Try Googling “sales” and “listen.” Here’s a sampling—look for the common theme:
When calling on a customer, it’s tempting to want to immediately launch into a sales pitch, especially if you’re nervous. But by listening, you can better understand how your product or service meets the customer’s needs and desires.
In Business Week’s Savvy Selling section, Michelle Nichols says:
Although speaking clearly, succinctly, and persuasively are crucial selling skills, sharp listening skills are equally important today. In fact, it’s the professionals who ask good questions and then listen hard for the answers who are closing more sales than peers who are stuck in the "smooth talker" era.
At SalesPractice.com, we get:
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason – we’re meant to listen twice as much as we talk. This maxim is never truer than it is in negotiation. It’s amazing what you will learn about the "true" negotiation position, just by listening better. Don’t do all the talking – keep asking questions and listen to the answers.
The admonition to listen is usually justified—as in these three cases—on the basis of the answers’ content. If you listen more—particularly in response to good questions—then you will hear answers that help you sell. That’s the received wisdom.
If that sounds self-evident, think of what is not being said:
that the larger value of listening lies not in the content of the response, but in the act of listening itself.
Q&A listening for content is the hallmark of consultative selling and needs-based selling. You got a need? I probe and find out the specs of that need; I tune my offering to meet it. And so forth.
Nothing wrong with that; but it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the power of a different kind of listening.
Needs are just mechanical specifications for stuff we gotta have anyway—toothpaste, audits, bicycles.
Wants, by contrast, are where the action is—wants are hopes, fears, ambitions, wishes, desires.
>Listening for answers identifies needs; but listening for listening’s sake gets to wants;
>Listening for answers generates a list of specs; listening for listening’s sake generates a connection;
>Listening for answers generates transactions; listening for listening’s sake builds relationships.
If your listening always has an agenda—to sell—then you’re not doing much to build trust. If your listening has no agenda beyond being in service to that customer in that moment, then you are potentially creating a trust bond with that customer.
We often hear that listening is a skill that we should practice. But that’s Q&A listening they’re talking about, listening with an agenda—your agenda. And it’s got limited benefits.
By contrast, listening for listening’s sake is not a skill; it’s a gift—the rare gift of your fine attention. It’s also one of those gifts that gives back.
And—the icing on the cake—listening for listening’s sake ends up more powerfully driving sales than does listening to execute the sale.
It’s a trust thing.