In Marketing and Sales, It Pays to Listen

Article by C.J. HaydenWe talk quite a bit in sales and marketing about, well, talking. We examine how to get our message across, what to say to potential clients, how to present our businesses, etc. But sometimes, listening can be considerably more productive than talking. Here are five ways you just might be able to get more clients by listening.

Listen1. Listen for what prospects want. This is the most obvious kind of useful listening, but it’s often the most overlooked. Consider the life coach who tries to sell fulfillment to a prospect who is seeking security, the graphic designer who insists on selling an identity package to a prospect whose budget only extends to business cards, or the real estate agent who keeps presenting single-family homes to a prospect who wants a condo.

Of course you should ask prospects about their needs, then propose the best solution for their problems. But this must be the best solution for them, not just the best for you. Once you land a new client, there can be many opportunities to sell them additional products and services. By then they will trust you and be more open to your suggestions. But when you are first trying to close the sale, you’ll have much more success if you sell them what they are already looking for.

2. Listen to how prospects respond to your marketing messages. Learning how your communications are perceived by the recipient is crucial to making them more effective. Your prospects are often quite different people than you are yourself. So a message that appeals to you may not have the same impact on your desired clients.

Think about the writer who introduces herself as a “communications consultant” because that’s the label she and her colleagues prefer. If listeners respond by asking for help with their public speaking, she needs a new label that prospects will better understand. Or the chiropractor who says he delivers “optimal health,” but discovers that prospects with back pain don’t grasp that this includes pain relief. He needs to use language his prospects can connect with.

3. Listen for buying signals. When you’re focused on presenting your business, it’s easy to miss cues that prospects have already heard you and are considering your offer. Questions like “how much will that add up to,” “have you done this for other clients like me,” or “how long will this take” are all signals that your prospect is seriously considering working with you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking these expressions of interest are objections to moving forward. If you treat them as objections and keep trying to convince your prospect why you’re the best, you could lose the sale. Instead, answer the question factually, then check in with your prospect for his reaction. For example, “The total would be $25,000. Is that in your budget?” Or, “I could have this completed by June 15. Would that date work for you?”

4. Listen for leads to new business. Stop tuning out comments by prospects, clients, and networking contacts that don’t seem to apply to you, and listen carefully instead. There could be gold in those offhand remarks.

When a prospect says she doesn’t have time to meet with you, find out what else she’s working on that you might offer help with. If a client complains that an upcoming conference is delaying the project you’re working on, ask if you could be one of the speakers. A networking contact’s gossipy story about office politics could transform from boring to fascinating when you recognize the changes he is describing at his company might mean business for you.

5. Listen to sales and marketing success stories. When you’re finding marketing to be somewhat of a struggle, it’s often easier to engage with others’ complaints than with their successes. But success stories can often do more to help you than commiserating about failures.

The next time friends or colleagues tell you that business is going well, listen carefully to what they’ve been doing. Get curious about what led to their success. What marketing approaches have they been using? How do they talk about their business? Where have they been networking? What helps them close their sales? You’ll hear many valuable clues for how you might build your own business.

So don’t think sales and marketing is all about talking. If you start lending an ear to what your prospects, clients, and colleagues have to say, you may discover all sorts of ways that it pays better to listen.

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