Sometimes we lose out on promising deals because our prospects are giving us indications that all is not well but we’re failing to listen to what the prospect isn’t saying.
Oscar Trimboli is a deep listening expert who is on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world, and he starts by helping us understand what we should be listening for when we interact with our prospects.
Taught to speak
We all learned to speak, to do math, and to study literature, but none of us can remember our listening teacher. As sales reps, we spend a minimum of 55 percent of our day listening, but only about 2 percent of us have been taught how to listen.
Remember these two bits of statistics as you listen to the information in today’s podcast.
- The 125/400 rule. I can speak 125 words per minute, but you can listen at 400 words per minute. You’re programmed to be distracted and filling in 300 words. You’re contemplating what to have for dinner or what to do over the weekend when you realize you have to get back into the conversations.
- The 125/900 rule. Your prospect can speak at 125 words per minute but you can think at 900 words per minute. The likelihood that the first thing your prospect says is actually the thing he means is about 1 in 9 or 11 percent. If you had 11 percent chance of a successful surgery, you probably wouldn’t proceed without a second opinion.
Most likely, your prospect is well-rehearsed and is speaking like a well-oiled machine. The most powerful thing we can do is explore the other 800 words per minute that are stuck in their heads.
When we grab on to those unspoken words, we can unblock pipeline and begin to understand our prospects.
We must be mindful to ask our prospects what they are thinking and to listen for the things the prospects aren’t saying. Oscar spends his days teaching people to be obsessed about the cost of not listening.
We often don’t do this because we assume our competition is those people we normally compete against. Many of us are listening for code words that a prospect might say that would link to a product or benefit.
The really skillful sales reps focus on the customer’s customer’s problem. Instead of thinking about the person in front of you, think about the customer that this person must go speak to.
The pipeline becomes shorter and more qualified, and you avoid unexpected surprises.
Change the question
We should consider the power of asking the question, “How does a business case like this get approved in your organization?” We’re good at asking who approves deals without asking how they get approved. Once we ask how it gets approved we will understand who else we’re being compared against.
Many large organizations have a project management office that filters the funding for all new projects. If you don’t know when that group meets or who participates or what other projects you’re being evaluated against, you may find your deal slipping away.
- Understand the 125/900 rule.
- Help the prospect sell the business case rather than what you’re actually selling.
- Help your prospect orient on the customer rather than on your offering.
If you do these things, your pipeline will look very different.
Help your team
Build some muscle around listening for what isn’t said.
Find the organization’s website and determine what matters to them. Use the words the company uses in your selling process. Don’t use your language rather than their language.
If the CFO can’t read and understand the first page of your proposal, you’ve failed.
Help your reps become fixated on their customers’ customers’ problems. It’s the difference between good and great.
Teach in a way that can’t be misunderstood and figure out how your clients make money.
Listen in color
Many of us listen in black and white. Oscar is trying to teach the world to listen in color. How do we notice the energy of the person across from us?
Oscar also asks his client, “If this organization was a movie or an actor or a book, which one would it be?” Many people listening might call it Titanic.
The question gives them a permission slip to tell the truth in a different way. Use a metaphor to figure out what the prospect is thinking in a different way.
You can carry the metaphor forward and discover who the villain of the movie is.
If we talk in this colorful metaphorical language we can quickly get much more from our prospects. Listen to what your prospect isn’t saying.
Get to the truth
Your prospects will tell you as many lies as you think they will. They aren’t doing it intentionally. It’s just that your questioning isn’t helping them get to the truth.
You can help them bring their truth to life using these techniques. Make it as conversational as possible.
If the person you’re talking to is a jock, ask which sporting team the organization would be. If he’s a nerd, ask him what character on The Big Bang Theory the company would be. They won’t suspect where you’re headed with that question.
The art of selling is your ability to be in the moment.
Ping pong questions
Don’t go into the room asking, “What keeps you awake at night?” Oscar calls it a disrespectful question and says that if you ask it, you haven’t even earned the right to be in the room.
Try to ask more how- and what-based questions rather than why-based questions. People may perceive your why-based questions as judgemental. People often feel more defensive with why-based questions.
Instead of “Why is this project being funded,” mention that you’re curious how projects like this are funded. Just by changing the language, you make it more comfortable for them to explain.
How-based questions move conversations along more quickly. This truth emerged with suicide counselors who discovered that why-based questions slow a conversation down and buy them time with people who are in danger of making poor decisions.
Hostage negotiators also stick to when, how, and what-based questions.
Listen for what’s unsaid and remember the difference between how quickly the prospect can think and how quickly he can speak.
Help them explore their thinking rather than helping them explore what you’re selling. You’ll become a trusted advisor.
“Listen To What The Prospect Isn’t Saying” episode resources
Connect with Oscar at his website, and if you visit oscartrimboli.com/listeningmyths, you can find a hack sheet with five tips that explore the things we’ve discussed here. It will help you listen beyond the words.
Connect with me at email@example.com.
Try the first module of the TSE Certified Sales Training Program for free.
This episode is brought to you by the TSE Certified Sales Training Program. I developed this training course because I struggled early on as a seller. Once I had the chance to go through my own training, I noticed a hockey-stick improvement in my performance.
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If you gave a lot of great presentations and did a lot of hard work, only to watch your prospects choose to work with your competitors, we can help you fix that. The new semester of TSE Certified Sales Training Program begins in April and it would be an absolute honor to have you join us.
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