Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” While sales is (thankfully) a far cry from boxing, there is something quite relevant to Iron Mike’s famous quote, especially when it comes to interactions between reps and prospects, and the futility of best-laid-plans in the face of real-world conversations, with all its nuances and unpredictability.
But having a plan doesn’t mean sticking to a specific script. In fact, a much better approach (in addition to understanding your discovery process and sales demo cadence) is to focus on what to listen for, rather than focusing on what you’re going to say. Doing this will no only help guide the conversation in the right direction, but it can help you spot opportunities (and problems) more effectively, and allow you to make the most out of every customer conversation.
Here are five things every sales rep should listen for on a sales call:
1. The customer’s problem
When it comes to listening, this is where the rubber meets the road. The most important thing you can glean from a conversation with a prospect is an idea of their problem; and not just their problem as they see it, but their real problem, which might actually be different from the way they’re framing it.
A sales rep’s primary mission statement should always be: “How can I help?” And the only real way you’ll ever be able to help someone is if you understand their problem through and through.
2. Their own attitude and framing
It’s extremely important to listen to a prospect, but it’s equally as important to listen to yourself. Salespeople tend to get off on tangents, and sometimes, when we start talking, it can be hard to stop.
This isn’t always a deal-killer, but in some cases, it might be, which is why keeping track of how you’re coming off, for how long you’re speaking, how often you might be interrupting the prospect, and how you feel about the interaction are all important things to do on every sales call. Building relationships starts with self-awareness, so make sure you’re keeping track of yourself whenever you’re on a call with a potential client.
3. Feelings and emotions
If you listen carefully enough, you can usually get an idea of how prospects feel about certain aspects of their role/problem/solution. This is important because it can give you clues about which things to focus on in order to close the deal.
Does the prospect become upset when they’re talking about a specific problem? Do they sound confused or contemplative when discussing various options?
These are all important things to pay attention to, since they give insights into the prospect’s mindset, and provide a more robust picture of what’s important and what’s not. When a prospect is speaking, pay close attention to their emotions.
4. Buying questions
There are questions (which are almost always good), and buying questions, which are usually a pretty good indicator that the prospect is seriously considering signing for the deal. It’s important to understand what type of questions are buying questions, and to listen for them on every call, as they can guide your conversation accordingly.
Questions about contract specifics, pricing, discounts, and post-closing implementation are all buying questions that signal interest, though there are quite a few others that are a bit less obvious. Buying questions are a signal, so make sure you keep an ear out.
5. Tone and cadence
A prospect’s tone and cadence can tell you a lot about them. Are they enthusiastic? Are they slow and methodical? Or are they dominant and looking to control the conversation?
No matter the answer, paying attention to a prospect’s tone and cadence can help you build rapport through a process called mirroring — matching their tone and energy so that they feel more comfortable.
To be sure, you don’t want to go overboard or be too obvious about what you’re doing, so make sure you are mirroring subtly. But it can be a great way to subconsciously get the conversation to flow, and it all starts with the most important sales skill of all: listening. And don’t forget the one thing that all good listeners do: ask questions.
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