Listening is all about questions — Isn’t it?
By Charles H. Green
Trusted Advisor Associates
Most salespeople find it hard to move away from the 20 questions format. They act as if the purpose of questions is to find out in the quickest possible time what the “right” answer and solution might be. But your prospect didn’t ask to play 20 questions. She just wants to be heard and to be understood.
If you’ve spent any time reading or listening to sales experts — in just about any industry — you’ll notice they agree on one thing: the critical role of listening. For many people, that leads straight to focusing on questions. But that’s where many people go wrong. Try focusing less on the questions and more on the listening itself.
Reasons for listening
Listening sounds like a simple concept. Like the fellow who discovered he’d been speaking prose all his life, it seems like something we all know how to do. In fact, listening accomplishes many roles.
Education. Listening educates us. We find out who people are, how things work, what our clients care about and whether or not a client might be interested in us.
Engagement. We listen to clients to engage them, to get them interested and involved, and to recognize opportunities and pain points. Doing so lets us then move to educating the clients about opportunities and products.
Exploration. Listening to our clients lets us form and explore hypotheses, refine our ideas about what might be right for them, and make a business case.
Excitement. Listening well can help a client generate enthusiasm and excitement; a solution may actually be at hand for that frustrating issue that has nagged at them for so long.
Empathy. Listening empathetically creates an emotional link with our clients. This kind of listening is distinct because it comes with no separate agenda.
All have their place. When we talk about the first four, we end up mostly talking about questions. But with empathy, the issue is not question and answer — it’s relationship.
Clients give data to those who ask questions
Neil Rackham, the founder of SPIN Selling, performed the most extensive sales research ever done. His profound insight was that the ordering of questions you ask has a major impact on the sale.
His mnemonic phrase SPIN stands for Situation, Problem, Implications, Needs-Payoff. Sales failures were associated with jumping prematurely to solutions, the latter two steps; successful salespeople asked more situational and problem-definitional questions up front.
At the risk of vastly over-simplifying Rackham’s work, he proved the old line, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Still, most salespeople find it hard to move away from the 20 questions format. (You remember the game: you’ve got 20 questions to guess what the other person is thinking). They act as if the purpose of questions is to find out in the quickest possible time what the “right” answer and solution might be. Their questions tend to be about education and exploration.
But your < a href="http://www.producersweb.com/r/pwebmc/d/contentFocus/?pcID=59f4e58a84d46a5923c7c47cebc89037" target="_New">prospect didn’t ask to play 20 questions. She just wants to be heard and to be understood.
Rackham’s question sequencing is very right, but there is another way to state the issue:
- The more you ask questions, the more you’re focused on you.
- The more you listen, the more you’re focused on the client.
Clients buy from those who make them feel heard
If you’re pleasant and ask questions in the right sequence, you’ll get answers. But if you listen empathetically — with the emphasis not on questions and answers, but on making the prospect feel heard — you will discover a wonderful paradox.
If people have no other choice — and they usually don’t — then they’ll buy from any ordinary agent or salesperson. But send in a salesperson who actually seems to care and things change radically. People vastly prefer to buy from those who understand them on their own terms; people who listen to them, who let the client set the agenda, who try to understand issues from the client’s point of view.
Buyers prefer not to buy from a pure problem-solver. They prefer to buy from someone with a reasonable solution who they feel understands them.
For this kind of listening, the very simplest of questions are by far the best, questions like, “Wow, then what happened?” or “Hmmm, tell me more.” Those are the questions that get you the relationship, and the trust — and the sale.
Listening is partly about questions and answers. But it’s also very much about helping the client feel heard.