The Most Powerful Skill in Selling

Skills - Automotive Innovations

If you can’t listen to what your customer is saying, how do you really know that you’re solving their needs?

I was out looking to buy something I needed for a weekend project recently, and I was once again reminded of how people lack the most basic skill in selling — the ability to listen! You may be thinking, “How is that the most powerful skill?” Most of you would think that there are several selling skills that are higher on the list than listening. 

While it is true that there are a lot of other skills that are necessary to be an effective salesperson, listening is the thing that brings all the other skills together. If you can’t listen to what your customer is saying, how do you really know that you’re solving their needs? 

This has been a frustration of mine for years dealing with salespeople. Not just people who I deal with when I need something but people who I have worked with over the years and their ability or inability to listen. 

Let me give you an example:  if I say, “That’s high,” is that a question, a statement or an objection? I have to listen and put together the context of the conversation in the moment to determine the answer. Most salespeople would say that’s an objection when really, it’s a statement. 

If I’m working a car deal and I sit down and present numbers to a customer and they say, “that’s high,” most salespeople go into objection-handling mode. My approach is that I spin it and redirect their thinking like this: “You’re right. We did put too much in your trade, but we wanted to make sure you knew we were putting our best foot forward to earn your business! Now are you OK with this and this?” In this example the customer never said what was high they just made a blanket statement. We think we know they meant the price was high, but we spin it and provide a question directed to another piece of the negotiation to redirect their thought process. 

Knowing if a customer is making a statement, question or an objection is dependent on your ability to listen. 

The last thing that makes listening the most powerful closing tool is this: the strongest close in sales is “You told me.” If you don’t have the ability to listen and retain what you hear, then you can’t effectively help a customer. This isn’t a battle of wits. Our job as salespeople is to understand the pain and heal that pain with our product or service. This is an art that is hard to teach. Some people have it naturally and some must work really hard to hone this, while others just don’t have the cognitive ability to do this. You can see the differences in the performance of each person. This is why a Customer Needs Analysis (CNA) is so important. In finance we use our interview to do this but in sales it’s your CNA that helps you do this.  

The challenge is that many salespeople won’t do a CNA. They think it’s a waste of time. They think because they watched some sales videos or sat through sales training for a few days they have it all figured out, when really what you have is a salesperson who has four years on the job and only two weeks of training, if that. 

To be successful at anything, it’s all about repetition and mastering your craft. Do you force your people to master their craft? Are you a master of your craft? If the answers are no, then you will never truly experience what true success is like and play at the top of your game. When you make the decision that this is your career (not just a job) and that you must hone your skills and master your craft, your business will go to the next level.

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