The magic bullet does exist. Making sales is not about having deep pockets, slick marketing, or great connections. It is not about discounts, deals, or bundling. It is not about pitching, preaching, or even pushing. Generating opportunities, revenues, and repeat business is easy if you do just one thing right: listen. Here are the ways you and everyone at your business can and should be listening.
Hear outside the box. In the past 5 years, people have begun more and more to resort to a sort of autopilot when interacting with others. How many times a day do you hear "Hi, how are you?" And return the same without ever expecting a real answer? How many times do you find yourself so focused on the outcome of a particular situation that you completely miss the journey of how you are getting to that outcome? We are all guilty of doing this, and when we either resort to autopilot or become incredibly intent on something in particular, we miss the other opportunities that are right there in front of us. When we first started our company, a publication in which we advertised inadvertently ran the phone number of the maker of automatic sink pedals for tattoo shops on one of our ads (we make body piercing jewelry). My partner took the first call, and when the person asked about our sink pedals, thought the customer had the wrong number, but just as he was about to say so and hang up, he thought better of it, and instead asked the person what kind of shop he had that would be looking for a sink with pedals. When it turned out to be a tattoo shop, he told him he had no sink pedals, but we did sell body jewelry, and offered to send a catalogue. We did the same thing on hundreds of "wrong number" calls that month, and in the process, picked up a lot of great customers that we might not have found otherwise.
Pay attention to the unspoken. People rarely say everything they have on their minds. They auto censor themselves to give voice only to the essential, to the un-embarrassing, to the unguarded--and in the process only half the story, and usually the less useful half, comes to light. Sales happen in abundance when we bring that silent but integral part of the conversation to light. For that reason, I teach everyone at my company to listen more for the back story than for the loud story. A prospect who says "I'm set right now" is not really answering the sales person who is calling to see how she can help. "I'm set" can mean he believes he can't spend any money on your product right now, it can mean he is buying from one of your competitors, or it can mean that he feels unprepared to discuss the purchase. All of these meanings require very different next steps. A sales person who listens carefully hears that the customer feels unable to tell the whole story, and can help him to do so. Last week, a customer told me this and instead of letting the conversation end there, I probed and asked, "Do you mean that you have budget constraints or that you have already purchased from somewhere else?" In so doing, I found out that it was neither-- he was out of some things, but had not had time to prepare his shopping list. I helped him get started by telling me the things he knew he was out of, and then prompting him with what I noticed he might need and had not mentioned. In 10 minutes, we finished the order he had anticipated having to spend 40 putting together before calling me. My hearing his unexpressed needs was more powerful that anything else I heard him say on the call.
Eavesdrop. Most entrepreneurs try to find a way to hand selling off to someone else--a salesperson, an outside rep, an automated process--as quickly as they can. Once they do, they often think that checking sales metrics, like how many contacts are initiated, how many meetings set, how many closes made, is enough. It's not. I listen in on calls that my sales team makes every week--regardless of whether sales are up or down. When I do, I always learn important things that can drive sales faster, further, and fortuitously. I pay attention to the way my reps present our products, to the way they listen to how the potential customer responds and to the unvoiced backstories that show up in every call. This listening is better than any other monitoring I do of my sales team to tell me where the real obstacles and opportunities lie. One of my sales reps, for example, posted strong numbers faster than others who had been through the same process. The quantity of her calls was good, and everyone was happy with her progress. Everyone except me. When I listened in to her calls, I knew that she was going to plateau quickly, because she was not helping her customers to build their business by suggesting new products that would benefit them. Only my fanatic listening saved us and her from stalling out, because we were able to change her style quickly.
When we listen, we learn. We find out about hidden opportunities, we discover unmet needs, and we unearth potential problems before they happen. Doing this removes all obstacles to making a sale. We have to understand who to sell to, what to sell them, and what they need resolved in order to agree to purchase. Once all that is out of the way, the sale happens, revenues come in, and relationships are built.