Listening is a skill few people have mastered, but one which all successful sellers and buisness owners have.
What's the traditional image most people have of sales people? Great gabbers and slick talkers, able to use their verbal prowess to finesse even the most reluctant prospects into buying. Those of you who have see the movie GlenGary GlenRoss know what I'm talking about; a crew of desperate, veteran, old-school sales people trying to talk their way into a sale - with no success. While this method may work in some 1-call close situations (selling vacuum cleaner or encyclopedias, for example), it is a recipe for disaster in all other situations. Why? Let's investigate.
In most business-to-business selling situations, buyers are looking for more than a product or service. They're looking to address a nagging problem, or to achieve a corporate or departmental goal. Such situations are, by there very nature, more complex than the 1-call close alluded to above. Multiple decision makers with differing agendas, shifting and competing priorities, along with competitive pressures dictate the need for a higher level of skill on the part of the seller, if he or she is to be consistently successful. Now, common sense tell us that you can only solve a customer's problems, can only help them achieve their goals, if you know what those problems and goals are. And you can only know what their problems and goals are if they tell you what they are and you listen to what they are telling you. We are all born with two ears but only one mouth - maybe that's nature's way of telling us that we're supposed to do more listening then talking. And adopting that discipline is, in fact, what separates great sellers from mediocre and poor ones.
Now, this may all seem quite obvious. But if that is the case, why is it, then, whenever we get in front of a customer, the first thing we do after the small talk is done is whip out our brochure or fire up our Powerpoint and start showing the customer what great widgets we have? We do it because (a) we are familiar with our offering, and we feel comfortable talking about that with which we are most familiar, (b) we assume if the customer has agreed to meet with us they are interested in what we have to show them, and (c) we don't know any better - the necessity of asking questions to uncover a customer's objectives has never been explained or impressed upon us.