Great salespeople know when to listen to clients


Keen salespeople have long been aware that prospects prefer talking to listening.

Thus to establish rapport and ultimately make the sale, the salesperson's goal must be to get his or her prospects talking.

In my experience I can say that while a good salesperson is a good listener, a great salesperson is a great listener.

The more you listen to what your prospect has to say, the more likely it is that they will like you.

And since it's not a coincidence that people buy products and services from people they like and with whom they feel at ease, it is in your best interest to get them talking -- and keep them talking.

The best way to encourage someone to talk is to ask questions.

Imagine your conversation is a game of catch.

The person who has the ball is the one who is talking.

Unfortunately, when you're the one with the ball you have no idea of what is going on in your prospect's mind. This is because you cannot gather important information you need when you are talking.

View the conversation ball then as a hot potato.

The longer you hold the ball, the more diminished your chances are for making a successful sale. Therefore, you will want to toss the conversation ball back to your prospect as often as you possibly can.

To do that you need to ask a question. When your prospect answers they take the ball. How long your prospect will hold the ball without tossing it back to you depends on the type of questions you ask.

Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Here are some examples:


  • You: "Is that important to you?"
    Prospect: "No."
  • You: "Is your current supplier working for you?"
    Prospect: "No."
  • You: "Have any problems come up recently?"
    Prospect: "Yes."

These questions are called closed-ended questions and can be fully answered with a "yes" or "no" response.

They generally start with the phrases like: "Is it ...?" "Are you ...?" "Will he ...?" "Does it ...?" "Have you ...?" "Do you ...?" "Has it ...?"

Ask enough of them and it soon begins to sound like an interrogation rather than a conversation.

As we all know, putting your prospect on the defensive is a bad idea. Furthermore, with the prospect only answering "yes" or "no," you are constantly left on the spot to come up with new questions to keep the conversation moving and get the information you need.

Closed-ended questions do just that -- they bring the conversation to a quick close.

To avoid this pitfall, ask open-ended questions that will encourage your prospect to open up and speak freely. Each of their responses will give you new information upon which to base your next question.

The conversation will then be focused in the direction you want to go, your prospect will have plenty of room to say what they think, and you won't run out of questions to ask.

To construct open-ended questions begin your questions with the words:
"What ...?" "Where ...?" "When ...?"
"Who ...?" "Why ...?" "How ...?"

To make open-ended questions out of the questions presented earlier, they could be reworded in this way:

  • "Why is that important to you?"
  • "How is your current supplier working for you?"
  • "What types of problems have come up recently?

While most open-ended questions begin with these words, any question that cannot be fully answered with a "yes" or "no" reply is considered open-ended:

  • "Would you be able to give me an example?"
  • "Why do you think it worked out that way?"
  • "Can you tell me more about that?"
  • "Could you explain how it works?"

This kind of questioning allows the prospect to answer in his or her own words as well as helps them to relax and become more comfortable with you.

Questions like these illustrate to your prospects that you are really listening to what they are telling you.

You demonstrate that you care about these people, not just as business prospects but as fellow human beings.

You are establishing yourself as a friend.

As you are likely beginning to see, these, open-ended questions help you achieve multiple goals.

You are not only encouraging your prospect to do the talking, you are also establishing warm, genuine rapport. They also allow you to draw out the key information you need about what your prospect is looking for.

When you let your prospect do the talking, you gain a window into what he or she is thinking.

It is also the only time when you can control the focus of your prospect's attention. When you are talking, the prospect's mind is likely to wander off in a thousand directions.

However, when he or she is talking they are focused on responding to your questions and providing the valuable information that will move the sale forward.

Your open-ended question then, is a request for information that focuses the prospect on the specific topic you want to discuss.

My crucial advice to the sales professional is to "act, don't react."

When you are asking a question, you are being proactive -- taking action and taking control of not only your sales presentation but ultimately, the sale.

When your prospect answers your question they react -- they follow your lead.

Be aware of the manner in which you ask questions.

Make an effort to rephrase each of them to be as open-ended as possible.

Carefully crafting the questions you ask your prospects will play a key role in your selling success.

Remember that the more your prospect talks, the more they will come to like and trust you.

It is this relationship that will ultimately form the basis of their willingness to buy your product or service.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.