During a recent conversation about selling, a small group of sales professionals debated which of the required skills was most important.
“Listening” was quickly identified as crucial. “You can’t solve a buyer’s problem if you haven’t listened to learn what it is,” a colleague said.
We agreed, but… went on to discuss the best ways of positioning one’s self to do just that. And the debate continued.
Before we reveal the skill unanimously chosen as “the secret to sales success,” this exchange has prompted us to first re-share a story about the late Fred Hermann, who Earl Nightingale called “the greatest sales trainer who ever lived.”
Hermann was a guest on the Tonight Show and was asked, as a world authority on sales, to demonstrate his skills by selling the host a coffee mug that was on the desk.
Hermann asked, “What would you do with something like this?” The host came up with a few answers. “Anything else,” Hermann asked? The host thought of one more. Fred then asked, “What would you pay for something like this?” The host came up with a couple of different price points, and finally stated a figure. Fred said, “Okay, you can have it at that price – sold!”
Note that in the Tonight Show exchange, Hermann (the seller) never said anything about the product. Instead he made the sale by asking good questions and listening.
A good way to develop this skill is to set a “talk/listen” ratio in advance of all sales calls. In other words, pre-determine the percentage of time you would ideally like to “talk” versus the percentage of time you’d like to listen during each sales call or telephone conversation.
The ratio can vary a bit depending on each situation and which sales process step is in play but do your best to let the buyer talk at least half of the time. You might be surprised at how this simple habit changes your approach and, even better, at how it impacts your customers and prospects!
Should you decide to apply this approach you will quickly realize that the best way to achieve more balanced “talk/listen” ratios and to enhance our capacity to listen is to ask better open-ended questions (those that can’t be answered with a one word answer); and beginning sales conversations by asking these “better questions” instead of “telling” people about our product or services is the secret to sales success!
This perspective (the secret!) was concisely summarized by Fred Hermann, who often said, “Never tell them anything you can ask them.”