A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
You know the old saying about how you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink?
Most people don’t need what you’re selling.
So, you have to ask yourself two questions.
- Are you selling the right thing?
- Are you selling the right way?
You can only get the answers to these questions if your prospect is doing most of the talking and you’re doing most of the listening.
And that’s the main point of this Listen book project – to step away from the idea that you need to be a super-extroverted, loud-talking, flashy salesperson to get results.
They might make good characters in films but I have yet to see a flashy salesperson that has actually delivered a worthwhile project.
In my experience, the best closers have been the professionals, the people who know what needs to be done to solve a client’s problem.
Then again, salespeople are also professionals, so that’s a little unfair.
Instead, let’s think of it as two extremes on a line.
At one end, you have someone who is entirely client focused – that’s the salesperson.
At the other end you have the person that is entirely focused on the work.
Salespeople who don’t really know how the work is done tend to be poor performers – they think their job is all about getting the client to the table and that’s it.
After that someone else takes over and does the boring stuff.
People who focus just on the work seem to end up spending a lot of time solving problems that aren’t really all that important.
And they get fussy if you ask them to do anything different.
Being a professional is about stepping away from these extremes.
It’s not necessarily about being in the middle either – about maintaining a balance between being client focused and work focused.
Instead, it’s probably about being able to switch from one mindset to the other.
You need to be able to listen to the prospect, to ask questions, to clarify what their problems are and what they’re trying to do and who is involved and how they do stuff and how they make decisions.
All this takes time – you have to switch off the part of your brain that’s jumping to solve the problem and take the time to really explore your prospect’s world view, their perspective on the situation.
If that horse doesn’t want water – well, that’s because it has something else on its mind.
Perhaps it’s wondering about that patch of grass, or looking longingly at a clump of nettles.
Or perhaps there’s a puddle of water on the track that’s reflecting the light and horses seem to get spooked by stuff like that.
It’s difficult and frustrating when people don’t do what you want.
And it takes effort and discipline to force yourself to calm down and ask “Why?” without judgment and follow the answers to where they go.
We do this all the time with family, with the ones closest to us.
When someone doesn’t respond in the way we want – when someone close to us says “No.”, our immediate response is one of aggression.
The word “Why?”, in that context, is more like “How do you dare to try and stop me?”
We don’t usually do that in a business context although I have had calls where the salesperson has become aggressive when I’ve said I’m not interested in what they’re selling.
Rejection is hard, but wouldn’t you rather talk to someone who said “No.” quickly than someone who strung you along for months only to then tell you that there is no opportunity here?
One of the benefits of spending more time listening than talking is that your prospect has fewer points at which they can say “No.” to you.
After all, they’re talking about themselves and what their situation is – and everything that comes up is important to them in some way.
Then again, is it important enough to take action – is the pain great enough to take some medicine?
Some people love to talk expansively and go off in all directions and pull in lots of related ideas and information.
And that’s fine – let them talk.
Some people will focus, get to the point and tell you what they think.
Which is actually less fine – get them to open up and talk around the issue in more detail.
The first thing you want to do is open up the conversation.
For example, I know that I will often say that this is what I want – put down a clear specification for someone quite early on.
A good salesperson will try and draw me out, ask for more detail on what’s happening, what I’m trying to do, what I’ve tried before, whether that worked or not?
It’s about getting the balance right – too little information and you might be heading in the wrong direction.
Too much information and you might be lost in the complexity.
In both cases you’re trying to get the right strategy to emerge from the conversation – understand what direction is the right one.
You might have a conversation that is rich and expansive and touches lots of areas but where the prospect gets skittish and nervous as you talk about specifics and what needs to be done and whether there is a budget for the work.
Or you can have conversations that start off with a very clear scope but as you ask questions the prospect starts to realize that perhaps it’s not as clear cut and they need to consider a few more options.
In both cases you’re looking for the tipping point, the point at which it makes sense to do something.
Sometimes you can’t reach that and you have to walk away and that’s okay – you shouldn’t expect to make every sale.
What’s important is that when you reach that tipping point you’re able to get the deal done.
That means you need to be flexible as well – you’ve managed to get the prospect to talk about and realize what they need and what they’re willing to pay for – and it might not be something you already have in your product stable.
If you only think of yourself as someone that sells what’s in the box then you’re going to be stuck.
As a professional, however, you should be able to work out whether you can make what the prospect needs – do you have the ability to create products in addition to selling them?
I started this post with two questions – about selling the right thing and selling the right way.
If you develop the ability to listen to your prospect then those two questions will evaporate away.
If you listen, you won’t have to think about selling.
The prospect will work out what they need as they talk through their situation with you – and then, at the point when they realize that they know what they want, you’re in front of them, showing them how they can get that thing in a way that works for them.
As Zig Ziglar said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
That’s what you will become great at doing if you just take the time to master the art of listening.