In addition to the information shared in a direct response, sellers are also advised to listen for feeling. Empathetic listening is a sure-fire way to connect with buyers and build trust. The content of an answer refers to the words that are spoken. In addition to those words, the seller should be listening and observing for clues about feelings. This is especially true when potentially sensitive questions are asked. The higher standard of empathetic listening (beyond active listening) enables you to hear and understand your buyer's feelings.
Consider this situation that required empathetic listening:
A buyer shared her needs for faster turnaround on production, overnight delivery and custom design work. She also wanted to see a reduction in the cost per unit. The seller didn’t think it was possible to meet all these needs since the increases in production and shipping costs would be prohibitive when it came to negotiating for a volume discount. So the seller asked the buyer “Of all these needs you’ve described, which one is the most important to you?” The buyer replied “Oh, I suppose if I had to pick then I’d have to go with the cost reduction.”
If listening to content alone, the seller would have brought back a proposal to meet the need for a lower cost per unit. But this seller listened for feeling, too, and noticed the disappointment expressed when the buyer contemplated giving up the other needs. So the seller followed up to ask “It sounds like you have to say cost but wish you could choose something else. If you could, what would it be?”
The buyer immediately expressed gratitude for the seller picking up on this cue. She perked up and showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the custom design work which, it turned out, had been developed by her daughter in a contest during the company’s take-your-child-to-work-day activities. Since the custom design work was the least costly of the desired changes, the seller was able to deliver on both needs – the one the company demanded and the one the buyer was emotionally invested in, too.
As with asking quality questions, developing and using active listening skills will be easier for sellers who are mindful of and dedicated to the strategic intent of fully understanding buyer needs. Advancing the sale requires staying aligned with buyers. Active listening maximizes your alignment with buyers. Empathetic listening creates a connection with buyers. This is how you will become the one seller buyers WANT to talk to.
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Deb Calvert, “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected” author and Top 50 Sales Influencer, is President of People First Productivity Solutions, a UC Berkeley instructor, and a former Sales/Training Director of a Fortune 500 media company. She speaks and writes about the Stop Selling & Start Leading movement and offers sales training, coaching and consulting as well as leadership development programs. She is certified as an executive and sales coach by the ICF and is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. Deb has worked in every sector and in 14 countries to build leadership capacity, team effectiveness and sales productivity with a “people first” approach.