Why It Pays to Listen to Your Clients
“Whatever you do, don’t panic sell”, was the very first piece of advice shared by my first sales training manager.
This was back in 2007, and I worked for a UK based IT software security as a sales account manager. Early on, I took my sales manager’s motto to heart and worked smart. Quickly moving to the top team, managing the best accounts. From Barclays Bank through to Aerospace and Defence companies like Raytheon, my goal was the same; to maximise the spend from the accounts I managed.
The 31st October marked the end of the month creatively known as ‘Big October’. Every sale closed was followed by the sound of someone hitting a huge gong. Those low-frequency waves would ripple across the divided sales floor. Some would cheer, others struggling to make their target took it as a distress signal.
I know because I saw their faces hunched over their desks frantically bashing away on the numbers on their phones, pestering gatekeepers in an attempt to get hold of the Delivery Manager for the 13th time that day. In my time at this IT company, I saw everyday people do extraordinary things to seal that final deal, and secure that extra three percent commission.
If you’ve never worked on a sales floor for a public company, let me tell you now, it’s about as healthy as a Krispy Kreme. It’s also just as addictive. Think, The Wolf of Wall Street, minus the human missiles. It’s a world fuelled by adrenalin, ego and false promises.
Amidst all the white noise, it’s very hard to keep a level head and not panic when things aren’t going your way. My friend got fired because she bet a colleague she could outsell her. On the last day of the month when she realised she was going to lose the bet, she decided to put through some fraudulent deals. So, she won the bet, but got found out and lost her job. Needless to say, she struggled to rebuild her reputation for years to come.
Why am I even sharing this with you? Because I learnt early on that the only way to get ahead was to take the time to find out about my customers. It sounds obvious, right? Yet, I saw people more concerned with convincing their friends how great they were, than considering how they could actually help their clients. I recall getting laughed at for my pre-meeting prep sessions. You could only imagine how many salespeople talk the talk, but seldom walk the walk.
My motto has always been to show and prove.
By the age of 25, I was earning $120 000 a year. Almost double that of some people twice my age. Not bad for a Philosophy graduate from a council estate! I don’t fit the archetype of a salesperson. I’m more of an introvert than I once cared to admit. So, when I reached the top 5 of 75 account managers and secured some big FTSE 100 accounts, eyebrows were raised.
There was a lingering assumption that I must be doing something underhand like sleeping with my clients. When the truth was, I did what most salespeople fail at; I learned to listen.
Here are some of the things I learnt from listening to my clients.
My sales manager’s rather violent analogy of how to sell was this, “Every piece of information you gain, is a bullet for your sales gun.” (Cringe)
A gun you then use as ammo to overturn every possible objection standing between you and the deal. Yes, it’s rather crass, but the premise is watertight, no matter what you’re selling.
Stop talking at people and start trying to help.
Just tell me, how many times have you been spoken ‘at’ by a salesperson either down the phone or face to face? It’s exhausting and 100 percent off-putting! No one wants to feel pushed into a corner or intimidated. They simply want your advice, support and help. Even if they’re an existing client.
In fact, let me rephrase that, especially if they’re an existing client. Because the stakes are often a lot higher. Over my four years as an account manager, I learned to understand and empathise with people’s fears, doubts and uncertainties in order to find a fitting solution to help them.
And above all, remain respectful, when the chips don’t fall as I expected. Instead, I’d take that as an opportunity to tighten my pitch. It’s a popular misconception that the one talking is the one in control. It’s quite the opposite. Listening is a lost art form.
But something the CEO of my last corporate job, Splunk, told me was, “Use your ears and mouth in proportion.” Listen twice as much as you speak, not the other way around.
Asking open questions is typically how you can start this conversation. Like, “What are some of the challenges you’re facing right now?” or “Tell me a little bit about your plans for the future?”
Once they’ve shared with you what brought them to this point of reaching out for your help, be sure to relay their comments back. This displays that not only do you understand them, but that you’ve been actively paying attention, and not just waiting for your opportunity to speak.
It’s a skill. It takes time to develop. But it took me from managing pretty nominal accounts to securing and growing corporate accounts and developing relationships that surpassed my place of work.
All in all, to be a great salesperson you need to believe in yourself and what you sell. Because that comes through when it is your opportunity to speak. Offer a helping hand to those around you, and remember that every piece of information you receive is an opportunity to build a customer profile and find a solution that solves their problems.
After all, selling is about them, not you.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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