Career Advice

Superb Salespeople and the Art of Listening

Manda MillingPosted by Manda
min read

Every business has a sales function; otherwise it wouldn't be a business. Someone, somewhere, at some time, has made a phone call, served someone or seen a need for a service or a product to get that business started. As a salesperson, your role is a vital one: you are often the face of the company and act as a go-between. In other words, you are in the information-gathering-and-problem-solving-business. This can also be abbreviated to one word: ‘sales’. Sales is just about engaging people in a conversation. A common mistake people make who are selling a service or a product is not listening. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was, 'Manda, you have two ears and one mouth in that order for a reason!' 

Salespeople tend to have an outgoing personality and are a bit on the talkative side. However, these terrific qualities don’t necessarily extend to the art of listening. To listen well and effectively is quite often a learned behaviour. 

Front line salespeople need to determine whether what the customers say or think they want is really what they want or need. To sell the correct product or service to your customer, you need to have as much information as you can obtain. Remember, you are the expert, and you know your products. 

Your customer has come to your company because they believe you have the products and the expertise to assist them. You need to ask them a lot of open-ended questions. These questions require an explanation, not a yes or no answer. They are the opposite of leading questions (which we are all used to seeing during TV interviews). 

These may take the form of: ‘Tell me more about that?’ ‘Can you please elaborate?’ ‘Why are you looking for this service or product?’ etc. Simply remember this: if the customer says this is what they need, your job is to qualify that need, i.e. work out the ‘why’ behind the ‘want’. You might also find it helpful to practice asking questions related to your own product or service in order to determine what your customers really need. You will find that you will be asking the same types of questions, irrespective of the service or the product.

Having a few of these in your ‘toolbox’ will assist you in becoming more confident and even more efficient in a shorter amount of time. Once you have all their information, you can then recommend, advise and sell. Repeating your customers’ own words back to them when you are providing your advice can also be very useful. For example, ‘As I understand it, you want relief from XYZ, because of ABC. Is this correct?’ This demonstrates you have listened to them. If your customer then engages or ‘buys into you’, you have a much better opportunity to companion sell as you have determined what they really need, as opposed to what they think they want.

Top sales tips:

  1. Listen and let them do all the talking (at first). Engage them in a conversation.
  2. Ask open-ended questions, not leading questions. Gather as much information as you can.
  3. Don’t talk over the top of your customers, don’t talk too fast and don’t be too familiar. Rather than asking, 'Are you right?' ask, 'How can I help you?'
  4. You have every reason to be confident; you are the expert and you know your products.
  5. If you don’t believe in your ability, your products and service, why would anyone else?

This article originally appeared in Contact.