When you meet with a new prospect or client, do you listen more than you speak?
In any profession where sales are involved, there’s a tendency for the sales professional to monopolize the conversation when it’s “time to sell.”
Often, this looks like giving a scripted, one-sided presentation, rattling off a laundry list of accolades, or listing reasons the prospect should choose a certain product, service, or service provider. In other words, the sales professional is typically speaking more than they’re listening.
The fact is, shifting towards the opposite approach and letting the prospect or client lead the conversation tends to result in more favorable outcomes for both the sales professional and their conversational counterpart.
The only catch? These more client- or prospect-focused selling conversations are nearly impossible to script — and deep, deliberate listening is key.
This simple, yet often overlooked concept is the premise behind sales and communication expert Steve Yastrow’s book Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion, which outlines the six habits of successful sales conversations and is one of the core principles taught in the Institute’s training.
To help you have more successful selling conversations, here are some communication tips to keep in mind:
Think “Input Before Output”
If you’re wondering how much speaking on your end is too much, Yastrow suggests sticking to the “one paragraph” rule, which means don’t talk more than one paragraph’s worth of information at a time. And, notice what your customer says or does when you leave these frequent breaks during your exchange.
Unlike scripted selling conversations, this is one of the quickest ways to discover what’s most important to your client or prospect during a conversation, which should inform what you say next.
Size Up the Scene
Similar to the concept of listening more than you speak, it’s important to “read between the lines” and observe your prospect or client to understand their situation.
This is when you’re consciously discerning their character, the emerging dynamic between you two and their dynamic with any others involved in the decision-making process, and making a note of the general mood or tone of the conversation.
In Ditch the Pitch, Yastrow calls this “listening for the game,” which is crucial for personalizing your approach and discovering things about your client or prospect that your competitors likely didn’t take the time to find out.
Create a Series of “Yeses”
You know that satisfying feeling when a conversation with a brand new client or prospect is moving forward without a hitch? If you were to dissect that conversation, you might notice a series of “yeses” or “micro-commitments” giving it that favorable, positive momentum.
Yastrow recommends you ensure that you and the person you’re speaking with continue to say “yes,” whether you’re affirming what they’ve said and adding to it by saying “yes, and…” — or by keeping your prospect saying “yes” by asking questions or making statements that are easy for them to agree with.
Another tip from Yastrow? Work with what you’re given.
He recommends leaning into the direction of the conversation rather than resisting, even if it’s not going how you expected or how you wanted it to go. As long as you’re actively listening and looking for opportunities to agree and discover what’s important to them, chances are you can get the conversation back on track — or at least end it on a positive note.
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