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How To Sell More by Identifying What Type of Listener Each Customer Is

Learn how to communicate more dynamically in sales conversations by understanding which of these four strategies your potential customer is using to listen to you.

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The following excerpt is from Jill Schiefelbein’s book Dynamic Communication. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

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Most businesspeople go into any type of sales conversation thinking they need to give . No. Your goal in a sales conversation is to ask the right questions. That will help you ascertain how to transition prospects and customers from information to knowledge faster. So how do you make that transition? Enter the listening matrix.

Related: 6 Strategies for Being a Better Listener

The listening matrix is a four-stage continuum for understanding how someone is listening to you. Depending on which stage your is in, you’ll use different communication strategies to move your audience closer to a decision.

Let’s examine each stage and learn how to drive conversations that lead to well-informed decisions.

Stage one: the writer

You’re talking, their hand is quickly writing. At this point, the audience is listening to you, but they’re listening to take notes, get general information and perhaps relay this information to someone else. You must progress past this stage if you want them to take action and turn the writer into a thinker.

Transitioning your audience from a writer to a thinker can be done with a relatively simple line of questioning:

  • What do you think about [insert topic]?
  • What is your opinion on [insert topic]?
  • What are your feelings on [insert topic]?
  • What is your view on [insert topic]?
  • What is your perspective on [insert topic]?

By asking these questions, you’re inviting your audience to engage in dialogue about a product, service, idea or decision. Asking your audience to stop writing and start thinking will get them to start identifying with the information that you’re providing on a personal level. This is a precursor to getting them to place the information in a bigger, decision-driving context.

Stage two: the thinker

At this stage, your audience is still listening for information, but they may ask questions to clarify facts, figures, features, details etc. When they step back from their notes for a second to begin to process, the decision-making engine is starting and they’re likely at a pivotal point, where they’re deciding if the information is worth investing more energy in.

Here are a few questions to help guide your conversation in this stage.

  • What do you know about [insert subject]?
  • Would you share with me what you know about [insert subject]?
  • What does your company know about [insert subject]?

With these questions, you’re figuring out what your audience knows and getting them to start thinking in a bigger context about how they’ll apply the solution you’re offering for positive gain.   

Related: 5 Ways Listening Grows Your Business

Stage three: the interpreter

The interpreter stage is when your audience starts to interpret how something will apply -- its consequences, its benefits -- to them. You’re closer to having your audience take action. At the interpreter stage, your audience has decided they want to know more -- and not just information. They want to know how the information you’re providing will look in their context. You’ll know you’re in this stage when they start asking questions about how something you presented applies in their world, at their company, in their home etc.

Often in this stage, you’re not asking many of the questions. Your audience is. However, if you’re not quite there yet, here are a few questions that can help you make the transition. Focus on the benefits that your idea, product, service etc. will bring to the table.

  • How would your business change if ... ?
  • What would it look like if your organization used ... ?
  • How would your job be easier if ... ?
  • What would be the best outcome for you if ... ?
  • How would you react if ... ?
  • What would it take for this to work in your ... ?

By getting answers to these questions, you’ll be able to understand where your audience’s mind is positioned relative to your topic. When you know how others are applying the information at their disposal, you’re armed with useful intel.

When you’ve gotten your audience to listen at this level, you’re truly engaging in dialogue. Now it’s time to move your audience to action. Your goal is to get to a decision phase -- whatever that decision may be. Let’s get to the decider.

Stage four: the decider

If your audience is listening in this stage, they’re primed to make some type of decision. The deciders are ready to go.

Your success in this stage will be determined on how well you’ve connected with your audience and how well you articulate your request. Your job in this stage is to get the action. That means you want to hear them say “yes” to the majority of questions you ask and ultimately to your final ask -- to sign on that dotted line (or the equivalent). Here are a few questions you can use to make sure you’re driving this conversation toward the finish line:

  • Can you see this working for your business?
  • Do you see this meeting your needs?
  • Are you comfortable recommending this to your board?
  • Is this solution within your budget?
  • Do you want to get started today?
  • Is this something you feel your sales team could benefit from?
  • Shall we talk about some solutions that we can work on together?

Related: 25 Tips for Earning Customer Loyalty

No matter what, at this stage you need to get a “yes” or “no” and move to the next step of the relationship. The “yes” could be to a future conversation, an on-site demo, a meeting with the CEO, a signed contract, a partnership or merger or simply an agreed follow-up date. But you have to get an action from the conversation, or you’ll remain in the “no sale” zone.

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