In a recent post to his BussinessWeek blog, Carmine Gallo sat down with Steuart Martens, a regional training instructor for Sonic Automotive who believes active listening is the best way to secure new customers. Martens began by explaining, “You sell the person first, the car second.” This is his foundation to four sales tips that have one thing in common: active listening.
First, what is active listening? It’s when your main objective throughout the course of a conversation is to attend to the speaker. What is he/she truly saying? What motivates him/her to say those things? What is his/her body language revealing about their thoughts and feelings? Once you’re able to truly listen to a prospective client, what you say becomes much more powerful. With that in mind, here are Martens’ four sales tips:
1. Paraphrase your prospective client
Not only does this indicate to the speaker that you are listening, but it also helps you know that you have understood what has been said. This one step alone can eliminate much misunderstanding and help you to appreciate the speaker’s greatest concerns, interests and needs.
2. Ask discovery questions
In order for a prospective client to become a client, you must understand their situation, which requires you to ask the right questions at the right time. A prospective client may think they only need payroll services, but upon asking the right questions, you may discover that they are experiencing financial difficulty because they have cash-flow problems. However, in order to earn the right to ask certain questions you must secure the prospect’s trust. Martens explains, “When asking discovery questions, it’s important to start with ‘low-trust’ questions before moving to ‘high-trust’.” ‘What accounting services are you most interested in?’ would be an example of a low-trust question while ‘What kinds of financial struggles are you experiencing in your business?’ is a high-trust question.
3. Watch body language
Is your prospect antsy and agitated or still and thoughtful? Watching their body language can often be more informative than listening to what’s being said.
4. Take notes
While it would be nice to secure a prospect as a client in your first meeting, odds are that won’t happen very often. It’s important that you take notes during your conversation so that you can remember key points the next time you meet. This will build a prospect’s trust and enable you to move your relationship forward more quickly.
Active listening is a simple skill that enables you to focus your attention on a prospect by communicating a genuine concern for their needs. The more you practice this skill, the more quickly you will secure a prospect’s trust. And the more quickly you secure a prospect’s trust, the more quickly that prospect will become a client.
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Gallo, Carmine. “The Basics: Four Sales Tips.” 21 July 2009. BusinessWeek.com