One of the things that I enjoy is watching people that I've coached become recognized as 'sales thought leaders. Greg Brown has been a sales leader most of the years that he's been selling. Today, he offers his thoughts.
One of the areas that I need to work on in my sales career, as well as life, is active listening. This got me thinking not only about being “active” when listening, but being “active” in other aspects of sales. In my mind, “active selling” includes a few different things:
Being a journalist
Having a conversation
Being “present” really means paying attention! We have so many distractions, it’s very easy for us to tune out. How many times have you been in a meeting and checked your email on your phone, or pulled up ESPN or some other non-business related website while you’re on the phone? When your mind is else where when your prospect is talking, you won’t hear what they are saying (or not saying). You can still repeat back what someone has said to you, but you won’t have processed or digested what they said. And this can lead to a salesperson presenting an idea or solution that doesn’t resonate with the prospect and have negative consequences on the sales process.
This can also include taking notes. I used to take notes by hand, but now in an effort to be more efficient, I try to type them right into Salesforce as I have my conversations. If I look back at my hand written or typed notes, I rarely have any complete thoughts. I start writing something down, but never finish it. And the stuff I write down is never the good stuff – it’s mostly a lot of fluff. Why? Because the conversation is happening faster then I can record it and I resort to writing the easiest stuff down. So now, I’m focusing less on transcribing the conversation and trying to be more “present”, even if this means spending a few more minutes after the call writing my notes. This ties really well into my next point, Active Thinking.
Active Thinking: I heard a great story today about teaching retail sales people to ask “is this your first time here” to shoppers who had just entered the store. Most folks who go into a story and encounter a sales person know what to expect – Can I help you with anything? Most people, including myself, reflexively say “nope, just looking”. If you try asking someone a question like “is this your first time here” instead, it may still elicit the same brush off response – “nope, just looking”. Why does that happen? Because shoppers have been trained for a long time on the common interactions when they enter a store. So when a sales person asks a new shopper the first question which is designed to get them engaged, the prospects don’t think, they use their reflexes and answer a question that was never asked.
Now, the point of telling that story is two fold. First, sales people need to find ways to get prospects to become “active” in the process. This is done by asking good questions that move them away from “sales person” to “trusted advisor”. Second, sales people need to guard against falling into the same trap as those prospects and not being an Active Thinker. It is common for a sales person to take mental shortcuts because they’ve had this conversation many times before. So their brain goes on autopilot which will manifests it self in the form of “not being present”.
Being a Journalist: My mother loves to meet people. When I was a kid, I was always being dragged to neighborhood parties, church events, work parties, networking events, etc. And I hated it because I was usually the youngest person there. The next oldest person was usually someone who had lived through 5 more presidents then I. At one point, I told her I didn’t want to go because I had nothing to say to the other guests. So she told me to pretend like I was reporter and ask lots of questions. That is a trick that I use all the time now. Most people only care about themselves, so the easiest way to get someone talking at a party is to get them talking about themself. And you’ll find that everyone will like you because you’re focused on their favorite topic – themselves.
The same principal applies to sales – pretend you are a journalist and you’re interviewing the prospect. Don’t just ask about their requirements or current provider. But really try to learn about who that person is, what they do, how they do it, etc. If you can get someone to spill their guts to you AND have them thank you for a great call, you’re on the right track.
Having A Conversation: As I noted above, I ask A LOT of questions. However, to some people, it can feel like a game of 20 questions (well, more like 100 questions). Those people feel like they are a part of some grand inquisition because at some point they realize that they were ones with the questions. But all they’ve been doing is giving me answers to my questions but they’re not getting any answers to their questions. So having a conversation means actually engaging with the prospect in a dialogue, not questioning them like they are a witness on the stand. It’s about asking good questions, showing your expertise and knowledge and getting them to like and respect you (some may argue that isn’t important, but I think it is. Yes, I have high need for approval) Having a conversation is a two way street and both parties should benefit from the discussion. Having a conversation, not selling them, will help you stand out from your peers and competitors.
Combining all those skills is what Active Selling is all about – and it’s really exhausting!