Farquharson/Tedesco | on Business Development: Talk Less, And You’ll Sell More
Hi, this is Bill & T.J. Let’s get started by asking four questions:
- Do you remember people’s names when you first meet them?
- When your prospect is talking, do you often think of what you’re going to say next?
- Do you routinely ask clarifying questions to help you clearly understand what your prospect just said?
- Do you let your prospects speak and then ask fill-the-gap questions to complete the sales puzzle?
If you want to be a top sales performer and if you answered “no” to any of these, please work on improving your listening skills. At the risk of citing an overused expression in sales circles, you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. You will sell more if you listen at least twice as much as you talk.
There’s a strong correlation between great listening skills and great sales results. Top-performing sales reps seem to glide through sales calls unhurried and unflustered, no matter the barriers in their way. They don’t forget people’s names upon introduction. They don’t do the “sales data dump,” explaining reason after uninteresting reason why their company is the best. They don’t interrupt. They ask awesome, open-ended questions. They make sure they understand exactly what’s important to each stakeholder in the meeting prior to making any recommendations.
Are people born great listeners? No way. Kids think: me, me, me; my way; my wishes!!! The listening gene emerges over time, but requires nurturing and development. The good news is that everyone can be become a better listener. Active listening requires commitment and practice, but is not possible if you constantly talk, talk, talk.
Listeners Can Still Control Discussion
Oh, we can hear the objections now! Do you want to hand over control of the sales call to the prospect? Nope. Can a good listener get the information they need and still control the sales process? Yep. In fact it’s a requirement!
How exactly do you control the sales process and spend twice as much time listening as talking? Easy. Listen and then ask great questions. Asking great questions is much easier if you fully understand what your prospect is saying.
It’s impossible to actively listen if you’re concentrating on what you’re going to say next. You’ll miss important information and buying cues. Focusing on, and carefully addressing, what’s important to the prospect is by far the shortest route to future selling success.
Top performers confirm they understand exactly what has been said by asking clarifying questions. Then, they seamlessly ask fill-the-gap questions to help formulate the best, most customized, on-target sales solution to that individual prospect’s needs.
For seasoned print sales reps, gathering typical qualifying information listed below is routine:
- Volume of print and print-related services purchased
- Type of current and anticipated projects
- Map of key business influencers
- Purchasing process
- Attributes of current printers or suppliers
- Contract opportunities
However, this isn’t differentiation.
Let’s assume you have a history of doing well with agile organizations in a state of flux. Talking less and listening more helps you hear and pounce on telltale signs of change. Words like acquisition, regulatory compliance, IPO, board pressure, right sizing, new CEO and chaos all indicate change.
If you’ve done well converting skeptical change agents into advocates elsewhere, then you already know how to coach this type of person about how your print and communication services can help achieve client business goals. Imagine how much more value a help-with-change approach brings compared to dragging out mundane details about the prospect’s purchasing process.
When you hear someone say they’re trying to do something new, deal with a challenge or improve a process, start asking questions. Change is a good thing for a potential new supplier of print services and you need to make sure you understand it. For example, if your prospect is looking for ways to monetize their technical expertise, here are some potential questions to ask:
- What options have you considered to monetize your technical expertise?
- What have you actually tried?
- How do you define success?
- What are the early results?
- Have you considered both print and electronic delivery of information?
- Do you know the value of both?
Piecing together a sales strategy for a new prospect is like completing a puzzle with some pieces hidden under the carpet. The earlier you can identify the missing pieces, the less time you’ll waste. Without excellent listening skills, identification of the missing informational pieces will take too long. And if it takes too long, today’s fast-paced business environment means you’ll likely miss your selling opportunity altogether.
The advanced art of listening more and talking less helps sales reps hear and understand the prospect’s needs, allowing them to calmly start setting buying hooks. Print salespeople that do this well establish themselves as consultants who just might be able to craft a solution perfectly tailored to the unique needs of their prospect’s organization.
So, start improving your listening skills today. What are our names again? PI
About the Columnists
T.J. Tedesco is a sales growth, marketing and business strategy consultant serving graphic arts companies since 1996. He wrote “Win Top-of-Mind Positioning” and eight other books. Contact Tedesco at (301) 404-2244 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Farquharson is a vice president at NAPL. He can help drive your sales. Contact Farquharson at (781) 934-7036 or email@example.com