It’s all about information.
A tremendous amount of information exchange occurs when meeting with a stakeholder for the first time. Whether you are prospecting or meeting new stakeholders from existing customers, there is a dialogue full of questions and information sharing. The challenge has always been to keep that conversation as natural as possible. Unfortunately, old sales processes were not designed to do that. The conversation often became an interrogation, preventing the customer from engaging.
How things have changed
We cannot “act” any longer as if we, as salespeople, have all the answers as long as the customer answers all our questions. With the customer being much more informed, their expectations of what should happen during meetings have also changed. They do not want to be part of your checklist of questions. Instead, they want more information exchange and to know what value you can add early in the meeting. So, how do you achieve that? The answer lies in using the power of authentic questioning and listening.
What about the sales process?
Following a linear sales process will not do the job. Instead, the sales process is non-linear. Although you still control the flow of the meeting, the questioning and information exchange is genuine from both sides. The salesperson and the customer have the unpretentious objective of learning from each other. Compare this to meeting a person for the first time at your neighbour’s BBQ. If you find a common interest in the first few minutes, you both do the asking and talking. Maybe you have met such a “new friend” recently. Try to apply such conversations in business too.
What happens during these types of conversations is assertive communication. It’s about genuine interest, less about being concerned about yourself and what you want, and more about how relevant you are to the customer’s situation and challenges.
The challenge remains
The challenge we have as salespeople is how to achieve that. Despite our best intentions when preparing for a meeting, we often find ourselves, after ten minutes, still doing all the talking or asking all the questions. So how do you stand out in the city of noise? How can you make a lasting impact and become more memorable? I always say: “In your preparation for meetings, what questions you will ask and what information your share, your focus should be on what you want the stakeholder to do after you leave the building (or finish the phone call)”. Will that person talk to another colleague about the meeting he/she just had? Will they share and tell the story you told them to get your insight across to others? Will they pro-actively suggest meeting with you again…tomorrow?
The power of being authentic
Authentic questioning is your answer, which goes hand in hand with genuine listening. These are skills top salespeople do very well. Instead of thinking about the next question in their head while the customer is talking, they focus and listen 100% to what the customer is saying. Doing so affects the stakeholder’s little voice in their head, saying,”: This is a genuine person who has a genuine interest in me and my business. As a result, they feel understood and want to continue the conversation.
How to start?
The beginning of the meetings is crucial. You must earn the right to be a respectful conversation partner within the first few minutes. Start, after the first moments of chit-chat, by showing what you know so far about the customer and their business. Then verify what you think you know and use both ears for authentic listening. Listen from a place of curiosity. Don’t get distracted, and certainly don’t listen with a half ear thinking about your next question. Find moments that you can relate to and listen with the intent of really understanding. Focus on how you can genuinely help the stakeholder with their buying process. Show that you are present and not just there to sell. Express that in a statement demonstrating that you understood what was said. What was the meaning or emotion behind the stakeholder’s answer?
Do this several times within the first half of your call or meeting, and you will see the change happening at the stakeholder. They feel good around you and open up, a prerequisite for a successful meeting. That’s the power of authentic questioning and listening.
A note to sales managers: Observe your team members. How well do they apply the skill of authentic questioning and listening? Then, start coaching like never before.
Feel free to share with your colleagues and teams.