When someone tells me to “drive carefully” before I jump in the car, I want to oblige, but I don’t really know what to do. I really only know one way to drive.
Similarly, we often tell salespeople to “listen better.” I think most salespeople want to, but really only know one way to listen.
Here are 4 new ways to listen in a sales meeting:
1. The moment before
When a salesperson begins a meeting, they generally go into “meeting mode” where they attempt to clear their mind of all distractions and focus on that customer.
We assume the customer is doing the same. Are they?
If the meeting begins at 9am it may be the first thing in the salesperson’s day, but the tenth thing in the customer’s day. While the salesperson is beginning from scratch, the customer’s mind may be divided between phone conversations they just finished and conversations or tasks they know will follow the salesperson’s meeting.
Salespeople need to consider the moment before the meeting began and how the carry-over effect may be affecting the customer’s attention span, humor, and stress level. Every hour of the day changes the equation; the later in the day, the more likely the moment before distraction is kicking in.
It is for this reason that my favorite time for a meeting is the beginning of the customer’s day. That’s why I ask customers what time they usually get in and begin work when scheduling client meetings. Meetings scheduled then are less likely to get delayed and more likely to begin without unnecessary distractions.
Learning to interpret signals from body language as a seller is important, but the real insight happens when we learn to observe the changes from someone’s baseline behavior.
It is for that reason that I begin meetings with comments and questions designed to get to the customer’s “normal” behavior. This can be called rapport building, schmoozing or the ‘nicety portion of the meeting’.
Sellers who skip this casual talk miss the opportunity to learn how the customer behaves when they are not under pressure, not considering your offer, not describing their “pain points” – in other words, their baseline behavior. Sellers who spend too much time at this stage of the conversation may actually annoy the customer.
Leave this stage as soon as you picked up the baseline, not when the customer begins to look at their watch and say “Okay, let’s get down to business."
3. Old answers
Salespeople need to probe to find the needs, the pain points, etc. The seller already knows that they are going to be asking those questions, but the customer can’t possibly be as ready.
For that reason, you should listen for how long it takes the customer to begin answering. Knowing that people sometimes need a running start of a sentence or two before they get to their point you should wait it out until you can figure out if the answers you’re hearing are “genuinely considered” versus a knee-jerk reaction.
If their answers are knee-jerk reactions that tells me they are not really listening to me. That’s the cue to ask other questions designed to be different than the ones they are prepared for. Listen for the breakthrough “genuine” answer. You need to get there well before you ask critical questions about budget and timetable.
4. Close to the vest
Eventually, the salesperson is going to ask about how much a customer is willing to learn about and potentially pay for a solution to their problems.
Before you ask, position yourself to see their eyes and/or hear their breathing. You are looking for and listening for micro-reactions, which are changes from their baseline.
The customer may want to hold back on overtly revealing their true feelings, but you can pick up a quick eye movement or change in breathing.
If I can, I position myself to see a suddenly raised index finger or change in foot position from flat and relaxed to upright in a momentarily stressed position. It makes it worth asking “I have the feeling that there is more to your answer, can you please elaborate?” (or words to that effect).
It may give the customer the invitation they need to let down their guard and tell you what you really are listening for.
It is amazing what else you hear when you know what to listen for.