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Steer the Conversation: How Listening Leads to Great Dialogues

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by: Todd McCormick (@TMcCormick2011)
01 April 2014

"You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen — not just money, but respect."
Harvey Mackay

We all know smart marketers let their customers do most of the talking. But how do you get them to say what you need to hear?

In a previous post, I made a clear business case for listening to customers. Great leaders listen more than they talk. It’s how they control the conversation, asking the right questions and getting the information they need to meet their business goals.

Get the Right Answers by Asking the Right Questions

The art of questioning starts with having clarity about your goals, the ultimate outcomes you need to produce. Then, you can ask open-ended questions to steer your individual conversations.

Let me be clear: The goal is to steer the conversation, not force it. Your discussions should feel like dialogues, not interrogations. So, don’t reveal your end goal in the first question. Work up to it, building a relationship and showing your value and trustworthiness along the way.

This principle is analogous to how you act when you’re ready to settle down. When you see an attractive person on the street, you don’t walk up to him or her and say, “Hey, wanna marry me?” Instead, you chat with that person, ask the getting-to-know-you questions, and wait to see if a connection develops over time.

Get Them to Share by Showing You Care

The same logic applies when you’re talking to a customer. You want to sell that person something, of course, but you don’t immediately ask, “What do you want to buy?” Instead, you ask what’s happening in his business. What challenges is he facing? What projects or initiatives have priority? What solutions has he considered?

Not only does this strategy provide you with valuable information that could translate into a sale, but it starts building trust, because you’re showing you care about this person and his business, not just your sales goals.

Whoever you talk to, in your business or personal life, you have to care about what the other person has to say. That person will know if you don’t, and won’t open up.

One particular manager on my team proves this point with his leadership style. He truly cares about the people on his team and has regular conversations with all of them, not just about their work performance, but about who they are and what they want from life. He knows their personal and professional goals, and helps them achieve what they value. As a result, his team doesn’t just talk to him; they listen to him. Even when he needs to have difficult conversations with them, he’s earned the credibility to speak frankly without discouraging them.

When we approach customer relationships the same way, we earn the right to have honest conversations that help everyone win.

Get on the Same Page by Clarifying Your Terms

Another key element of guiding the conversation is ensuring that both parties hear the same thing. As many salespeople know, during a sales cycle you sometimes discover your terminology means something completely different to the prospects. Perhaps it’s based on their familiarity with another solution, with similar terminology for different features. Regardless, it’s important to ask clarifying questions, so you don’t lose a deal based on misunderstanding.

For the next post in in this series on listening, I’ll explore the consequences of not listening. Then, I’m going to switch gears and talk about responding to what you hear. Please continue to share your own stories and listening strategies along the way.

Related Resources:

1) Blog: “Progressive Profiling: The Key to Collecting Data Without Weirding People Out

2) Ebook: “15 Post-Purchase Emails That Build Loyalty and Drive Revenue

3) Tip Sheet: “5 Tips for ‘White Space’ Emails That Educate, Entertain and Engage”





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