I recently heard a speaker, who was talking about person-to-person communications, say the following:
“When you stop trying to shape the way people think, you can start listening to the way they see things.”
This was not in the context of sales, but I have seldom heard a better description of the role of listening in the sales process.
I’d like to share several insights from my thirty years of sales experience that relate to the importance of listening in the sales process. And how sales has changed since the worldwide pandemic of 2020-2021.
To my way of thinking, there is no substitute for personal contact. People buy from people with whom they have a connection. The best connection is physical presence, face-to-face, person-to-person. Most small business owners are used to doing business this way. In a virtual-dominated world, we have to perfect how we make the personal connection while appearing on a screen in our prospect’s place of business.
Small merchants ultimately have to trust the people with whom they do business to come through for them every day. Each element of their business process is a critical element. They have so much riding on every vendor they choose, they can’t afford to make a mistake. Small business owners tend to trust people they’ve met, established a local connection with, and with whom they have things in common.
In the post-pandemic business world, the rules of engagement have changed. We start with a virtual lead, set up a Zoom or Google Meet call, and proceed with the sales process under new rules. We can book a dozen calls a day, but we have to create the means of impactful, meaningful conversations that result in rapport and eventually in sales. We have to make a close virtual connection.
We have to listen differently, gather clues and cues in a different way. Being physically in the same room lets you evaluate the total response (words, body language, subtle non-verbal tells) from the buyer. Virtual selling requires different tools.
To reach your objective, you need good information, and the information has to be evaluated to provide good intelligence.
Market Garden was the failed WWII Allied operation in Holland depicted in the movie “A Bridge Too Far”, based on the book by the same name by Cornelius Ryan. It turns out that the Dutch underground had critical information about two German Panzer divisions that had recently been moved to wooded areas right next to a planned Allied paratrooper drop zone. In their zeal to launch the attack, the Allies not only discounted the information supplied by the Dutch but also ignored last-minute aerial reconnaissance photos that showed German tanks in the woods. The results were disastrous for the paratroopers.
If you have pre-determined your course in the sales call and you are adamant about sticking to it, you’re setting yourself up for problems. This kind of rigidity robs us of the ability to let the buyer take the conversation where he or she needs it to go. At the same time the pre-set sales call plan will not allow us to listen carefully to what the buyer is saying and prevent us from being “in the moment” of the one-to-one communication.
We have to develop the skill to be “in the moment” in the virtual sales call. This means limiting distractions in your virtual call and using the best high-speed connection you can find. It means being very prepared for every call and being ready to hear what the prospect is actually saying. We can’t assume we know what the prospect means.
If you come through for people, they start to trust you. For most of us that means listening carefully right from the first call, from the first time we make contact with a prospect. It’s entirely appropriate to sweat the details of the initial contact with the merchant. This means being very professional in our manner of speech, being ready to address every question and request of the buyer, and following up quickly and completely on every issue she or he raises.
And if our agenda as salespeople is top of mind during that first encounter, we might not be in the best position to hear what the buyer is saying. If we’re caught up in trying to form the opinion of the buyer about our company or our latest product or service, we will not be receptive to understanding how the buyer thinks.
People can tell the difference between genuine interest and manufactured interest. Before we have our Zoom call with our prospect, we have to make sure we are ready to devote our attention to their interests and their business. We have to be in an attitude that is receptive, genuinely interested in how their business can improve, and ready to do whatever we can to make this happen.
Only by having the mental attitude of lowering our agenda and turning up the volume of the buyer’s communication can we progress to the trusted relationship we desire with our new buyer.
In my next blog post, I will share ten practical tips for mastering virtual selling.