There’s a great strategy in communication that, I promise, will revolutionise the way you gain an understanding and rapport with a prospect. It’s something that I have to practice time and time again, as it doesn’t always come naturally in conversttion; but when it does, it works well and gives you that clarity that so many conversations lack.
The process is called Listen, Pause, Clarify, Validate, and it will simply skyrocket your communication quality and get you closer to your goals than anything else you can try in the sales process.
It flows like this; you really listen to the point the other person is making. Then, you ensure a slight pause to assimilate the meaning of what the person has said. Clarification questions ensure you are on the right lines. Finally, validation strokes the ego and allows you to format your next part of the conversation by earning the right to do so.
Listen: Respectful listening earns respect. Try to listen with the whole body, not just the ears. Make sure you don’t think ahead to answer the person, as you might miss a vital point…you can’t listen to the other person while you’re listening to yourself talking!
Pause: This ensures the person has finished their thought and it also stops you from risking interrupting the other, which can be rude and condescending.
Clarify: Having heard their view, there may be some points that are not 100% clear. Were they being too vague, too generalistic? Did what they say have a double meaning or were some of their words unclear? Could the meaning they gave be misconstrued?
This is the chance for you to determine the real meaning, their meaning. You could ask something like: “When you say you need to get this sorted ‘soon’, what sort of time are you talking about?”
Or “As you say, morale is important is any business. What have you seen in your team that makes you feel morale is so low?”
You’re clarifying the meaning so both you and they are singing from the same song sheet.
Finally, Validation: By validating someone’s position or opinion, you’re telling them they have a right to feel that way. In fact, if you were in the same situation, you’d feel that way too. It may suffice by saying something like, “Yes, many companies tell me the same kind of thing, and I can see it’s a concern of yours”.
You’re showing the other person you are in harmony with them, yours is a listening ear, and you’d like to work with them in going forward and solving it.
So, try the four stages in your next prospect call. Listen fully to a point they make, allow a slight pause by not interrupting or butting in (it gives you a chance to consider what’s been said), clarify any points that aren’t that clear to you so there’s no misunderstanding, then show them you understand (not necessarily agree) with their point by validating how they must feel.
You may find it builds good rapport and helps you to achieve a deeper understanding of their current position and future needs.
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Every sales manager and director tells you how important they are but do they actually tell you how to improve them!
As sales people elevate their sales skills in other areas, often the area of listening begins to suffer, and usually it is the more experienced pros who are the biggest culprits. There are reasons that listening skills deteriorate over time in the sales business and below are the main three. Avoid these mental mistakes and you will increase your listening skills and close more sales!
Listening Mistake #1 = Knowing the questions and answers before you hear them
One of the main problems happens as sales people get to the point where they know all of the answers. You have heard all of the objections a thousand times and you believe you already know what the prospect is going to say. When this happens, it is easy to hear but a fraction of what the prospect actually says, as you mentally anticipate the rest of the question or statement. The problem is that often you are incorrect. You THINK you heard what the prospect said, when you really heard what was in your mind.
Solution: To help avoid this, look to discover new answers and thoughts. Try to make them tell you something you have not heard before. This can only help you get better. When the prospect begins that question that you know you have heard before; stop and try to find what is different about this question. To your surprise, you will find some new thoughts and ideas.
Listening Mistake #2 = Formulating your response before the prospect has finished
Following mistake #1, many sales people begin to formulate their response to the prospect as the prospect is still speaking. The prospect begins to explain his or her concern. You believe you know exactly what they are going to say, and you begin rehearsing in your mind what you will say back. Anxious to obliterate the prospect’s objection immediately, often the sales person will cut off the prospect in mid-sentence.
Solution: Wait until the prospect has completed their thought, and then count to three before you open your mouth. This not only helps you listen and digest exactly what the prospect said, but it also helps you avoid belittling the prospect. Do not be too quick to “have an answer for everything.” Take time and let the prospect see that you are thinking and that his or her concern is important.
Listening Mistake #3 = Lack of eye contact
Most sales people diligently try to maintain eye contact when they are speaking. However, many seem to wander as the prospect talks. Listening entails more than just your ears. You have to listen with your eyes and emotions.
Solution: Maintain constant eye contact every time the prospect says anything. Take in and note the prospect’s body language, facial expression and movements. You need to SEE and FEEL what the prospect is saying in addition to hearing it.
So, lose the sales Crystal Ball that tells you exactly what the prospect will say before they say it. Don’t write your thank you speech before the game is over and listen with your eyes as well as your ears.
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My wife Donna said the other day that I wasn’t a good communicator because I don’t listen to her.
At least, that’s what I think she said…I was on my iPad at the time!
It got me thinking about how we salespeople react when customers talk to us. We sometimes run an exercise on our sales courses where the trainer will read out what a fictitious customer is looking for in a supplier. Then the trainer will ask delegates to write down the main points the customer made.
It’s amazing the diversity of answers we get from delegates! Sometimes we don’t get the same answers from ANY of the delegates! Every single person hears something different to everyone else!
Here are some ways you can improve your listening skills when next with a customer:
1. Don’t talk too much: Yes, you know you’ve got twice as many ears as mouths, so use them in that proportion. How many times have you sold your product and then bought it back by talking too much? After you’ve sold the solution…stop. Listen to what they have to say.
2. Linked to the first point, we feel comfortable talking about our product, so we continue talking. Instead, get the customer to open up and make them feel comfortable talking about their company, their needs, their wants, their desires. That way, you get to know more. No-one ever got sacked for listening too much!
3. Resist the urge to interrupt. Many salespeople tell me they have to interrupt because they lose their train of thought. This is crass thinking. Design a way that helps you remind yourself of what you were going to say without interrupting. Practice at home or with colleagues, and then you’ll resist the urge when you’re with a customer.
4. Follow Steven Covey’s advice and ‘listen to understand’. Be careful not to prejudge. Slow the pace, if necessary, so you completely understand what is being said. You can’t prescribe a complete answer until you’ve got a complete diagnosis.
5. Take notes, summarise to yourself and confirm with your customer. That way, you and they know that you have been listening effectively and have got all the information. They will thank you for your close attention and you won’t have to apologise for getting something wrong.
Follow these simple tips and you won’t suffer the same fate as I did…a slap from Donna!
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