch you’re waiting to deliver. Great listening is not about fixing customers’ problems; it’s about the respect the customer feels when you’re paying attention to them.

The sad news is that the act of listening—an important part of any sale—is sorely lacking. The worse news is that this goes double for men.

Let me give a relationship example.

If you type the phrase “men do not listen” into Google, you get about 600,000 results, about twice as many results as you get for the search “women do not listen.” And a quick perusal of the women’s results show many are couched in the predicate. Woman do not listen—to their inner voice enough, or to their instincts—basically anything other than “to the person speaking to them.”

If you are like me, you’ve been told “you don’t listen” before (and it most likely came from a woman). In this case, take the blunt criticism to heart. Your customers may be saying it on the inside, too.

Men, when we are accused us of wanting to solve the problem rather than listening, it is almost certainly accurate. We all learned early on that the game is to get the right answer. First. He who gets the right answer first gets the blue ribbon, the gold sticker, the teacher’s praise and our fellows’ envy.

For men, unfortunately, this is where our competitive instincts shoot us in the foot. Because when it comes to selling, nobody wants to hear you tell them what they need—until you have first listened to them.

Yes, I know the customer said, “Tell me about yourself.” He didn’t mean it. I know the customer asked, “Why should I buy from you?” She really couldn’t care less. In this one respect, the phrase “buyers are liars” is true. Or, if you prefer, they’re just being polite.

It’s not that customers mean to lie—it’s just that they never went to buyer school. They don’t know what to ask you, and they’re afraid of getting ripped off. So they dump the problem on you—”Tell me about your product.” And we, poor fools that we are, think they want to hear our answer.

If you went out on a blind date, you wouldn’t want to hear the other person tell you about their last 17 dates. It’s no different with sales. The only person that customer really would like to talk about is himself.

This is a deep truism about people. Humans simply don’t listen to others tell us what we need unless a certain ritual has taken place first. That ritual is being listened to.

The customer knows you’re selling something; they’ll get to that in their own time. In the meantime, you will not be listened to seriously until you have done some serious listening yourself.

People don’t buy based on price—unless you have failed to offer anything else. They don’t even buy based on features (though they won’t admit it)—not if something more powerful is available.

If you have a decent product at a fair price and you know how to listen while your competitor doesn’t, you will win every time. Buyers don’t just want a product or feature, or even a benefit. What they really want is to feel great about having made a purchase. And that feeling comes from being treated very, very well by the person they bought from.

That means respect. It means actually caring enough to listen—for real, not just to identify problems and offer solutions. It means real empathy—not canned phrases.

The best way to sell is to care. People judge caring by how well they feel listened to. So stop solving the problem—and don’t start again until the customer feels truly heard.