We have all heard that in order to be a good salesperson we need to be a good listener and we need to ask questions, but what does that really mean? Research shows that in a typical sales call the salesperson talks 80% of the time. Hardly a balanced dialogue, a true conversation should look more like 50-50. Obviously there will be times when the type of meeting dictates that the sales person is doing the majority of the talking, perhaps during a presentation or product demonstration, but even then, the secret to success is to involve the customer, to engage them. The more the customer shares with you, the better placed you will be to understand their thinking to then be able to help address their concerns.
So consultative questioning then really is all about listening, listening carefully to really understand what the other person is saying and trying to determine what they are thinking.
Suggestions to help you become a better listener
Try to remain silent after you have asked a question, wait and give the customer time to think about their response. In general people don't like silence; we all tend to fill silence by talking more. If you take that little pause … you may find that the customer gives you more information. And having established that that is going to happen, in other words once they've done that once, try it once more - if they give you more information, again just pause a little to see if they volunteer more information.
2. Attentive listening skills
Attentive listening involves things like body language; think about your facial expression, your eye contact, your body movement and posture. When you're in a meeting and you’re listening to the customer, just slightly leaning forward will help show that you’re really listening. Take notes, and refer to the notes, that will help show the customer that you are listening and that you care about what they're saying. Aim to remain focused on the customer. Watch for their signals, watch for their body language. Try not to interrupt the customer and use your notes to summarize.
Finally, one of the best ways of showing the customer that you are really listening to what they were saying is to summarize the discussion.
In consultative selling listening is very important. Think about developing meetings with a customer that are more of a dialogue and less of a presentation. More questioning and listening and less ‘tell-sell’. Practice your listening skills, practice trying to pause and remain silent for a few seconds to get the customer to give you more information, and practice attentive listening, think about your body language and take notes.Try it and see!
What has worked well for you, maybe you have some other thoughts and suggestions?
The previous posts about how to become a trusted advisor 'The Trusted Advisor' by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford,' discussed how to earn trust, give advice and build relationships. Along side developing these skills, it is important to know how to focus on the other person, to be self-confident, to put your own ego aside, to be curious, to maintain a high degree of inclusive professionalism and always be sincere.
Focus on the other person
“The only way to influence someone is to find out what they want and show them how to get it” Dale Carnegie. To achieve this degree of influence it is essential to be able to focus on the other person giving them what they need and want. It is not about providing them with your knowledge or expertise but more about giving reassurance, helping the client see new approaches and make decisions. The ability to become an empathetic listening is key to this. How well we succeed in this depends on how able we are to truly feel what the other person feels, focusing on them not our own self-promotion. This is a skill that takes years of learning to master but it reaps great rewards.
What is being referred to in the context of being a trusted advisor is the ability to have the self confidence to listen and understand and brainstorm before offering solutions. To put aside the fear that we are squandering critical influencing time by not immediately providing solutions.
This is the ability to focus on the consultative relationship process, the issues at hand and not on any blame or credit attached to it.
To solve other’s problems we need to ask questions, and to listen, in other words to be curious focusing not on what we know but what we don't know. It is our curiosity which creates the situations which allow us to contribute.
By this we mean being able to align with our clients to work collaboratively by acknowledging and engaging them to find solutions rather than just providing them ourselves.
We demonstrate our sincerity to others by caring behavior, by our attention and interest, by our research and by how we listen. When we then respond enthusiastically we invite the other person to explore with us the possibilities and solutions. Being sincere is a critical element of any relationship and of trust. Sometimes we might find ourselves in a situation where it is impossible to relate or be sincere. As long are really sure that you have tried everything you can there are times when you have to accept the situation for what it is and walk away. In relationships there really are only win-win and loose-loose combinations.
Being sincere and building a strong client relationship doesn’t mean you have to become your client’s friend. To be a trusted advisor you have to care and show you care. Being sociable with your client will definitely deepen your understanding of your client’s needs and fears but that doesn’t imply that you have to become their good friend. If you are attentive to your clients needs the effectiveness of the sales process will be enhanced. To earn trust you will need to do this and to be vested in the long-term benefit of the relationship.
Ultimately you are not trying to build a relationship that is simply a means to an end but you are trying to create a partnership that will mean you go on a journey together to resolve your clients needs. What do you think, do you have any other suggestions, we would love to hear from you?!
A trusted advisor is understanding, considerate and sensitive and has developed a strong supportive relationship with their client. From 'The Trusted Advisor' by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green & Robert M. Galford', here are some ideas about how to achieve this.
1. Invest first - to earn you must give
Simply put, this means that the person you wish to influence must first perceive your willingness to investment in the relationship.
2. Demonstrate don’t assert
Look for opportunities to demonstrate that you have something to contribute. Don’t tell them, show them. Before a client meeting determine what you want them to believe about you. For example, to show your preparedness and thoroughness demonstrate this, talk about their recent press releases or blogs, also inviting their opinions. To show your sincerity and empathy randomly call them to simply inquire how they are doing.
3. Look for what’s different not similar
To be able to help someone you need to understand their concerns. Try to create situations where your client feels comfortable sharing their issues. In so doing you will discover what they appreciate and what they respond to, and you will understand how to become more effective.
4. Know when to give advice
Many times what the client initially wants is not your advice but your understanding, approval and support. Give them this affirmation first and they will be far more willing to listen later.
5. Don’t give answers too soon
It is tempting to immediately offer solutions, however often this will not be well received. It is important to first demonstrate that you really understand the situation; ask good questions, listen and invite client feedback. Make them feel their opinion is valued, that they are the decision-maker. Do this before offering your ideas.
6. Clarify what you are being told ~ people rarely say what they mean
Following on from the previous point, asking good questions is essential. Listen carefully and then ask more questions to clarify, people seldom say what they mean, especially initially! Equally you must be clear that you are communicating exactly what you mean, always be open and honest but act with tact and care.
7. Ask for help
Giving advice is a two-way interaction, you will earn more trust if you ask for help, providing your focus remains on the client. In this way you are inviting the client to join with you to resolve their problems, a sure way to build trust.
8. Be interested in the person
One of the best ways to be perceived as a sincere, reliable person, someone your clients would like to work with, is by getting them to talk about themselves. By being interested and asking good questions you will also gather much useful information. For example, if someone says "I think……’' a good response would be ‘"....that is so interesting, why do you think that, what led you to that conclusion?" The more responses you get the more your understanding will grow and the more helpful and acceptable your responses will become. The client will feel you are interested in them and that you understand them. Endeavor to remember the information you gather, take notes! Nothing convinces others more that you are genuine and interested than when at a future occasion you remember facts about them. It is enticing and makes the other person feel you really care.
9. Use Compliments
Others always appreciate sincere, credible compliments, for example: “I hear that others are really impressed with your recent project,” or “People speak so highly of you, the changes you have effected are very noticeable”
10. Show Appreciation
It is a fact that clients rarely appreciate our efforts but that they expect those that work with them to appreciate them. Expressing appropriate appreciation to clients will help cement your relationships.
These are just some relationship building ideas. What have your experiences taught you? What ideas might you be able to share with others? We are always interested to learn from you!
As a trusted advisor your client wants your opinion and advice. To provide honest, impartial counsel which is also well received is often difficult. Most people don’t want to be told what they are doing wrong, nor what you think they should do about it. Continuing to look at 'The Trusted Advisor' by David H Maister, Charles H Green & Robert M Galford here are some ideas about providing advice as your client's trusted advisor.
When people ask for advice they are looking for help. Try to understand the issues at stake, maybe reputations and promotion opportunities. Don't only suggest ways to improve, it implies things are being done wrong and won't be welcomed. The trick is to understand the politics of the situation, to be sensitive to individual personalities and to be tactful.
Your client wants you to remove their concerns and provide support and confidence. As their advisor, by default, the risk is that you appear arrogant, something your client will resent. Your role is to diffuse any defensiveness by showing that you are trying to help not criticize.
Create a dialogue, a conversation
To show that you sincerely what to provide helpful advice try to create a dialogue. This requires sensitivity and a careful use of words, replacing: 'You should do X' with something like: 'Let's explore the possibilities together.' When you make a suggestion, invite a contribution: ‘This is what I am thinking, what about you?’. Keep the conversation alive, replacing questions such as 'what are your problems?' with: 'What areas do you think need improvement?' Try to turn assertions into questions.
Create the right atmosphere
Think for a moment about a classroom instructor. Often they will ask the class whether they have understood, but they rarely get an honest response. This is because they have created an atmosphere where to respond is to admit weakness. To create the right atmosphere and get the desired response a better question would be: 'Have I made myself clear?' or 'Shall we stay on this point or move to the next?' This avoids individuals admitting confusion but the instructor clarifies comprehension!
For advice to be accepted, and be really effective two skills are essential:
(i) The ability to ask good questions and listen
You need a clear grasp of where your client is starting from; their view of the situation, what they believe, what they are currently doing and why. Asking the right questions and being an attentive listener will achieve this and help determine what messages the client is ready for.
(ii) The ability to develop a reasoning process
Next a step-by-step reasoning process is needed to influence understanding. This helps your solutions to now resonate but allows the client to feel they made the decision. This is Socratic reasoning and it requires patience and practice to perfect.
The client as the decision maker
Your goal is to always to help the client feel that they have made the decision for themselves. You can make them aware of all the options, explore all the pros and cons and suggest recommendations, but let the client make the final decision. When confronted with a group and several individuals’ perspectives thorough prior research is essential, together with a concise summary of what has been achieved.
There is a never a one-size fits all solution. The essence of providing advice is to design a process to fit each situation and to be flexible in your consulting style.
What have your experiences taught you and what suggestions do you have? We are always interested to learn from you.