How can you better influence the sales process? A lot of people think that spending the majority of their time talking about their product or service is the best option. But the truth is that telling is not selling. Selling is about helping the other person understand why they want to pay you to help them achieve their goals or objectives. The most effective way to reach that point is to ask questions to understand your prospect’s reasons. Data from sales intelligence company Gong.io confirms what great salespeople intuitively understand: Salespeople close more deals when they ask questions rather than just make their pitch.
Selling is not a "one-size-fits-all" process. Your customers not only have different challenges, needs, and vision, but also budgets, decision-making and implementation processes. Every sale should be designed and customized to fit the individual needs of your customer. There is only one way to discover their needs - by asking questions.
But don't get me wrong here – I’m not talking about checklist-style questioning of following some "script" of questions crafted in advance and following your pre-set "agenda". I’m talking about asking high-quality, thought-provoking questions based on what your customer is saying. The more customers talk, the better. The trick here is - you need to really hear them. People crave being heard and understood. When people feel listened to, they feel good about the listener - you. Those good feelings will make them want to buy from you.
The power of asking meaningful questions is the art of empathetic listening. When you’re listening, you’re not only making real connections with people but you’re also learning. Listening helps you design your customer’s unique and right solution and build a trusting, long-lasting relationship.
The Art of Listening
Salespeople usually think of themselves as being good talkers instead of good listeners. They see listening as the passive side of conversation. To the majority, being in control means being the speaker. Unfortunately, this is not an effective approach. Gong.io’s study also shows that top salespeople listen more and speak less. If you don’t listen, you miss the opportunity to build trust and rapport, uncover your customers' true needs and let them know that you understand their world.
Top salespeople “forget” about their "scripts" or "agendas" and really listen - not only to the words, but also to what isn’t said. They are masters of understanding emotions, tones of voice, facial expressions, body language. This type of listening can make a huge difference and encourage customers to open up more and reveal their true needs. This also brings trust and commitment to the sales process.
So, how can you master your listening skills?
6 Tips You Can Use Right Away
Approach your sales conversation like, well, a conversation. Think of yourself as a concerned friend: you’re here to help your clients discover their needs before you even start pitching your solution to them.
"If I need to get a full picture of this person's world before selling a solution, how would I approach it?"
Gong.io’s study confirms that top-performing salespeople make a sales conversation a conversation and not an interrogation. They scatter questions throughout the chat based on what was said. In contrast, lower performers frontload questions in the first half of the sales conversation as if they’re making their way through a checklist.
The study also reveals that top-performing salespeople ask questions differently than their peers. Consistent with past research, there’s a strong connection between the number of questions a salesperson asks and the conversion rate. Conversion rates start to drop off after about 14 questions, with 11 to 14 being the optimal range.
Be genuine. Selling isn’t about developing and mastering "selling techniques”. It’s about developing and mastering true relationships with clients and creating valuable long-term interactions. Make sure whatever “technique” or “style” you use fits you. The best conversations you have are the ones you have when you are authentic and really being you.
Ask open-ended questions. Questions like this demonstrate genuine curiosity, empathy, and a desire to understand. People are encouraged to share their stories with you. You might be surprised to find out what sort of insights you can gather from your customers. These are insights that your competitors might never get.
4. Ask / Tell
Balance inquiry and advice. The more customers talk, the better. But they’re also looking for your insight and advice. Make sure you balance these needs. Remember the post about using the SCARF Model to grow sales? If your customers feel like you’re telling them what to do then their sense of autonomy, status, relatedness, and fairness is lowered. As a result, they may ignore your suggestions or argue against them.
Think about presenting your information in a way that your customers feel that they are in control and not being pushed to make sudden decisions.
Nothing is better for mastering something than by practicing it. Find your best ways to practice.
In terms of listening, it’s not just a skill that’s only used in your sales interactions. You might notice a huge improvement in your other relationships when you become a great listener. Remember, people crave being heard and understood. That’s everyone around you, not only your prospects.
You might remember the time when a suggestion from someone made a significant difference to your sales approach. Seek such interactions. Talk to your peers, leaders. Find a mentor. Consider coaching. These interactions can help you win more clients and sell more. The more you grow as a person, the more you grow as a salesperson.
Learning the art of empathetic listening and powerful questioning is the key to successful sales conversations. Telling is not selling. Speak less, listen more and master the power of questions to win sales.
The best sales people not only understand the importance of the art of listening, but also the art of organization. Learn how outside sales people are driving 25% less and selling 20% more:
About the Author: Magda Voigt is a certified Solution-Focused, Results-Oriented™ and Neuroscience-Based Coach. She specializes in translating neuroscientific insights into actionable change strategies. Magda helps professionals, their teams and their organisations achieve positive, lasting change by leveraging the power of the brain to drive performance and results.