Stop, Look and Listen

Paying attention to details could help you close that sale.

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

An effective sales meeting or call has two components: asking questions andlistening 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 outwhat he or she really wants. Listen for facts, feelings, beliefs and desires soyou can respond and frame your next questions appropriately.

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

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

2. Lead-ins and endings. Use these handy verbal tools when paraphrasingto provide conversational bridges and to stress to your prospect your desire tounderstand and fulfill his or her needs. Lead-ins include phrases such as "Itsounds as if" and "What you're saying is..." These phrases show you've beenlistening. Endings include such phrases 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'smother has given you a long list of desires for her daughter's wedding, plus anumber of concerns about everything from the cake to the tablecloths. You mightsay, "It sounds as if, while we should carefully review all the checklist itemsfor the banquet, your main concern is that everything from the food and decorthrough the cake should be unique and of the highest quality within the budgetwe discussed, isn't that right?"

3. Case histories. These are stories of ways you've solved challengesfor clients or customers in the past. Write down enough case histories tohandle 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 witha retail prospect. The prospect says the only problems with her presentsupplier are their time-consuming ordering process and high minimum orderrequirements. Your best bet would be to tell a case history explaining howanother retailer benefited from your policy of low minimum orders and easyordering by fax.

4. "Just suppose" statements. These are useful when proposing solutionsto meet your prospects' unique needs. They combine paraphrasing, lead-ins andendings 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 aswell 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 readyto close.

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