Why salespeople suck at listening
By Ashley Welch & Justin Jones
We love sales. But we hate feeling "sold to." Everybody does. Though, if you talk to any sales person, they'll tell you they're not like that. Alas, they usually are.
All of us are. We think we're smooth and great at building relationships and win-wins. But when we ask your clients if they ever feel "sold to" by you, they say, yes. Here's why:
When we are not genuinely curious about our clients, they can smell it from miles away. It could be as blatant as ignoring a client's sidebar story to get back to our agenda in the "interest of time." Or, as subtle as blowing by a non-verbal cue.
A stellar example we recently heard is this: A senior consultant at a major research firm recounted being in a meeting with his sales colleague and a customer's senior officer. The salesperson was speaking to the services they provide, when the consultant slowed the conversation and asked the customer what she cared about.
She said, "Governance." Then the sales person said, "We just have 10 minutes left, let's wrap on our next steps." The customer was telling them a new opportunity she cared about and the sales person left her hanging.
Whether you fall on the subtle or blatant end of the not-so-curious scale, there's a couple of good reasons why we're not curious:
Still, this notion of being incurious and salesy feels terrible; nobody wants to admit this about themselves. So, here's the solution. It's something you can do immediately and in any client interaction.
The Four Prompts of Curiosity
We want you to pay attention to—and talk with your clients about — four things whenever you notice them. We guarantee your conversations will feel more authentic for you and your client, that your client will feel heard (and less sold to), and that you'll discover even more opportunity.
One account executive we worked with was struggling to break into a small retail account—Starbucks. We suggested he go to a store and talk with the store manager — and practice being curious. After chatting for a bit, he asked her, "What's the bane of your existence in your work here?" She said something surprising: "the Milk Binder."
He asked her to explain this, and her frustration as she described the binder became palpable. "Could you show me the binder?" She was only too happy to drop it on the counter and flip through page after page describing different varieties of milk that had to be ordered, maintained at temperature, tracked and reported. The company relied on a clunky, laminated hack. The AE zipped an email off to an executive suggesting simply, "I hear the milk binder could use some innovation." He landed a meeting.
If we're ever going to be great listeners, we need help with our curiosity. Our customers are constantly trying to show and tell us what's important, and we miss a surprising amount of this while leaving our clients feeling sold to. These four prompts are specific things that will deepen your conversations and your relationships into the authentic and profitable partnerships.
Ashley Welch and Justin Jones are the co-founders of Somersault Innovation (www.somersaultinnovation.com) — a Design Thinking consulting firm providing a unique approach to sales development. They also are the authors of "Naked Sales: How Design Thinking Reveals Customer Motives and Drives Revenue."