At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching, and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with Gia Ness, Global VP – SAP Sales Learning, SAP, she shared some timeless ideas about how better connections are made with decision makers through deeper levels of listening and validating what we’re learning. Early in the interview, Gia brought up how listening impacts the perception of the decision maker…
The more the sales rep truly and actively listens, the more the customer talks, the more the sales rep is considered a partner and trusted advisor in the customer’s eyes. -Gia Ness, Global VP - SAP Sales Learning, SAP Click To Tweet
“The higher percentage of the conversation where the sales rep is in intake mode versus output mode, the greater the chances of the customer perceiving the conversation as really meaningful. The more the sales rep truly and actively listens, the more the customer talks, the more the sales rep is considered a partner and trusted advisor in the customer’s eyes. The sales rep must also validate that they are hearing what the customer is sharing with them.”
Listening is more than just understanding
Back in 1992, a book came out that sold over 50 million copies, described by CNN as the “highest ranked work of non-fiction” of the 1990s’. This book, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” spent 121 weeks on the bestseller list and its 266 pages could be summarized with a single sentence… don’t try to solve problems until you have listened fully to what they are and allowed the person with the problem the emotional relief of being truly listened to.
This same principle is absolutely applicable to sales. There is a remarkable and somewhat mysterious sense of relief that comes when we talk to someone that has genuine interest and curiosity into what we’re saying. Steven Covey wrote repeatedly about how important it is to seek first to understand before we attempt to be understood. Victor Frankl, the famous holocaust surviving neurologist-psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” asserted that the drive to be understood by others is one of our most basic and satisfying needs. Dale Carnegie’s 10-year bestseller, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was largely about the impact of curiosity and listening on relationships.
This sense of truly being heard is driven not just by asking good questions and listening, but by validating, as Gia points out…
“The more the customer talks, the more they feel that the sales rep is understanding what they are going through and what they are experiencing or what they need, etcetera. The salesperson needs to validate and make sure that they’re hearing what the customer has to say, so it’s not just sitting there and letting the customer talk, they have to be actively listening to what is said and validating they understand what is said.”
The power of short, effective summaries
When we observe top performing salespeople on sales calls, it’s remarkable how many of them use frequent short summaries throughout the conversation to validate and confirm, as Gia put it. This is something a lot of average salespeople completely miss. The summary is where we create that connection to the person we’re listening to that closes the understanding loop and opens the relationship like magic. The internal relief and satisfaction of truly being understood doesn’t happen until that validation step.
Steps of an effective summary
- Polite interruption to ask to summarize what you’re hearing
- Ask the person you’re listening to, to correct anything you’re missing or misunderstanding
- Give succinct bullet points to outline what you’re hearing
- Ask at the end for them to add anything to help clarify the situation further
When we listen and truly understand through summaries and validation, then we need to respond with differentiating factors that really plug in to what the decision maker has told us…
“Salespeople need to talk more about not just value proposition, but their differentiators and not just differentiators but ones that are going to be important to that customer. If it’s not relevant to the customer, don’t even bring it up. You could have the best, most important, differentiators in the world, but if it’s not something that is relevant to or benefits the customer and doesn’t help the customer, it’s a waste of time to mention. Sales reps are not just selling the product, they’re selling the longer-term vision and helping customers to get to where it is they can go.”
Listening is a key element of effective sales management and coaching too…
Listening is a key element of the influence and change process. Selling is essentially influence and influence is about promoting change. Listening lowers resistance and increases receptivity and a coach’s primary role is to bring positive change to the team … change in habits, motivation and results. Gia has some great advice for new sales managers…
“If you are new to management, listen more than tell. Find out what an individual’s strengths are and understand how to leverage those strengths. Then help to fill in the gaps, whether it’s adding more knowledge or finding additional resources for that person. Support and know the players on your team, what positions they play best in, and how to get the most value out of them and help them be the most productive and play best to their strengths.”
The best managers and coaches listen, learn, then execute based on what they’re learning. They go the extra mile to help their teams by giving them the support and tools as Gia points out…
“The best managers have less customer-facing time, spend less time in forecasting, less time on transactions, and more time on ensuring that their teams are equipped with the right knowledge, the right network, and remove the barriers in order for the team to be successful.”
Learning and sharing is a pathway to better results
Finally, Gia shared with us a final thought on top performers in sales and management…The best sales rep is like a quarterback. They know it's not an individual that's going to win a game, it takes an entire team. They know how to get the right players, but also how to make them perform. -Gia Ness, Global VP - SAP Sales Learning, SAP Click To Tweet
“Those who are most successful actually invest the most in learning and are the most collaborative in working with and engaging with other team members. They’re willing to share their experience, knowledge, and best practices with others so they’re not hoarding information or insights. Top performers know that their opportunity for success is so much greater when the team is successful. The best sales rep is like a quarterback. They know it’s not an individual that’s going to win a game, it takes an entire team. They know how to get the right players, but also how to make them perform. They may not be in a role of people manager but they are leading the activities and resources leveraged for their sales engagements.”
So, in summary:
- Listening and validating is one of the most important of all selling and coaching skills
- Frequent summaries in conversations will increase the connection factor
- Differentiating factors must correlate to what’s most important to the decision maker(s)
- Learning and sharing to improve the entire team is a powerful pathway to success
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.