It’s one of the biggest complaints that customers make about sales people. Failing to listen properly to your customers has a direct impact on the success of any sales person. You’re never likely to build a ‘Trusted Advisor’ relationship with a customer who feels you don’t listen to them. Not only that, but if you’re doing the majority of talking in your customer meetings, there are critical things you’ll miss out on, like learning more about your customer, their needs, additional opportunities and possible buying signals, or concerns.
Whilst the majority of sales people think they listen enough, my work with sales leaders and teams suggests the opposite. Below I’ve highlighted the four main reasons sales people fail to listen properly. Take a look and ask yourself (honestly) if you, or your sales people, can relate to any of these.
Fear of losing control of the conversation
This is perhaps the most common reason sales people fail to listen properly and usually comes about because of one of the following 3 reasons:
i. The sales person wants to prevent the conversation from going in a direction they had not anticipated.
In this instance, the sales person typically lacks confidence in their ability to respond in the moment, or is fearful of being asked questions they won’t know the answers to. This often affects new sales people, concerned that their limited product knowledge might get ‘called out’. However, if you’ve shown genuine interest in getting to the bottom of your customer’s needs and challenges and you help to work towards finding a solution that will help them and bring value to their business, they’re not going to mind one bit if you can’t answer a question on the spot.
Role-play can be a really useful tool for addressing this, because practice will help build the confidence needed. Also, accompanying sales people who are adept at this skill and seeing them ‘in action’, will help build the confidence of others.
ii. The sales person is not prepared for the sales meeting.
Sales people who turn up for customer meetings, without having done their homework, will typically try to take control of the conversation to avoid being identified as unprepared. The (false) belief is that the customer will fail to notice how unprepared you are if you convince them of how knowledgeable you are about your company’s products/services. The customer does not want to know about your entire range, but how you might be able to help them now with their very specific needs. The only way to avoid this one is to pull your socks up and start doing your homework!
iii. The sales person is conscious of time and tries to ‘rush’ the process.
With today’s buyers completing so much of the buying process online before even engaging with a sales person, it’s true that the sales person is physically present for much less of the buying process than they once were. This can lead sales people to feel a sense of panic; that they must off-load as much information as possible on their customers in the limited time they have available in front of them. The truth is that it doesn’t matter whether you’ve engaged with a buyer at the beginning of, or two thirds of the way through, their buying process, their need is still the same: a solution that will bring real value for them and their business. That need will not be met if you spend the time you have with them giving them information which is simply not relevant to them.
The sales person has a preconceived idea that they already know what the needs are.
Sales people naturally look for a solution. Using the information they have available, a good sales person uses that information to identify areas where they can add real value and then proposes the best solution. But, in their efforts to propose a solution, sales people can often be a little premature; jumping to conclusions about the customer’s needs and proposing solutions which are, at best, satisfactory and, at worst, completely unsuitable.
The Two Ronnies illustrated this to great effect in their classic ‘Four Candles’ sketch. Had the shopkeeper in this iconic sketch asked just one question (eg; what are you looking to use these for?) he might have realised that the customer was actually looking for ‘Fork ‘andles; “Handles for forks” a little quicker. The lesson here is that, no matter how obvious the solution appears to be, it’s only by delving deeper that we’ll truly understand the full extent of a customer’s needs.
Sales people therefore must use questioning and listening skills to obtain as much information as possible. Not only will this help to ensure your proposal brings the greatest value for your customer, but it also gives you the opportunity to identify other needs and challenges that the customer them self may not yet even be aware of.
The sales person believes it is their job to inform their customer about all of their products/services.
Customers are extremely busy, they do not want to spend a 30-minute meeting with a sales person hearing all about your latest product, unless it happens that the particular product will bring genuine value to their business. But even when this is the case and you believe this product will help them, talking generally about it, rather than talking about it in a way that relates to their specific needs, will not gain buy in. Instead, the customer needs to know that you’ve first understood their needs and the only way you’ll convince them of this, is by asking lots of questions and then clarifying your understanding to them.
Only once you’ve demonstrated you fully understand their needs will you be in a strong enough position to convince them that the solution you’re proposing will actually meet those needs.
If you’ve identified with any of the issues above and would like some further help with this, make sure you check out next week’s blog, when I’ll be sharing my top tips on asking questions. Or, if you’d like to discuss how we can help you/your sales team with these challenges, please give us a call or head to our Contact page and fill in the online form.