Given the fact that we think a lot faster than people speak, and much faster than our ability to listen, it is always important to look for ways to stay focused on what a prospect is telling us, and not rush ahead or interrupt with a thought triggered by something they said. My favourite way, is one I was taught long ago by a mentor; his approach is to ask yourself what you can ask the prospect/buyer, based on what they just said, makes you focus, listen, process and fully and actively engage.
This goes beyond the common technique many use, one that I find really irritating rather than in any way effective, specifically restating or parting, what the prospect said. We have all seen it in action, reps repeat almost word for word what the buyer just said as a means of demonstrating their attentiveness. “So what I heard you say is…”. Just wake me up when you’re done.
Don’t get me wrong, I get and support the intent, to ensure clarity and avoid the mistakes of assumptions. But as with many things in sales, it comes down to execution, how we deliver the message sometimes matters as much as the message. Simply repeating what they just said does confirm you were listening, one point for you; but that is a long way from understanding, processing responding in a meaningful way for the buyer.
A better way of demonstrating and confirming that you not only heard the words, but actually took in and processed what they said, is to integrate what you gleaned, and then use it to continue, drive and focus the conversation. As mentioned above, use it as a basis for further discovery. Rather than just parroting what the prospect presented, ask a question that builds or expands on the topic, or drills down on a specific aspect, allowing the buyer to elaborate, get further involved and in the process serve up more useful information. The more you drill down on what they say, the more they are encouraged to continue.
While everyone agrees that a good sales meeting is one where the prospect speaks the majority of the time, (I’ll settle for 51%), the reality is that rarely the case in most sales calls. Partly this is a symptom of the problem mentioned above, the seller getting way ahead of the buyer, and worse the incessant interruptions every time a sales rep heard the “secret word”, most often the “secret word” is some trigger word marketing conjured up as part of ”The Value Prop”. All this does is train the buyer not to talk, not to exchange information, after all, every time they are about to reveal something, the rep interrupts, clearly signalling they are not interested in what they buyer has to say, and would rather preach, leaving the buyer to just say amen to not buying.
One way to avoid this, and again demonstrate your attention and understanding, is to vary, ever so slightly, the way you take notes while the buyer is pouring their hearts out. May seem simple, but split your page into thirds, on two thirds take notes the way you normally would. The remaining third is for the “secret words”, the ones you are dying to hear, the ones you used to jump on, but won’t any more. Moving forward, you’ll right down the “secret word” and wait. This not only allows the buyer room to express themselves fully, but allows you take your time formulating a question, or a means of revisiting the subject triggered by the “secret word”, integrating it into a follow up question, again drilling down with a willing buyer. For example, “Earlier you mention consolidating, a lot of our clients have had success…, is that what you meant, or…?” Even if you are wrong, you will find out more, and have a buyer who feels they are not only being listened, but understood. Now there is a proper use of triggers.
What you will also find as a side benefit of a more engaged buyer is that they are much more involved and inclined to open up, ask questions, and reciprocate the courtesy and respect when it is your turn to offer up your information, in the process establishing trust, and starting a relationship. What you will also notice is that the more trust they have, the more information they feel safe in sharing; the more information you have the better you can continue to build trust; and the process seems to snowball on its own.
It may have made sense in grade school to parrot back what the teacher said, but by the time you got to post-secondary, there was an expectation that you would demonstrate you understanding and command of a subject by assimilating and integrating it. Isn’t it time your selling graduated too?