Actually, you can listen your way out of a sale

I’ve written in the past about certain industry clichés that drive me batty. One that I’ve heard a number of times recently is “I’ve never listened my way out of a sale.”

As a presentation coach I hear this saying more often than most because there are a certain percentage of sales people who have a bias against presentation. This bias is driven to a large degree by a philosophy best represented by another cliché: “sales is all about listening.”

Of course sales is not all about listening. Sales is about communication, which includes active listening and effective presentation (which can be delivered in a conversation).  I actually think it would be pretty easy to “listen your way out of a sale.” In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you’re relying exclusively on listening (I was once told “the only time a sales person should be talking is when he’s asking a question”) it’s downright impossible to make a sale.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve spent multiple meetings with the prospect asking smart questions and actively listening to their answers. As a result, you now thoroughly understand their current situation and process. You have a firm grasp of the challenges they face as well as the goals they need to achieve.

Based on the fact that you have asked intelligent questions and listened so well and have such a firm grasp of the prospect’s situation, you determine that the time is right to ask for the business.

What would that closing question look like? It might be something like this: “Mr. Prospect, I have a firm understanding of your issues and challenges and it is very clear to me what you need to achieve, so I’d like to know if you agree that it makes sense to move ahead with my company’s solution?”

If you were the prospect how would you respond? My response would be something like this “Mr. Salesperson, I so appreciate that you’ve taken the time to understand my issues and my goals, but before I’m able to move ahead with your solution, well uh…I need to know what it is and exactly how that solution will address my issues and help me achieve my goals?”

This would be my response because listening is only part of what sales is “all about.” After you’ve listened you need to be prepared to prove to the prospect that you in fact can solve their issues and help them achieve their goals. In order to do that you need to be able to effectively present your solution and the evidence that will persuade the prospect that you have the answers to their problems – otherwise you will listen yourself right out of a sale.


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