Strong Opinions @marksbirch

Random thoughts from a NYC entrepreneur and investor about start-ups, technology and the people that make it all happen. Also find time for good tunes and good food.
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A friend recently asked if I had any recommended sources for learning about strategic account selling, the type of selling you do when targeting big companies. Over the years, I have been trained on a number of methodologies and techniques, so I have a trove of few documents and presentations floating around somewhere. But as I searched around, I realized that while many of these tools are useful, it really came down to one thing that worked regardless of the method.

The best sales methodology is active listening. There are some helpful tips to become a better listener and hopefully I can round up those resources for a later post. But the point is that in a world awash with quick fix strategies for “instant selling success” and “immediate results” and “close more sales”, the one method that is readily available to everyone and free to use is listening.

What is active listening? It is a process of caring about what a customer is saying and spending more time listening to them than talking about yourself and your product. That is a core of any relationship and how one builds a foundation of trust. No one wants to buy from someone that is pushing and prodding and proscribing. People want to feel that you emphasize, that you understand their needs, and can be a trusted resource. In the age of the Internet, anyone can access any number of resources to get the answers they need about product. What people want is someone patient enough to listen.

Of course you need to actually converse and explain what your product is and how it fits a customer’s needs. However, that is something that evolves over the course of many conversations. That is not where you start when you first engage a customer, you need to hear them out and understand their perspective first so that you can properly frame your product in a way that addresses their needs.

This advice gets salespeople nervous because they feel they need to guide the conversation along towards their solution. That is the classic Solution Selling technique and it certainly has its merits. However, in reality the dialogue during a sales meeting never easily conforms to the cadence that fits into a methodology. It feels wooden and forced even when practiced over and over again. You are better off asking open ended questions and only piping in to address an objection or answer a direct question. Remember, if you are having this conversation, chances are the customer has a need, sees you as a potential solution, and does not need to be “sold” on taking action.

I am all for learning techniques and testing out methodologies to help improve one’s sales productivity and effectiveness. Just remember that no method can substitute for truly hearing what customers have to say. If you are talking less and listening more, you are well on your way to having more success in sales.

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