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I have often heard it said that the best sales people have the gift of the gab. Not so, in my view, the best I have come across have been exceptionally good listeners. I have had the benefit of working with some very good ones over the years and the more I saw of them the more I realised that the best ones paid a great deal of attention to what their customers actually said.
I suppose it is fairly obvious that if you are going to sell something to someone, you have to know whether they need it or not. There is also a big difference between a need and a want. I want a gold Bentley Continental, but actually I just need a car to do my job. Separating out customers wants and needs is all part of the salesman’s job and it starts with the listening process. So how do you get your customers talking so you can listen?
The best way is to ask them a question about themselves or their business. Most of us enjoy talking about ourselves and normally will jump at the chance if we have the time. The sort of question you ask will also determine how much the customer discloses. Sales people often refer to open and closed questions. The open questions elicit the most information. “Tell me about” or “Can you describe” are good ways to start an open question. If you start the question with “who” what” “where” or “why”, the chances are you will get a short answer.
Try it out next time a customer comes into your business or you meet one on their premises. Rather than starting out with what a good service you can give or how brilliant you are compared to your competitors, think about a good relevant open question to ask them. “Tell me about your plans for growth” or “describe what your business will look like next year” should get them talking. You might need to use one or two closed questions to fill in some of the detail, but if you start with an open one, you will be surprised at what comes out.
Of course having got the customer talking, you need to listen. There is a big difference between listening and waiting to speak. If you are doing the latter, the information will go sailing by. You will be waiting to get your next point in during a gap in the conversation. So make a big effort not to do it and instead pay attention to every word. You will be surprised at how much you learn about their needs and wants. If you are going to do any business at all, you will have to satisfy their needs first and provide a few of the wants as an added bonus.
We have a saying in the business, that the best sales people have two ears and one mouth and they use them in that proportion!
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