Some Assembly Required

Ears Two Sizes Too Large?

There's an old saw that cuts something like this: "We're born with two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak." But that's just not enough for the supersalesperson. Harris believes great salespeople spend 80 percent of their time listening to their clients, processing each tidbit quickly. "They can recall and use information heard two or three minutes earlier in the conversation to move the sales discussion forward," says Harris.

Simultaneously, supersalespeople peel away the layers of the conversation. They pay particular attention to what's in the background. Behind their words, clients reveal critical information that goes beyond their wants and needs-to their abilities. Are they buyers? Filters? Influencers? Magennis says supersalespeople can hear whether there's potential to develop sales growth or long-term relationships.

Being a good listener doesn't require superpowers. Why? It's a learned behavior. Some 90 percent of all successful salespeople start out as poor listeners, says Magennis, but they learn to modify their behavior.

More Than Lip Service
Salespeople are frequently seen as mouthing meaningless platitudes or phony camaraderie. It's a bad rap, especially for the supersalesperson. In truth, the mouth lubricates the sales process-not by telling but by eliciting. A quality salesperson knows how to draw the customer out.

"The supersalesperson is able to instantly build a rapport with people," says Sapio. "I call it the three-second rule. Within the first three seconds of a salesperson's conversation, the customer will decide whether there's a rapport."

After rapport comes discovery. "Salespeople get paid by the questions they ask," Hickey remembers hearing once. Good questions elicit the true objections and needs of the prospect. For example, the supersalesperson might ask: "If we were to meet three years from today, what would you want to have happened to you personally and professionally?"

Magennis says if there's no answer, then that relationship has limited potential. Silence has meaning. "The customer doesn't see the salesperson in his or her life in three years helping solve problems." So the salesperson is unlikely to establish a relationship that drives sales.

And knowing when to shut up is one quality that Hickey says is critical to the oral tradition of sales.

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This article was originally published in the August 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Some Assembly Required.

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