Want more sales? Start listening

I was so nervous the first time someone referred to me as a sales expert. I hadn’t yet generated a gazillion dollars of revenue, so how did I stand out to this person?

Once I realized they admired my ability to consistently bring in four- and five-figure contracts, I realized there was something I was doing to consistently land sales for my company. And who knew it was the perfect skill for people who don’t think they are good salespeople?

It starts with being a better listener and pitching based on what your prospect tells you they need.

Curious about how the technique works?

Stop talking and start listening

Stop telling people what you do. Don’t tell them your title, what your service offers, or how many different colors, sizes, bells, and whistles your product comes with. And definitely don’t use industry terms to describe your business.

You will probably want to revise your elevator pitch to do this. But honestly, you can start by sharing your pitch now and then develop a list of questions that get people talking about who they are and what they do, like:

Why did you decide to attend this event? How did you get started in X industry? What is something interesting you have come up with in your business or work?

Be open to asking questions that might hurt your feelings but give you valuable insight into what people really need in your industry

Let me share an example from a high school entrepreneurship class I teach. I teach the same principles in my youth and adult classes, so this is not just for those who have “real bills” to pay!

My students brainstormed an idea to start their own businesses. They had to solve a problem that existed in their lives or the lives of their family or friends. They had to tell me how the idea solves a problem (easy). And then they had to do some research by talking to 20 people and asking them questions: What are their problems? What are their needs? Goals? Motivations?

Each time I do this activity, students realize they need to spend more time talking to their market before they launch. I always hear frustration at this point because they think they have to throw out their whole idea.

Here are some common responses from their market research surveys:

  • People didn’t understand the need for the product.
  • They thought the price was too high, even if a charity would receive proceeds from the sale.
  • The prospects had less urgency to buy the product than the students originally thought.

You need this information even if you are already knee-deep in your business!

Once students do this activity for the first time and get their feelings hurt a bit, it makes it easier to go back to the drawing board and revisit what will get customers interested.

Listen, if you’ve tried out a new recipe for your family, you’ve done this activity before. You ask for feedback after the first time, and then you tweak the recipe to make it better, right?

Don’t see feedback as a bad thing. It’s actually the best thing ever because you’ll be closer to nailing a solution that is much easier to sell.

Youll get better at sales by gathering data from prospective customers

You’ll love how this story ends. I was working with the class on their second business idea. The students were planning a sale at their school. Can you guess what the students wanted to do first?

Survey their peers and teachers.

They wanted to know what items the school wanted and how much they were willing to pay for them. They based all of their ordering on these surveys and had a clear sense of what inventory to gather. I challenged the students to go further with their questions. Listen for insights that prospects might share that you didn’t even think to ask.

They discovered the following:

  • A sizable number of their peers were not impulse buyers. So they opted to focus on pre-sales.
  • Buyers wanted credit card and debit card options for payment. So they looked into electronic options.
  • Their peers had a clear preference for their long list of food items. Ordering inventory became a breeze.

I know you may not be working with a specific target market for a school. But I’m betting that these ideas will apply to your prospects and target customers. Talk to your people. Find out what their concerns are. Listen. Listen some more. And don’t try to solve the problem immediately.

You cant do this activity only once

I recommend that you do this type of customer interviewing regularly.

Meet a new prospect? Great! Start by learning about their challenges. A car dealer did this to me a few years ago and upsold me to a higher-end model without realizing it. I told him I hate getting into a car when it’s cold, and he had me in the luxury model where I could heat up the car while inside the house.

Working with current customers? Great! Don’t assume that their needs will always be the same. Be willing to talk to them every few months and discover what has changed. What new opportunity might exist? Where could you drill down more and provide more support?

Get started and be OK messing up

It will take some adjustments to listen to what people are requesting. And yes, it might even require shifting your current service offerings.

But it is worth it if the answers align with your prospect’s needs.

So, tell me, what’s shifted for you? What will you add or edit in your next conversation with a prospect?



11 thoughts on “Want more sales? Start listening

  1. Kemya Scott says:

    Isn’t that why they say we have 2 ears and one mouth, so we can listen more? This is a great post, and you’re right. The more you listen, the more you can uncover about your prospect, and ultimately provide a better fitting solution to address their needs.

  2. Rik says:

    I love eavesdropping as market research, both on- and offline. Twitter chats in are a great way to find out what your client base is looking for, and often they won’t censor their delight or disdain as much as they would if you asked them directly.

  3. Tamyka Washington says:

    Very true, being an attentive listener can really make a greater impact in the way you position yourself in the marketplace. Great post!

  4. Dequiana Jackson says:

    Listening is definitely a necessary skill when in business. As your students learned, it is easy to get excited by your own product or service launch and then be disappointed when it doesn’t sell like you thought. That disappointment can be avoided if you listen to your customers first.

  5. Tammy says:

    This is good advice. I believe in listening more than I speak and am always telling my children to do the same thing. Large companies survey their target market and asks plenty of questions to understand what makes them tick. Its just natural that small business owners to the same thing. Thank you for reminding us we need to do this in our business.

  6. Dawn says:

    Thank you for these tips. It’s always great to step back and see what they need.

  7. Elbony says:

    I like this post to gain more of what others are wanting is so important by listening, because they are talking and by asking the right questions. It’s a great post!

  8. Danica says:

    Great insight! So important to actively listen. Thanks for sharing

  9. Marijana | LadyofAwesome.com says:

    I have gotten this idea of listening when I first started learning about inbound marketing earlier this year. It does make the most sense of all the selling, I have to say!

  10. SJ says:

    How interesting! I liked your post.

    SJ simplyconversing.wordpress.com

  11. Dr. Taffy Wagner says:

    I love this article. It is so true!! Thank you for taking the time to write such a thought provoking post.

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