“Real [sales] professionals listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent.” Rick Phillips, the author of the article “Don’t Pressure, Persuade” espoused this ‘fact’ in the Jan/Feb 2010 Selling Power Magazine. I disagree. If you take this statement at face value, you could actually sound more like an interrogator than a sales person.
Certainly we want to listen more than we talk but let’s step back a bit and think of how you may want to approach your potential customer before peppering him or her with questions. You need to convince the listener (your client/prospect) that you have something of value for them to consider. Perhaps the emphasis should be placed not on the 80/20 listening rule but another rule: all conversations are voluntary. With this in mind you start to think of questions that are important to learn about your client’s business and challenges that demonstrate to them that you have a basic understanding of their situation, issues and challenges. You need to keep in mind how what you are saying (and selling) will apply to their situation—what’s in it for them.
No one can argue with what Mr. Philips says about the importance of preparing thoughtful, open-ended questions. When you think of selling as teaching (as we have mentioned in previous blogs), then it’s easy to understand how important it is to engage your customers in meaningful dialogue. Think of when you were most engaged in school and when you learned the most. It was when you were asked questions that made you think! When someone makes a statement, it’s really easy to become a passive listener. You can nod yes or shake your head no while your mind is focused on a myriad of other things at the same time. Even if what the person is saying is important, the odds of your remembering it are significantly less if you are not engaged. But if that person asks you questions that make you think, you actually are applying a different part of your brain. Questions are the only communication vehicle that ensures mental self inquiry.
And it’s by making you think that behaviors can be changed. Those questions can be the start of a great revolution—changing your customers’ buying behavior. But great questions and great listening only work well when you have made it clear in your dialogue that there is something in it for them for volunteering to dialogue with you.