Listening Sells


In early 2008 I attended a workshop in Cape Town presented by an American presenter and trainer, Nancy Kline, who had written a book called, “Time To Think, listening to ignite the human mind”. As a firm believer in ongoing learning I have attended many training courses over the years but it was unexpected that learning to listen, as I did that day, would stand out as one of the most powerful.

We live in an action world and action learning is a current buzz word that I am sure many have come across. I have certainly been one of those trainers who regularly resort to the " DO something..." type of approach when faced with clients who don't want to take action, but want results.

Listening seems far too passive an approach to assist others when they really need help, right? Wrong! Creating a thinking environment takes the view that the person asking for help has the most information about the problem and is therefore the most qualified to find the best solution. Simply, cultivating the right environment enables them to work their way to the best solution.

I spent many years at my desk at Allcopy Publishers gleefully doling out advice. Understandably this is what my colleagues were asking for and having extensive experience and good background knowledge I was quick to solve everyone's problems, or to think that I had. With hindsight and ongoing learning it is apparent to me now that apart from feeding my own sense of importance I wasn't really doing the best thing for either of us with a "you need to do this...." approach. In fact, I was in danger of actually disempowering many of the managers and I have become aware of this phenomenon in many of the organizations I work with as a trainer or mentor.

As with many powerful empowerment techniques, listening to create a thinking environment is a simple one. The process requires putting on ones "listening face" and relates strongly to the belief that the quality of the attention matches the quality of the message. The opening line, "what are your thoughts and what would you like to think about" encourages the person you are assisting, to tap into whatever is on their minds and begin their exploration from there.

Apart from an incredibly effective leadership and management technique I have found this method to be just as effective in a sales environment. I support the premise that selling is the management of the buying process. Therefore in such a process it is the role of the sales person to lead the buyer through that process effectively.

Effective listening is one of the most helpful ways to ensure that our product or service matches the client's needs. Many sales people will agree with me when I suggest that in many cases clients don't know what their needs are. Therefore sprouting off our wonderful solutions before the real need is identified, is much like selling them a rhinoceros when they actually need an elephant, if you will forgive the african analogy. Even if the sale happens under these circumstances, it is unlikely that the "solution" provided will work out well for either party in the long term.

In a "thinking environment" the client is provided with a setting conducive to thinking their way through a process with all the background information that they already have. As the salesperson we may be the expert in our field but in many cases our clients are the ones who really know what is best for them but they need to reveal, what we need to know, to make a good match. We just need to give them the space to do that. We also need to be committed to this listening process or our body language will give us away when we signal that we are dying to interrupt them. Each time a client is interrupted with a "killer question" or a better idea, their thought process is interrupted and their train of thought lost. This has serious implications when considering that in many cases the client hasn't explored his or her real motivations or concerns before. This revelation can become a lengthy process when interrupted or can remain undiscovered.

I have found myself in many selling situations where a client has told me emphatically that they will not be using our services, only to talk themselves into doing exactly that when being encouraged and allowed to think freely and constructively.

So listening sells and I thought I would share that with you.

Sandy Geyer


Educational Publisher, Author, Specialist sales trainer and business coach

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