Sometimes plans don’t unfold as you intended.
An explosion, an underground fire, and a five-day power outage in Calgary recently conspired to alter events for me. Rather than following my intended schedule, I got a chance to conduct some off-site sales training for a couple of days.
And I learned something about yet another male stereotype.
We were doing some group role playing around asking better questions, listening, and probing deeper. The goal was to find out all of the potential issues before starting to formulate any solutions.
Time and time again the people performing as the “seller” would suss out some indication of a problem or pain point with the “client” then jump immediately to pushing the client toward their solution for that one problem.
The tendency for jumping faster to a solution increased if the seller thought they had stronger subject-matter expertise. Instead of using their expertise to probe, the person playing the seller used it to make up their mind on a solution faster and demonstrate their subject-matter expertise.
I challenged them on their lack of patience and listening, and here’s the bombshell they dropped on me.
“Of course we are jumping to solutions, we’re guys.”
How many times have we heard that men don’t listen that well with the opposite sex that because they are focused on solving problems. The woman just wants to be heard and allowed to feel better about the emotional side of things. The guy wants to solve the problem and feel needed.
In fact, if you read almost any advice column you’ll find that a man’s tendency to problem-solve without making the woman feel heard has threatened to kill some great relationships.
Well, not listening well in sales is a deal killer too.
How It Plays Out
I see this time and time again in sales: in the field, when being sold to and when conducting training.
It is not really that sales people don’t care. Most do.
It is that they want to show value as soon as possible. To provide a great solution. To feel needed.
Sales is largely about serving, when it is done well.
After all the best sales people usually have a great mix of empathy and ego – empathy to care and bond with people, and ego enough to desire success so badly that they keep going in the face of rejection.
It derails when sales people (or romantic partners):
- Don’t listen because they are busy forming their response
- Don’t probe deep enough
- Don’t look for other “bigger” pains or problems
- Don’t show the value of solving the problem
- Start presenting solutions too soon
Presenting solutions is easy. You know your products and services inside and out (or you should.)
Ultimately you hope to find a quick fix and move on. “1 million customers served” and counting.
Part of this is our natural ability to take lots of information, pattern match and then determine threat or benefit.
So we take short cuts, we categorize, and make snap impressions.
A good part of the behaviour is also learned. From grade school to university to employment, we’re rewarded for solving problems.
And then there’s the overwhelming number of demands for our attention. The sheer volume of advertising is distracting us. We have smart phones and social media.
We get distracted and lose focus easier.
We aren’t present.
We are focused on ourselves and the noise in our minds.
So the solution to improve sales performance?
The 8 Keys to Sales Excellence
Learn to be present when with a prospect or client (or the love of your life.) Nothing else should be on your mind. To truly uncover the pain or problems you need to be fully engaged. You need to listen.
Your quotas, your kids, your other problems are not important in this moment. Unless you are expecting a call from the President to save humanity from a giant meteor, turn off your phone.
Off. Not. Vibrate. All the stuff will still be there later.
Leave your busy mind chatter behind.
Learn to avoid the questions everyone asks and ask the ones that are related to uncovering problems you can solve.
Don’t stop at the first issue. Even though it may be tempting, it might not be the most pressing issue.
The typical advice for sales people is to make the problem seem bigger so you can create urgency. I don’t think people appreciate that. Yes, fear sells. But let’s make sure the problem is solvable first.
Find the Biggest Problems
You want to find and solve the biggest or most pressing problems first. You also want to avoid making a big deal about too many problems.
Jumping on too many little things when there are bigger fish in the ocean just makes the prospect stop listening. If you aren’t listening they won’t.
If you are uncovering, and more importantly, stressing too many problems you will overwhelm the prospect. The typical response to overwhelm is fight or flight. They will either argue or ignore ALL of the problems.
Then guess who will be leaving?
Picture a Better Future
Don’t leave them with pain. Help them tell you what their world will look like if they solve the problem. Give them the hope.
If you can’t solve that issue, say so and hook them up with someone who can, then move on to things you can solve.
Bridge the Gap
Pain or problem on one side versus a better future on the other side.
The value or benefit is the difference between the two. It may be monetary, and it may be an intangible. Get clear on what it is.
Once you have the biggest problems out front and you have the value or benefit figured out, get the person to confirm that this is worth solving. If it is not, then you will never have a sale and you will both go through the stress of trying to close the un-closable.
Finally, Your Solution
Show how your solution will provide that bridge. This assumes of course that you actually have a great product or service and it can actually solve the problems. If not, you have no business offering it.
Ask if they have any questions or concerns that would stop them from moving from problem to ideal situation.
Value Sells Itself
You can’t convince someone to buy something they don’t see the profit in. If you’ve done a great job so far and you show value, the sale will happen naturally. Sure you may need to help in the process. People resist change and decisions in many cases. But it must be in their interest or you will get buyer’s remorse.
If the value is big enough you probably have a sale. If not, there are other people out there you can help.
No More Jumping to Solutions Without Listening!
Stop selling like a man, even if you are a woman.
We all learn to sell as children. When we are really young we also learn to listen. We listen to everything and try to understand it.
Then as we grow up and start working, we learn other habits. On our own, through expectations, and through example.
I’ve heard plenty of women say that men don’t listen as well as women. But then I’ve seen those same women complain about how other women don’t listen. Or I see them not listening to other women.
The reality is that both sexes have lots of room to improve on being present and listening. We’ve all learned habits that aren’t serving us.
I am sure that there are great listeners on both sides. We started out that way. If we can change our habits, we can go back to that state.
Relationships are key; key to life and key to sales.
But taking sales to the next level means we have to really listen and really be interested in the other person’s world.
Only then does your solution make any sense at all.
If you’re selling, and we’re all selling someone on something, sell like someone who listened.
Photo: Flickr/Jeffrey Zeldman