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Listening Sells

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A salesperson recently stopped by my shop. He was selling advertising and, honestly, I was very interested in buying it from the moment I saw what he was offering. In fact, I was completely hooked and ready to write a sizable check within the first few minutes.

But first I had just a few questions about the offer. Once those were answered I was planning to buy. This is where things took a turn for the worse, for him.

For whatever reason, he could not pick up on my cues that I wanted to ask a question. I put my hand in the air and opened my mouth slightly to indicate I wanted to say something. Eventually I stopped making eye contact and just stared at the paper he put in front of me as he droned on and on.

It was clear he wanted to finish his highly rehearsed speech, all the while pulling every verbal sales trick out of his grab bag to make sure I had ‘all the information I needed to make an informed decision.’

Well, I had already made a decision at first to buy, but the more he talked, the less interested I became. I started to realize this whole transaction was all about him. If they were offering me something of value, it should have been about me, right? I mean, I had mentally already stroked the check. I was right where they wanted me. But, he kept talking and talking and talking. So, he loses. No sale.

When a salesperson engages a potential buyer, we automatically assume they represent the culture of the company they are selling for. In this case I could only assume the culture of his company is talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. So what happens when I have a problem with his product or the service that surrounds it? Am I to assume that their customer service department will be totally attentive and ready to help?

Listening well takes work and practice and learning. But it can be learned and to be really effective in any endeavor I believe it must be learned. I fully agree with John Jantsch, who writes in his book The Commitment Engine: Making Work Worth It, “…one of the master skills of any marketer, manager or educator is the ability to listen perceptively to what our prospects, customers, staff and community members are saying. And I further believe this is something we all have to work at.”

Here are four simple tactics that I use in my shop when someone comes in for an estimate:

1. As soon as the customer walks in, acknowledge them. Even if you’re in the middle of what seems like an important conversation with another person on your team or a vendor, stop that conversation and say, “Good morning. How can we help you?” If you’re with another customer preparing an estimate or doing a delivery, you should still look up from the moment they walk in. Acknowledge them and let them know you’ll be right with them. Potential customers are never an interruption. They are the reason our shops exist and our only hope of having a future.

2. Focus on them. Ask them questions. If you have a short story about yourself or your experience related to what they are talking about, that’s a great way to build trust, but it must be short and directly related to what they want to talk about. Get them to tell the story of the accident. It will usually involve anger, frustration, or even embarrassment, so empathy matters. While you are writing the estimate, get them talking about their car, how they like it or how long they’ve owned it

3. Use their name, but don’t overuse it. Using it once or twice during the conversation is good. Using it constantly sounds a little creepy. Definitely use it at the end of the interaction, as in “Thanks, Lisa, for coming in today. Let us know when you’re ready to schedule your car or if you need anything else.”

4. Kill the jargon. Customers don’t know what DRPs, R and Is or PDRs are. They have no idea what we mean when we use shorthand, insider industry language. What they know is that they have a need and they are hoping you can help. If you use industry terms, take an extra five seconds to explain them. For example: “You might notice that we put the tail light on your estimate. It’s not broken and we’re not charging to replace it. All we’re doing is taking it out so we can paint the part of the panel that is behind it.

Listening and keeping your customer’s needs front and center is the best way to show you care and ultimately to grow your sales.

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