Stop, Look and Listen

Listen and learn
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the May 1999 issue of . Subscribe »

"I'm listening" may be the catch phrase for fictional TV psychiatrist Frasier Crane, but it should also be the mantra of every successful entrepreneur. Listening is the single most important component of any interaction with a prospect or customer.

An effective sales meeting or call has two components: asking questions and listening to the answers. If you do both well, you'll build trust and rapport. By asking the right questions, you uncover your prospect's needs and find out what he or she really wants. Listen for facts, feelings, beliefs and desires so you can respond and frame your next questions appropriately.

Instead of thinking about your one-on-one meeting or call to a prospect as a "pitch," practice consultative selling. That's when you uncover and fill needs in a friendly, noncombative and supportive way. Your meeting shouldn't focus on "What I offer"; it should be about "What you get."

Begin your conversation with an opening benefit that underscores the reason your prospect is meeting or speaking with you. Then, it's a matter of asking good closed- and open-ended questions that help you understand your prospect's needs and expectations. It's a sure sign your meeting's going well if your prospect is doing most of the talking.

Before your next meeting or sales call, plan what types of questions you'll ask. Closed-ended questions are great conversation-starters. These may be answered with a fact, a yes or a no. Open-ended questions elicit answers that reveal a prospect's emotions.

Get Over It

Here are four ways you can use listening to help a prospect overcome objections and agree to close the sale:

1. Paraphrasing. Like you, customers want to feel they're understood. As a good listener, you can demonstrate your empathy through paraphrasing--validating your prospect's statements by rephrasing them in your own words. For example, suppose a prospect tells you he's hesitant to switch suppliers at this time for fear of missing important deadlines during the transition. Your response might be, "I understand. Switching to the wrong supplier right now could be risky." This communicates to the prospect that you understand how important it is to meet deadlines--and that you could be the right supplier if he decides the benefits of change outweigh the risks.

2. Lead-ins and endings. Use these handy verbal tools when paraphrasing to provide conversational bridges and to stress to your prospect your desire to understand and fulfill his or her needs. Lead-ins include phrases such as "It sounds as if," and "What you're saying is . . . ." They show you've been listening. Endings include phrases such as " . . . isn't that right?" and " . . . wouldn't you?"

Say you're a bridal consultant meeting with a bride-to-be and her mother. You've drawn them out with open- and closed-ended questions, and the bride's mother has given you a long list of desires for her daughter's wedding, plus a number of concerns about everything from the cake to the tablecloths. You might say, "It sounds as if, while we should carefully review all the checklisted items for the banquet, your main concern is that everything from the food and decor through the cake should be unique and of the highest quality within the budget we discussed, isn't that right?"

3. Case histories. These are stories of ways you've solved challenges for clients or customers in the past. Write down enough case histories to handle the typical objections you'll encounter in prospect meetings.

Let's say you've created a line of herbal bath products and you're meeting with a retail prospect. The prospect says the only problems with her present supplier are their time-consuming ordering process and high minimum order requirements. Your best bet would be to tell a case history explaining how another retailer benefited from your policy of low minimum orders and easy ordering by fax.

4. "Just suppose" statements. These are useful when proposing solutions to meet your prospects' unique needs. They combine paraphrasing, lead-ins and endings into one powerful bundle.

If you were the herbal products entrepreneur described above, you might say, "Just suppose you could get the same product line you've been happy with as well as easy, 24-hour ordering by fax with no minimum to buy. You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Your prospect would respond, "Yes, I would." And you'd be ready to close.

By listening carefully and proposing custom solutions, you'll build strong relationships with customers that lead to long-term sales for your new company.

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