In my consulting practice, I never talk about the salesperson’s speaking ability—I always refer to their communication skills. Communication is a two-party, two-action process. In sales communication as in other types of inter-personal communication, each person takes turns speaking and listening. Person A talks and Person B listens to what they say. Then Person B replies and Person A listens to their answer. There is a completed communications loop—hopefully.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that way much of the time. In fact, I’m sure you can probably identify plenty of instances where the communications loop isn’t completed. Your spouse is talking to you about the necessity of squeezing the toothpaste tube strictly from the bottom, but your mind is on what your best customer was complaining about today, so you don’t “hear” a word that’s being said. The sound physically strikes your ear drums. Your neural system transmits it to your brain, but it doesn’t register because your brain is busy with something else. And so you have the same “conversation” the next morning.
Or your sales manager is going over (for at least the tenth time) the pricing strategies for your fall line but you’re busy mentally calculating the effects of the new pricing on the sales incentive payouts and, besides, you’ve heard this spiel nine times already. He’s talking and you’re hearing, but you are not listening. There’s a big difference.
It happens all the time. One of my favorite examples occurs when you use that automatic conversation opener, “How are you?” Most of the time, you’ll get an automatic answer like, “I’m fine. How are you?”
Every once in a while, though, the answer is far from automatic: “I’m terrible, my dog died yesterday and I’m just heartbroken about it.” But you’re still in auto-answer mode, so you come back with, “I’m just great, too. I know you’re busy, so let’s get right into the presentation.” I’ve done it and I bet you’ve heard it happen, too. You think you’re paying strict attention—but you’re not listening to the other person.
Most people think that a salesperson’s job is to talk. Even worse, many salespeople think that. And salespeople who believe that their job is to talk the prospect into submission then fail to complete the feedback loop by listening to what their prospect is saying. And they wonder why their closing ratio is so low.
I won’t belabor the point. Just remember that more sales are made with your ears (and what’s between them) than your mouth.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.