Selling from the Front Porch : Listening

“The good Lord gave you two ears and only one mouth.  That should be a lesson for you to listen twice as much as you talk,” said my Aunt Lil after I had butted in and tried to butt into the conversation when I was on the front porch.  Strawberries were being passed around with the homemade vanilla ice cream.  I wanted to talk so much and was not concerned with what others were saying that evening.  My impatience was showing.

Aunt Barbara, the school teacher, commented, “You can never learn while you have your gums constantly flapping.  You have to listen.”  This began another leadership lesson from the front porch on listening.  Now you may think this is an easy one to master, but I still have the problem of using these skills from time to time.  Even earlier today, my wife commented that I was too interested in saying what I wanted to say than allowing her to articulate her thoughts.  I am ashamed to say that I do not have this lesson mastered, and I bet if you were honest, you would have the same failing from time to time.  Sometimes, I half-listen till the other person catches a breath and I can then speak my point that I have been dying to say.

In an earlier post I mentioned Jim, the travelling encyclopedia salesman, who took time to build a relationship with my family members before he was asked for information about his product.  He did not just ask questions to uncover the motivating factors, the hot buttons that would make the prospect buy.  In fact, he started by treating the prospect not as a prospect, but as a person, a friend.  He used his natural curiosity and care for others to guide him into getting to know me and my family.

So how do we go from listening to pick up the hot buttons to make the sale (which I would call “me-centered conversation”) to just listening?  I think you first have to move away from any focus on the sale and spend time hearing what the other person is saying.  Try to avoid the temptation to fix their problem right away; allow them to spend time sharing their life with you.  This is a huge temptation for most guys who seem to be wired to fix things quickly.  Eventually, the time will come when they want your help. 

Asking great questions, ones that bring out more of a response than just a yes or no, can also provide more opportunity for the other person to talk.  Many of these can lead to uncover the emotions and motives of the talker and can be worded in a way to appear that you are not putting the person on the psychiatrist’s couch.  An example is to take, “what scares you?” into “what keeps you awake at night?”  Another may be to turn “what makes you happy?” into “what are the greatest accomplishments in your business?”  These questions help uncover the deep motivating factors in a person’s life.

Eliminating preset agendas from your mind is essential.  One of these may be to sell your product or service or to convince someone of your position on a certain issue.  These all tend to make the listening focused on you, instead of focusing on the person you are listening to.  A preset agenda may also steer your listening to gain the opposite conclusions from what is being said.  One time, on the porch, a salesman came by to sell some cleaning products.  Buying the product would also buy some sort of automatic drop ship for more and a membership into a multi-leveled marketing company where the consumer could earn residuals on other people’s purchases. 

My Aunt Barbara asked, “Is this like Amway?” 

The salesman stiffened, “No, it is nothing like Amway,” he replied.  Clearly the company was set up like Amway and had similar products.  But Amway was getting a bad reputation at the time and was not as popular.

Barbara stated, “That’s too bad.  I like Amway and their products.”  The salesman had a preset agenda in his mind as to the response my aunt would have.  He listened to her through a filter and in doing so, lost a potential sale.

Listening requires a focused attention on the other person.  It requires that you are building a friendship rather than just making a sale.  It requires receiving their words and then serving up the conversation back to them.  It also requires remembering what they said and acting on it at a later date. 

In short, it may not get you the immediate sale, but it can help build the relationship for the long term business relationship.  In my field, sales cycles can extend for years from the time of the introduction to the closing of the first deal.  If the deal is delayed, listening will help make your life richer because of the friends you have made.