I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “I hate sales.” Whether they said it from the perspective of “I don’t want to sell,” or “I don’t like the feeling of being ‘sold’ to,” I get it. I hate the typical notion of sales as well, what it is and how it’s generally done. But that’s not how it has to be. We can shift that paradigm by making sales about learning and listening first.
Last week I had a conversation with a friend in my network about the opportunity to attend a free webinar presented by an organization supporting women in sales. This friend is self-employed and does incredible work that makes a difference; she facilitates communication training for leaders and teams, specifically focused on enhancing leadership listening capabilities. In our current corporate culture, I believe we need more of what she does. But she is reluctant to “sell.” She told me, “I’m not a salesperson. I’m a teacher and a listener. I want to make the world a better place by teaching people how to listen and understand each other. That’s how we change the way business is done.”
Admittedly, she resists anything having to do with sales training, CRMs, follow-up cadence, etc. She said, “I don’t want to sell. When people find me, we have a conversation and I try to understand them, and they understand me and then they decide to work with me.”
So I said, “Then actually, I would say you’re one of the best salespeople I know!” Clearly, she listens and builds trust in order to “close the deal.” Then I thought, "What if she were able to have many more of those conversations? What would that ultimately do for her income and the impact she can make in the world?"
At the most fundamental level, people want to feel heard and understood, not spoken at or sold to. Unfortunately, this is how our culture views sales; salespeople talk too much and don’t listen enough. In fact, a 2016 global survey fielded by HubSpot, 69% of buyers wish that their salesperson listened to their needs and 61% want a seller that “isn’t pushy” and provides information relevant to them. In a sales role, without a commitment to listen first versus advocate, it’s nearly impossible to build trust, and trust is ranked the number one component in choosing to work with a salesperson by 51% of decision-makers.
I suggest we shift our perspective and consider sales to be an even exchange. Maybe my friend was onto something. What if we were to call ourselves Listeners instead of Salespeople? The most critical aspect of meeting the needs of our buyer and closing a sale is being able to listen to their needs and articulate how we can meet them. Listening comes first. Speaking and sharing information comes dead last. In between, ask questions to confirm what is important to them. Here are four simple things you can do to start shifting the sales experience, both for you and your potential clients and customers:
- Don’t try to sell your product. Seek a deep understanding of what your buyer needs and cares about.
- Be curious. Ask questions with the intention of slowing down to truly listen to the answer.
- Don’t prepare a scripted pitch. This will only prevent you from being able to genuinely listen and respond to your prospect’s needs and concerns in the moment.
- Appreciate that not every prospect is a great fit. If you listen to learn you may determine that you can’t meet the specific needs of your buyer. In that case, be honest and respectful of their time and end the meeting.
Collectively, it’s time we shift our negative perception of selling and open the door for meaningful conversations built on a foundation of trust. As the “seller” we need to tap into the gifts we have to offer. If we know we can help our prospect and be an ally in their business success, it’s much easier to have a genuine connection and conversation.