Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with one of my clients about the classes his daughter should take in college. She had just graduated from high school, and the client had just come from her graduation ceremony earlier in the week.
As we were talking about her electives, the client remarked that if he had the chance to go through college all over again, he would have taken Spanish and classes on cultures and religions. That remark really piqued my interest, so I asked him why he said that. He replied that over the years he's discovered how important it is to understand others. Find out where they are coming from. This is especially important as a business owner, and someone who directly communicates with leads and clients on a daily basis. Put another way: it's vital to make a connection, and really understand people.
Thinking back on his remarks, I couldn't help but frame his insight in the context of sales. If it's important for business owners in general to understand their customers, how much more critical is it for salespeople who may interact with scores of prospects every day?
Help Your Lead Experience Value
The fact is, successful sales is all about helping the lead experience value from your product or service. But they can’t experience value if you don't understand where they're coming from. What problems are they trying to solve? And (perhaps most importantly) why do they want to choose your solution? The reality is, they want to improve. They need to see how your solution helps them do that.
Sales requires a high level of empathy and understanding. When combined with adequate research, it can often result in a win, meaning that the salesperson is right for the lead and right for your business.
With that in mind, I thought of four key questions that you could ask yourself when evaluating how well you're able to understand your clients:
1. "Do I intentionally take the time to go deeper?"
Understanding doesn't happen by chance. There has to be a certain level of intentionality in place for someone to achieve a deep comprehension of what drives another person.
You'd probably agree with this quote: "No one listens anymore; they just wait their turn to speak." I know I've seen the truth of that statement from my years of experience in the consulting sector. It's a trend that's become more and more pronounced over the years. But it's one you have to combat if you want to gain valuable insight into a client's thoughts and feelings.
I like this question because it's a good starting point for some self-reflection. If we don't go into an intake meeting or even a coaching session with the resolve to truly listen and learn, then our relationships could easily stagnate.
2. "Do I ask more questions than I make statements?"
Question #1 is largely about our mindset. This question provides us with a barometer with which to measure our success at proactively working to understand others: namely, our speech.
It's often been said that the reason we have two ears and one mouth is because we should do twice as much listening as speaking. How are you measuring up in that regard? Granted, talking about ourselves, our company, and our solutions is often our "comfort zone" when meeting with clients. The problem is that such an approach isn't really focused on the customer's needs -- it's focused on what we think the customer needs.
In contrast, asking a lot of meaningful questions is the key to understanding what the client wants, needs, and expects from the relationship.
3. "Am I inviting?"
This is a big one. Having the right mindset and asking the right questions are both helpful tools in terms of understanding your clients... but what about literally inviting them to share their perspectives? When you sincerely invite someone to explain where they're coming from, your desire to understand them is no longer implied but is apparent to everyone.
In the sales context, here are some examples of invitations that you can (and that I highly recommend you do) extend to your clients:
The point is, you want to really be curious (without being meddlesome) about what makes the client tick. It doesn't matter whether you are on a phone call, a Zoom call, at a conference, a networking event, a trade show booth, or in a face-to-face meeting. Stay in the present. Be mindful of what is actually being said, rather than mentally moving on to the next point you want to make. When you invite the client to share their perspective, be sincere about it.
As a salesperson, it's true that you typically have your own agenda, and you have "boxes" on your list that must be checked off. However, you'll get a lot further with your clients if you set aside the agenda, put down the to-do list, and immerse yourself in their viewpoint for a while.
4. "Do I practice being present with the people I interact with?"
Finally, it's good to periodically take stock of your mindset and performance during interactions with clients (and with everyone else, for that matter). Are you listening to respond, or listening to understand? Do you focus on furthering your own argument, or on discerning why the other person is reasoning as they are? Are your interactions just items on your checklist, or are they opportunities for discovery and even joy?
In summary, it's true that sales is often a "bottom-line business." The attitude is: either you hit your quota or you don't. But what a lot of salespeople seem to miss is the value of understanding in achieving those tangible goals. When you come into a meeting with an open mind, ask more questions than you make statements, literally invite the other person to share their perspective, and stay within the moment, then you're much more likely to win over the business and the hearts of your leads and clients.
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