How well do you listen? I mean, REALLY listen?
Today I have a super-tip for you that you can use in any situation to strengthen your question and listening skills, and more importantly – your relationships.
Once I was made aware of this one simple tweak to my question skills, it allowed me to connect more quickly, have deeper conversations, and ultimately create more opportunities.
(click here to listen to this post or the play button below)
Women know everything…
Yah I said it.
Okay, to be honest, this power tip actually was given to me last year by my amazing girlfriend, Ursula. Who, by the way, is an amazingly talented ballerina and just wrapped up a show in Anchorage, Alaska a few weeks ago. Check out these pictures! Isn’t she awesome? I went to Alaska to watch her dance and it was amazing.
Anyways, she came to me last year to share an article she had read about the one thing that will make a successful long-term relationship. This tip is now a fundamental piece of my sales training. It is what I call my best listening technique for sales.
The story goes like this: A man and a woman are standing on their porch looking out and the woman says, “Look how beautiful those trees are.”
I ask people, what do you think a normal response is from the man? And most people answer:
- “Uh huh.”
- “That’s nice.”
- “What trees?”
This usually gets people laughing, because we all know how common that is in our everyday lives, right? Well, what happens when you say something like, “That’s nice.”?
You KILL the conversation.
The tip they gave was to think about the fact that the person sending the message wen to all that trouble to start a dialogue. I like to think a bit more deeply and outline how complex communication really is. Think about it:
- An observation with her eyes – she sees the trees
- Her brain processes that as a thought
- She makes a decision to communicate
- She forms her lips and tongue in such a fashion and pushes air through her mouth
- The air in front of her vibrates
- Those vibrations enter his ears and in turn, vibrate the cochlea in the inner ear
- The ear translates those vibrations back into nerve impulses and enter the brain
- Those impulses are processed as a received idea and then as a new thought
And then the man responds with, “Uh huh.”
When you think of it in these terms, you are essentially talking about MAGIC! We have the ability to vibrate air and transfer thought into another person! So what do we do with it?
The answer: When she says, “Look at how beautiful those trees are” the correct response is, “What do you find beautiful about those trees?”
This way, you acknowledge all of the magic that has just taken place, and create a dialogue. It is that simple.
This one idea has changed the way I communicate because it has made me more aware of what people are saying and how I can better tend their stories. So I constantly have to thank Ursula for sharing that with me and helping me be a better listener. She’s pretty awesome!
The best part for me when I work with women on this is that they instantly get what it feels like on the other end of the conversation and they are super-empathetic to what they may be doing to their customers. With guys, it takes a bit more work…
Applying this power listening to sales
Now put this into a sales context.
In my video on SPIN Selling I shared with you some of the best questions you can ask for success in sales. However, you must keep in mind that selling is not about being an interrogator, where you just ask question after question to get answers to suit your needs.
True selling is about a two way dialogue where you seek to understand the other person, help them frame their problem, and then outline a collaborative solution based on that conversation. Which is the same foundation as success in ANY long-term relationship, right?
So watch yourself now as you are talking with others. Do you kill the conversation or tend their story? Gut check time.
I see it happen all the time – a customer shares a juicy piece of info and the person selling to them simply skips it and moves on.
The key to this is to dig a bit deeper, get clarification, and better qualify them. At the same time, not rushing to solve and trying not to make assumptions.
Here are some examples:
- You are a fitness coach. You ask a customer about a challenge they’re having with their fitness. They tell you they’re worried about sticking to their goals. The normal response would be to say, “Oh that’s normal, and what we will do is…blah blah blah.” Instead, use what they said and ask for clarification by saying, “What about your goals do you think will be hard to stick to?” It may not be what you assume it is.
- You sell marketing services. Your customer shares with you that they don’t think that social media works for their market. You may want to tell them all the reasons that’s not true, or you could ask, “Why don’t you think social media works for your market?”
- You sell printers. You discuss printing needs with a customer and they tell you that they they would like to switch to you as a supplier, but they are worried about the headache of switching. A normal response would be to reassure them and say, “Don’t worry, we will make sure that we do…to make it easy…and…more stuff.” Instead just ask, “What about switching would give you headaches and worries?” Now they will tell you what you need to talk about.
- You work in education as an Admissions Advisor. A potential student calls and says they want to make a career change because they are not happy with their job. The typical answer is, “Oh well we have great programs and can help you find something you will enjoy, blah blah blah.” Instead, the BEST question they could ask is, “What about your job are you unhappy about?”
- You sell consulting services. You ask a potential client what they feel success would mean in a year from now if all of these solutions were in place. They tell you that they would feel great. You should then say, “What about that new reality would make you feel great?
In all of these instances, we can identify an opportunity to pause, listen, and tend to their story.
Are you finding these opportunities in YOUR conversations? Or are you just waiting for your turn to speak and say a bunch of stuff.
When was the last time you were listened to?
This is the major factor. In our everyday lives, it is rare that we are truly listened to. By using these questioning and listening skills, you demonstrate to another person that you care, that you heard them, and you truly do want to understand.Genuinely listening to someone is the best gift you can give them.
Read more about effective listening skills on this post.
When I do training for teams, my favorite ah-ha moment comes when I get them to tell me what their best questions are. They immediately start telling me all their best statements or things they tell people. I listen, take notes, and try to pull more questions out of them. Then we look at the ratio of statements to questions and are all shocked to see they haven’t really practiced their question skills.
How can you listen if you don’t ask?
Like the Michael Bolton song goes, “How can we be lovers if we can’t be friends?”
The three part sales conversation
Let’s simplify all of this for a second.
Now we know where we may be missing opportunities, give yourself a challenge and TEST this process for your next calls.
- Step 1: Create powerful questions. Have a list of questions that you have tested and that get your customers talking. Something like, “Why is now a good time to look at this product or service?” or “What were you doing before this?” or “Who else should be involved in this discussion?” or “What are you hoping to achieve through this process?” The key here is to have a list and test them. Which ones work well and which ones stall out? Then use them to get people talking.
- Step 2: What about those trees do you find beautiful? Based on the lesson from above, pay close attention to the answers they give you and find one piece of the dialogue you want to dig deeper on. Once they finish speaking, tell them you were really interested in what they said about____. And then say, “Can you tell me more about that? What about _____made you feel/were you worried about/made you laugh/etc?”
- Step 3: Have power statements that are tailored to each scenario. Once you have demonstrated your awesome and rare listening skills, you can now confidently tell them an idea you have on how to move forward. They will be ready to move forward and more willing to listen to what you have to say at this point. And you have built TRUST! The key is to make this genuinely about what they have just shared. NOW, you can actually offer a compelling solution based on framed problems and needs.
This may sound simple and it is. But it’s not easy – it takes practice. You have to make yourself aware of this and regardless of how talented you are, identify gaps in your abilities or processes. If you aren’t brutally honest with yourself you may never realize these gaps, and limit your opportunities.
So have fun and put these skills to practice. Write out a conversation game plan that has these three parts and then see how well you do each week in sticking to it. Test it and see what works, what doesn’t, and how you progress.
So again, thanks to Ursula for sharing that juicy nugget of magic and giving me the best listening technique for sales. I HEARD you!
One word of caution. If you search for Michael Bolton songs, be careful it doesn’t start playing them in a playlist. You were warned.