Although all these are important, the key skill that salespeople always need to develop is the art of active listening. It really does set the average apart from the excellent.
But many salespeople listen with the intent just to find out information so they can present the main benefits of their product to the buyer. This, though, may only take you on part of the journey. To go the full distance, you need to recognise and critique exactly what the customer is saying and meaning.
To critique means to analyse, assess, or evaluate. After the customer has spoken, take a moment to review exactly the point they have just made. Most comments can come under three main headings: opinion, experience or facts.
Firstly, opinion. They may say something like “I believe that if we….” Or “I may be wrong, but I think….”
Identify if the idea or personal opinion is simply that, an opinion. If it is, you can enquire how that idea is supported or in what direction it will take you both.
Of course, opinions matter, and we need to create a safe environment for buyers to express them. But you can also add further ideas by asking “what if….?” or “what else….?”. What you’re trying to do is identify if their opinion is factual or just a personal viewpoint based on a possible misjudgement or hearsay. If they have followed others’ views to get that opinion, you might find out where it originated.
I find saying something like “That’s interesting…tell me more….” gets them to open up about the subject and helps you to clarify their viewpoint. Remember, their view may be based on misconceptions or things they have heard on the grapevine.
Secondly, what they say may come from experience, as in “when we tried…. we found that….”
Past experiences can give you valuable learning that can help prevent future costly mistakes. You can get useful lessons from past experiences that prove helpful and constructive in making decisions. However, we must make sure that we are comparing apples with apples here. Failing to realise that different contexts can lead to different results often leads us down a path to incorrect conclusions.
Experience only is useful if we gain wisdom from it. If the knowledge and understanding we gain cannot be replicated, then it may also copy the wrong directions. So, notice if the buyer is comparing the correct background with current situations, and identify if the ideas they gained fit into the current picture. If not, your critique could help you to show that their experience may be out-of-date or incorrectly applied.
Third, there’s facts. Usually attributable to market facts or product information and come in comments like “We have sold 14% more this year than last” or “Our margins have dropped by 5% over the last 6 months.”
This information helps us to reduce uncertainty and decreases risk, as it helps us to build specific journeys on the path to solving problems. But if the data is incorrect, too generic, or not comparable, then it can lead us down the wrong path and lead to poor decision-making. By analysing the figures, the customer is giving you, you can re-assure yourself you are talking real facts and not just ideas that are based on incorrect knowledge.
By ascertaining if the customer is detailing opinions, experience, or specific facts, you can critique the feedback much more effectively and identify the journey you can then take with the conversation. This proves you have been actively listening and not just taking what they say at face value.
Improve your listening skills further by taking in some Sales Training. Listening is vitally important in retail sales interactions too so if you work in retail then please check out our Retail Sales Training options. Both courses will help you to listen more attentively to your customers.