Is listening your superpower?

Karl Palachuk

I was listening to a presentation by Jenifer Novak Landers on the topic of Conceptual Selling - selling something your prospects can't understand or see. In that presentation, she mentions that listening is a super power.

That really struck me. Most of us think that listening is a passive skill. As such, we feel an urge to jump in and tell our story, lead the conversation, and push the benefits of our product or service.

Imagine this: You are in a conversation with a prospect. You have exactly ten minutes before the conversation ends. Can you sit and listen for nine minutes? Eight minutes? Sometimes we’re afraid that we won’t be able to tell our story. We’re afraid we won’t be able to impress the prospect.

In that scenario, you might find yourself NOT listening for eight or nine minutes. You might be just waiting until it’s your turn to speak. That’s not what the prospect wants or needs. And you’re not really listening.

Super-PowersListening becomes a super power because:

  1. The prospect feels heard
  2. You begin to understand the prospect’s needs and concerns
  3. You can formulate a response that actually addresses the prospect’s needs and concerns

Why Are You Here?

Think for a minute. Why are you in front of this prospect? You’re here because they need something and you might have it. In many cases, you initiated the contact. So you might think the prospect wants to see you about BDRs or security or cloud services. Whatever you were promoting when you asked for the meeting, that’s what you think the prospect is interested in.

But the reality is that the prospect doesn’t really understand as much technology as you. They very likely said yes to the meeting because they need something and you are a computer consultant looking to find new prospects. That’s it. To them, you provide technology support. They need something. They want to see if you’re the one to provide it.

Don’t bemoan the fact that you’re trying to sell a specific service. Rejoice that you got a meeting with a prospect. Now be brave enough to be flexible with your agenda and let the prospect lead.

We all know from experience that most new prospects have brought you in to respond to a need. Perhaps they are thinking of changing service providers. Maybe they’ve never hired a consultant before. Their backup might be troublesome. Their server may be rebooting on a regular basis.

Some thing has brought you to this meeting. The thing is often grounded in fear or the desire for change. Occasionally the thing is based on curiosity about some technology that’s been in the news.

Here’s the important part: You don’t know why you’re here until you ask. In response to Landers’ statement above, one of the audience members offered up this advice: The most powerful opening for a sales meeting is “Why am I here today?”

That question opens you up to receive information. Sometimes I think I.T. consultants are right up there with barbers and bartenders. Everyone wants to tell us their problems. And we would do well by listening! Let’s look at three scenarios.

Scenario One: Something’s Wrong

FearThis is the prospect who clearly knows that something has to change. This is the classic case of the prospect feeling pain. You need to discover the pain. More than anything else, you need to let the prospect know that you understand their pain.

Remember that a lot of “pain” in business is based on fear. If I know my backup is failing frequently, I fear I might lose my data. If my friend’s business had a security breach, I might fear the same will happen to my business.

The next step beyond that is the actual crisis. Something broke. Data was lost. Equipment was stolen. These are all common scenarios where we’re called in.

I hope you see that a standard sales pitch about disaster recovery options is probably out of place. It might be ten percent on the mark and ninety percent off. How do you know? Listen.

When people are in pain, they want to tell someone about it. Many consultants are not good at listening here because our level of knowledge is so much higher than the prospect. We can check out a hard drive in short order and know what the situation is.

That might be what the prospect “needs” for his technology, but it’s not what he needs to hire you on the spot. To hire you, the prospect needs to feel that you will make him feel safe again, taken care of. This isn’t just another backup situation.

The last thing the prospect needs to hear is that you’ve done this a hundred times and it’s no big deal. It IS a big deal to the prospect! Listen and reassure them that you will take care of things. Never say something that dismisses their concerns.

Scenario Two: The Door is Open

Open-DoorThe prospect has decided to hire a new consultant. It might be that they want to replace someone, or they may be hiring for the first time. In either case, the need/fear is the same. This prospect needs someone to maintain her technology, and she fears it won’t be done right – or maybe she fears it won’t be done at all.

If you’re potentially replacing another consultant, you’re likely to hear things like, “I don’t know whether the patches are being applied.” Or, “I don’t know what I’ve been getting for my money.” You can demonstrate that you’ve heard the prospect by offering reports that keep them informed.

If the prospect is hiring a consultant for the first time, they’re likely to have a pretty good understanding of what they’ve been doing in-house for many years. Again, listen. Ask what they’ve been doing, how it’s documented, who is in charge of technology, etc.

It’s important to respond to all of the prospect’s concerns about turning over this chore to an outsider. Think about how you feel about turning over your billing to a hired bookkeeper. You want assurances that it will be done well, and that you’ll get the information you need to feel safe. The prospect wants the same thing with her technology.

Scenario Three: Exploration

ExplorerThe prospect wants to explore some new options. They might have read a magazine article, talked to a friend, or even read your mailer on BDRs! In any case, they’re looking for a bit of education.

You might have your standard sales pitch all ready to go. Just remember to tune into the prospect and give them what they ask for – not necessarily what you prepared. If they are specifically curious about hosted backups, don’t sidetrack the conversation with hosted storage, hosted Exchange, hosted intrusion detection, and so forth.

First, address the prospect’s need. When you feel comfortable that you’ve covered that, ask the prospect whether they have all the information they need. Then ask if you can tell them about all the other amazing benefits of your cloud offering.

If you’re good at listening, you will learn everything you need to know to close the deal. People love to talk about themselves, their business, and their needs. They don’t realize it, but they also love to talk about their troubles and their fears. Let them!

Author Leil Lowndes has several books on How to Talk to Anyone, how to connect with people, and how to be a good conversationalist. She points out that people will think you’re a genius if you just let them talk about themselves enough!

Even if you’re a great salesman, try listening even more and see how much easier the next sale can be.

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