This is another article in an ongoing series written by Ron Wolinski, the Manager of Sales Education, to provide information to retail sales consultants for performance improvement.
In all of my articles, I have constantly stated, "Probe, don't Pitch." This approach is the very foundation of my philosophy of consultative selling. Any consultant, whether a doctor, accountant, dentist, or attorney, must do a "needs analysis" before prescribing medication, recommending a financial solution, analyzing a corrective procedure, or creating a defense strategy. We as professionals must also do our "probing" to understand what is important to our customers.
There is, however, another side to this analysis process. That other side may be our biggest challenge. That challenge is to be a good "listener." Listening, very often, is one of the most difficult parts of the consultative selling process.
The listening process is difficult for several reasons. We all have a vested interest in our own values, experiences, and priorities. Consequently, we often don't place the same value on or agree with the comments of another person. Because of this infatuation with our own importance, we don't listen to the comments of others. This attitude is perfectly exemplified every time we "cut someone off" in mid-sentence. We do that because "I've heard this before", or "I know the answer, don't waste time." When we cut people off, what we're really saying to them is "I don't value what you have to say," and "You're not important."
There are many other reasons why salespeople tend to do too much talking and not enough listening. Some theories say that salespeople talk too much because they gain control over the selling situation. In reality, who is really in control of the sales contact? The person with the decision-making power is in control, and if we don't understand how customers make decisions, how can we expect to guide them in an informed review of how our product can fill their needs?
Another theory states: "The salesperson doesn't want to hear that word NO!" Actually, by asking in-depth probes and seeking information rather than making statements, the word "NO" will come up. This response actually will better help you understand the real needs and values of the customer. This is just another step in the selling process. The word "NO" usually is an opportunity to provide better-defined product knowledge for the customer.
Some salespeople do all the talking because having a "canned pitch" takes less work and is easier. The theory here is, "I'm experienced, I know what you need!" This is where the salesperson fails to realize that a customer buys for his reasons, not yours!
Another group of salespeople say that "the customer expects me to do all the talking." Sadly, many customers are conditioned to listen to "pitches" because that is all they hear. They are being sold! Remember, people love to be helped, but hate to be sold! Just think of the different relationship you will establish when you have a dialogue with a customer and you're listening to what's important rather than doing all the talking. You will be much different and more professional in the eyes of the customer.
In the book "Conceptual Selling," some startling figures are illustrated. Let me share them with you. In a study of salespeople speaking to customers, it was tabulated that four out of every five minutes the salesperson and the customer were together, the salesperson was talking. 80% of the time, the salesperson was telling the customer something rather than asking questions. 80% of the statements being made by the salesperson had nothing to do with the customer's interest, but talked about the product. The study also found that an average sales call (across the board) lasted one hour. This was selling in all industries, so the time doesn't necessarily relate to the retail world, but the way the time is divided is not unlike retail selling.
The results were that twenty-five minutes were spent telling the customer about the product. Eleven minutes were spent telling the customer something else. Twelve minutes were spent asking questions. Twelve minutes were spent actually listening to the customer. If we are going to understand what is important to customers and determine how we can fill their needs with the proper product, I fail to see how we can accomplish that by spending only 20% of our time listening to what is important to them.
Listening to someone else's ideas, values, opinions and needs is not a natural process. We must work hard to focus on what is important to our customers. Just think, if we are actually listening rather than thinking of the next thing we're going to say, we might close more sales because we really will become problem-solvers. Remember, we cannot solve the problem if we don't know what it is.
Listen more and talk less - you will be successful!
Ron Wolinski is Manager of Simmons Education. Questions can be sent to Ron care of Furniture World at firstname.lastname@example.org.