[Classic post from 9-5-16]
As a salesman since 1972, and a sales manager since 1975, I have a little experience in sales and teaching sales, and one might think that sales is mostly about learning what to say. Even salespeople often think this is true, but it’s not.
The art of sales–and it is an art when practiced with skill–is far more about not talking. It’s about listening. But, not just listening. It’s about listening to understand. A sales person’s best skill after listening to understand is asking questions to determine why and how the prospect wants to buy. If they didn’t want to buy, they wouldn’t be there; albeit, they may have put the cart before the horse.
Again, as with so many of these grand life lessons I’ve been sharing, they are not something that is learned and done. They are a practice. They are a practice because of our ever-present ego, and since there is no way of removing the ego, we can only control its attempts to lead, by our awareness that we are not our ego, and that our ego serves us as we allow it to serve, and we need to allow it to serve us only rarely.
The ego’s desire to be in charge, to be right, to be the winner turns a conversation into a test of who can win by talking and winning points. It wants the interaction, but it hates to lose, and I’ve been in many conversations like this, and I’ve also experienced my own ego leading conversations, and frankly, when they’re done, that’s when I know that I forgot to practice listening and that I allowed my ego to rant.
I’ve learned over the years to be a better listener. I find that I love to hear people talk about themselves, their lives, their adventures. I have learned to ask questions to help them to continue to share. I learned a lot about this by watching my late wife, Nancy. She was an artist at getting people to talk and wanting to learn all about them. Small talk bores me to tears, but she would take small talk, and by asking good questions, she would turn it into substantial communication.
Now I would rather listen and learn from someone than to share anything about me. I practice this on purpose and with purpose. After all, I know every detail about me already, but I want to know so much more about the other person.
In sales, I was taught that we listen and ask questions in order to find common ground, and as we find commonality, we can make a positive connection, which helps lead to comfort and trust. I used that a lot, and it became such a habit. Now, I still think that it is true that common interests can be helpful, but I would rather learn about them than tell them about our similarities. A little talk goes a long way. A lot of listening goes much further.
It is also very interesting, and even enlightening, to be in a conversation with someone who is a great listener and who knows how to draw us out. That feels great, doesn’t it? So imagine then how it feels when we are the great listeners.
“When People Talk, Listen Completely.” — Ernest Hemingway
Spread Some Joy Today–by encouraging and allowing others to share their joy with you.