Originally published in Forbes
By Randy Illig
I once was interviewing a candidate for a sales role on my team. After some chit-chat, he said, “I’d really like to listen and learn. I want to find out what’s important and what you need.”
And then he talked for 39 minutes straight.
While ostensibly trying to listen and learn, he went on and on about himself. I even tried to ask a question, but he only rambled on some more. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon in the sales profession (and no, that candidate didn’t get the job).
In my last column, executives shared how salespeople drive them crazy. And one error was so common that executives called it the “Hall of Fame crash-and-burn:” not listening.
Read on to learn how salespeople get this essential skill wrong, drawn from interviews with executives from tech, banking, real estate and more.
Note: these responses have been lightly edited for clarity. Watch the full video interviews here.
- “I’ve literally had people come into my office and ask me an initial leading question and follow that up with a monologue. They ask me one question, I start to answer, they interrupt and then launch into a story that revolves around everything they’ve ever done, everything the product does, everything their service provides, how they can help when they get started. It’s too much, too soon.”
- “If you don’t bring anything to the second meeting that reflects the information you learned in the first meeting, it will end really fast.” That information is an advantage a salesperson has over the competition. A lot of times those differences between competitors are not that clear. In fact, they’re pretty much the same. So at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to buying that person, that team, that company. I’m buying them because they listened. I believe it’s in their culture; therefore, when I get to the project, I’m going to have people there who are going to listen to my people. It says that listening is probably important internally.
- “People like to talk about their business, if you give them the chance. You’ll find out a lot…if you just stop talking. It amazes me that this is still the biggest single issue salespeople have. They don’t listen. They’re too anxious to tell their story. They’ve been trained to tell their story, and they’re going to tell that story whether you want them to or not.”
- “Salespeople listen so rarely that I found myself doing a whole lot of coaching. Like stopping them and saying, ‘Listen, I’m going to tell you exactly what we need.’ They still don’t listen, even when they’re being told exactly what the client needs.”
- Here are three ways to become a better listener and create more value for you and your clients as a result.
- Prepare a list of the most important questions—and be bold. If your client would answer any question you had the courage to ask, what would you ask? Often the questions that you feel are most difficult to ask are the best ones.
- Send your questions to the client in advance. I find the sweet spot is three to four days in advance of the meeting. Thoughtful questions often require thoughtful answers. Your client will appreciate the room you provided for them to prepare.
- Stay curious. Often when a client gives a thoughtful, high-value response, the sale person takes it as a cue to talk about their perspective, experience, qualifications, etc. Avoid this trap. Practice asking follow-up curiosity questions: Tell me more. What makes this so important? How do others in the organization think about this? What led up to this?
Executives want salespeople to listen—not for validation, but for value. As one executive said, “I don’t get carried away with bells and whistles. I’m more concerned about what you’re going to have five years from now and how you’re going to maintain an edge. And the way you maintain that edge is listening to your clients.”
These three approaches will make for rich conversation, lead to a deeper understanding of your client, and help you expertly align your solution to perfectly meet your client’s needs.
- Randy Illig is global leader of FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice.