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“All About Listening: The Consultative Selling Dilemma” (Part 1)

Our three most recent blogs were about managing client dialogs when the consultative salesperson is in “transmit mode.” This week, we’ll reverse roles and examine what happens— and doesn’t happen— when the salesperson is (supposed to be) in “receive mode.” In reality, it’s not only extremely difficult to pay full attention when your client is talking— it’s actually even harder for a bright, pro-active, committed, goals-driven salesperson. Here’s why:

The barriers to effective listening fall into at least three different categories.

  •  External circumstances: the phone keeps ringing; that fire engine’s siren is getting louder; the waiter keeps interrupting your conversation at lunch—in other words any distraction that is generated by the surrounding environment.
  • Personal issues— some are “generic,” and others are unique individual. The average person can process speech 6 – 8 times faster than the speaker can talk; that’s a really great opportunity for your mind to wander. Indeed, people naturally make distracting mental connections and associations as they listen; the experts believe that nobody can pay full attention for more than 90 seconds, and that the first distraction may  happen in as little as 5 seconds! Add in each listener’s personal interests, habits, biases, etc., and it’s clear that we all have a listening problem.
  • Selling-related issues only make things worse. The salesperson has his/her own objectives, agenda, plans, etc., as he/she tries to advise, solve problems for and sell relevant products/services to the client.  So, while the client is talking, we’re thinking about what he/she really meant by that, or what question we’ll ask next, or how we’ll respond when it’s our turn to talk, or whether or not we look like we’re paying attention (!)  Thinking about what we’ll say next is so common in client dialogs that it’s been given a name: “rehearsal effect.”

Now, here’s the kicker. Research has shown that in many business conversations, the client will not bring up his/her most important issues early in the conversation— the “big stuff” will come later on. (That’s because he/she is a bit anxious and reticent about revealing the most pressing problems, and needs to gauge the salesperson’s receptivity before opening up completely.) There’s a term for this, too; it’s called, “discretionary disclosure.” Sadly, we’re very likely to be tuned out by then, for all the reasons listed above.

It sure looks like the deck is stacked against us when it comes to being good listeners. Happily, there is “good news” too. It comes from the fact that, putting aside the external distractions, all of the barriers to listening boil down to this: it’s us, thinking about usour issues, needs and behaviors— just when we should be truly hearing the client. Fortunately, this problem can be addressed; that’s what we’ll do in the next Baron Group blog.

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