Strategic Selling Skills

Why Listening Is The Master Key To Sales Excellence

God gave us two ears and one mouth. Why is active listening the meta skillset, the most obvious one to leverage, yet the hardest to develop? Rackham always talks about how if you're listening most of the time, the deal is likely to close.

Is your sales call so valuable that your client would write a check for your visit? - Rackham

I would challenge you to speak only 25% of the time. Buy the book Power Questions by Andrew Sobel. Come to the meeting prepared with the Who, What, Where and especially starting with Why. It's all about the quality of your informed questions coupled with your ability to peel the onion back to the root problems. This is why I've often tongue in cheek, compared question-based selling to numbers based accounting. I would argue they are mutually exclusive, even an oxymoron.

I've often wondered if I sent in a green salesperson who was an extraordinarily 'present' listener into a highly charged sales setting with the brass muckety-mucks and just encouraged her to interview the client, if she would literally perform better than a seasoned rep looking to take the high horse pulpit.

Listening is a muscle, mentally and physically because it requires will power and self control; and it becomes stronger the more you use it. I think the crux of this is being present in the moment; being fully there as I describe it within the context of my RSVPselling methodology. Excellence in execution and being there fully round out the wheel for complex B2B selling that is Relationships - Strategy - Value creation - Process alignment. Recently, a manager who had read my book was subconsciously applying this method in coaching one of his reps.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. - Michaelangelo

Many would posit we were put on Earth to better ourselves in every way that we can. Sales is a game of infinite spirals where those that win, practice positive psychology to get in the 'flow' and then do the impossible – pulling revenue out of thin air. They make it look easy, what appears to be effortless mastery. The angel you are sculpting is really you, so if you were to look at 100 critical success factors that create the coveted sales eagle, mythical strategic selling Sphynx – listening would be the number one pick.

Master your ability to get to the root of problems, realizing that what clients mostly tell you at first, will be the symptoms masking the root problem.

We all recall the classic Dale Carnegie story where he takes the meeting, doesn't say a word and the executive later comments, 'You're the best conversationalist I've ever met!"

Brevity is the soul of wit. - Shakespeare

The best way to become a better listener is not to restrain yourself like Houdini but instead to work on the quality of your questions. SPIN is rife with great ideas as are books on consultative methods, as dismissed as consultative selling has become. Clients are intuitive and will sniff you out if you are disingenuous or do not truly care. There's been way too much emphasis placed on X or Y type of selling.

Relationships of trust, value creation, insight and interactive listening the entire way have always been the fundamentals. Even if the buyer is further along in the sales process, or we could argue the sales process has become a buying process, we must listen, 'seeking first to understand before attempting to be understood.' We now just have a leg up on our competition if they get lazy. We can listen before we even meet our dream prospects: to trigger events, to press releases, by reading an annual report and via myriad social platforms and filters.

Here's a formula that could double your income this year.

  1. Be fully there – present. (Cell phone off)
  2. Actually care. (Mean it!)
  3. Speak 25% of the time – only ask insight provoking questions. (The classic probing techniques only make them feel like it's an interrogation and will backfire!)

4. Show that you understand by asking a question to the corollary concept. (Peel the onion!)

5. Don't talk about yourself, your company, your product or solution... just focus on them.

6. Keep comfortable eye contact versus undressing them with your eyes...

I read many posts about whether or not sales executives should take notes. The bigger risk is missing the finer points of the problem which inhibits your ability to craft a more coherent solution. If this is Evernote, Moleskine or even recording the call on your iPhone, make the questions count. Go deeper than the next competitor because you will then be able to craft a proposal that sells to your customer in their own words. Collaborate with several meetings as you craft the value hypothesis and work to build a strong business case backed by hard numbers – conservative ROI estimates.

Insights are all the rage right now. There are 2 bestsellers on them! But how can an insight penetrate the account when your dream client can't get a word in edgewise. Collaboration is the great secret to the modern strategic sale. When we co-create the solution with multiple stakeholders we render ourselves indispensable as trusted advisors.

Whether you sell services, products or a SaaS blend, listening will separate you from the wolf pack of aggressive proposal pushers. The most confident data dumper, walking brochure can't touch a thoughtful introvert armed with insatiable curiosity.

Social selling also hinges upon listening and powerful questions – create content as your currency to speak to these questions – proactively. IMHO, 75% of what you share should be reflections on OPC, as Jill Rowley sagaciously calls it – Other People's Content. It's all about them, it always was and always will be. Any President's Club Winner who has been off to the islands many times will tell you that with Mai Tai in hand while between karaoke sessions.

BuzzSumo is a phenomenal tool for listening to trends to figure out what you're going to write about. Any type of Twitter filtration or listening technology is phenomenal too. I prefer to make lists of Savvy Tweeps in TweetDeck. In the Enterprise, a full blown scenario of Radian6 is fully worth it to allow brands to listen and respond with high levels of customer services, 24/7 on every continent.

Now it's your turn: What are your secrets to improving listening on calls, in face-to-face meetings and even board room presentations? What are some books and strategies you've found to improve the quality of questioning? Would you agree that collaboration is the new key to winning the enterprise sale? Which social listening tools do you use and in what ratio do you listen versus posting about yourself or your offering? – I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Ad as a bonus for reading all the way to the bottom of this post, here is the best sales training video ever made on how to really listen... Amy is masterful.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: Beverly & Pack

50 Shades of Social Selling

Social selling is the latest craze and the world is having a global love affair with it. OK, so maybe for many it's a love hate relationship but it all depends how you look at it: War of the Roses or Princess Bride!

I knew this post would get a million clicks just like a million buyers of the latest airport novel so I lured you in with good intentions. I wanted to speak briefly to the global movement that is both a technology progression and strategic evolution called 'social selling.' The term is everywhere you want to be in 2015 and many places... well, you don't!

I think this is a tectonic shift and I believe it's truly here to stay. I actually believe that the term 'social selling' will fall away and selling will simply be known as good ol' sales again.

We're reaching a saturation point with social selling however. We could look at this like 'social selling' has crossed the chasm or we're in the middle of that bell curve. It will be interesting to see how CRM and CXM respond to this by fully integrating these channels into their ecosystems or reaching feature parity.

Who will disrupt the disruptors?

My predictions for social selling fall within the realm of wearables. I have predicted that mobile phones as we know them will go away. Device based smart computing, contact lenses and Heads Up Display, holography of everything will replace the restrictive appendage that is mobile: social will simply be a fabric of how we interact in an increasing virtual society toward Singularity.

There have been some interesting shifts that have happened as a result of social selling that I want to call out:

  • Twitter is almost primarily auto-responders. Any time somebody actually DMs me I'm almost shocked. Many times it's really an auto-DM in disguise.
  • InMails have limited efficacy when everyone is now using them as email. It's buzzing a smartphone in pocket but the EA is now monitoring the CEO's LinkedIn account. Is this progress?
  • We've reached full blown social selling meltdown just like we did with social media: This is the condition where there are more social media experts than those using social media. There are more LinkedIn and Twitter trainers than consumers can even transact with. I'm all for expanding the pie but it's getting way out of control.
  • I've found a massive gap in the marketplace for the combination of traditional enterprise, and strategic selling with B2B methodologies with the social selling tools. There are a group of experts with decades in the field that are thinking differently about power-base driven methods of navigating enterprise accounts with social media like LinkedIn.
  • Two camps have developed: The Social Selling Mafia (I accidentally inducted myself by dint of a spectrum of posts) and the Phone Slingers. Like the Wild West they are the old Sheriff in town combating the new and a bit ruffled that the social sellers are getting such great results. They even believe the results aren't real. Having tested life in both camps I can say that tools of any kind work with a strategic operator at the helm.
  • The referral camp seems to love social for its power in referrals.
  • Then there are the blended multi-channel folks that are looking to integrate all the channels together.
  • Google+ is actually not a graveyard, it's where really smart people share things that would truly blow most business people's mind. Anytime I stumble in there, I find truly next-level content.
  • There seems to be an issue with the quality of user generated content on LinkedIn. I'm learning by posting and asking for feedback. It appears that a greater degree of editing could be helpful to add to machine-based filtration schemes. I'm very curious how LinkedIn will solve this or if it's just growing pains. As Pulse and LinkedIn Publisher grow-up, will there be an algorithmic and human touch approach to improving the quality of the content.
  • It might make sense to build a Pulse Channel or balance a certain amount of posts in the system, let's say 10%, that are brought forward by professional writers from publications like Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Inc., The New Yorker and The Economist. I think Publisher needs more balance. I know the Writers on here and they contribute but others who do 300 identical articles on Big Data can be a bit vexing to the average reader. What was so cool about Pulse originally was how it was similar to Flipboard in one's ability to monitor super high quality content that was shared.
  • I say this tongue in cheek but there is a certain a subset of the population that should really never be on any social media whatsoever. It's a cry for help! They get sucked in and productivity goes to an all time low. This 'unfortunately frequently' LION crowd is REAL busy posting big cat pictures into LinkedIn's stream right now as we speak.

There's another extreme of hyper-productive folks that somehow are able to do it all. It would be cool to build in time management tools within LinkedIn - like a timer to regulate use - or some form of batch processing.

  • From empirical observation and feedback from my readers, there's been great success in reverse looking up B2B emails and sending micro-targeted campaigns. Maybe even more so than InMail?
  • I'm curious about Sponsored LinkedIn InMails. Are any of you finding them valuable? Are you running targeted LinkedIn advertising? How has your ROI been there? What about paid options in Twitter and Facebook? How are those working out for you?
  • Let's talk about Facebook? Can it really sustain with the level of ads? Are you having a relevant experience in there? What about your Facebook Fan Page: have you seen a drop in reach with the latest changes of the sorting algorithm?
  • There's been a cadre of folks that feel 'social media' ROI is purely faith based but it also seems that it's always been tricky to properly tie attribution toward it. I look forward to futuristic technology platforms that can track this.
  • Since the latest UI refresh, I've been noticing more sponsored ads in the mainstream and actually let LinkedIn know because a few were completely taking up all the available space above the fold. Amazingly, they seemed to have adjusted this within weeks. There must have been a chorus of feedback on this issue.
  • There's been an argument that sales reps should not be permitted to publish content every day. That's the camp that's in it for curation.
  • There is fear and consternation about giving up brand control and conformity to social media policy and corporate governance. I've advocated a VP of Sales given Managing Editor status. I've also posited that with the shrinkage of traditional media models there will be a hyper-talented pool of journalists available to hold down this function in the enterprise.
  • LinkedIn might revamp the Group functionality with allowing a Live Chat experience. This could be similar to a TweetUp or Twitter Chat. This is a very intriguing idea because the level of engagement would be off the charts. It could be like a big Google Hang Out hosted by Questlove.

I'm extremely interested in your experiences with basic social selling and advanced strategic social selling memes. I seemed to have stirred the pot by insinuating that LinkedIn could be the next Google but then many wrote in that they do indeed perform hundreds (if not thousands of searches) within LinkedIn each week.

Is there snake oil around? Is it all what it's cracked up to be? If you hate the social selling movement, what's the fundamental problem with it in your opinion and how could it be improved?

Where do you think the paradigms of social, mobility and selling are going toward 2020? Predictions perform outrageously well out here in LinkedInville. If I find any very prescient ones in the comments below, I will re-integrate them back into the post above.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main image photo by Flickr: r: Turinboy