Hearing and listening are NOT the same things.
Many people think them one and the same, but they are definitely, distinctly, different.
Hearing is biological. Your hearing is on autopilot. Hearing is always occurring, most of the time, subconsciously. Hearing the words doesn’t mean you understand what someone is really trying to tell you.
Contrast that with listening.
In communicating with others, listening creates an atmosphere of caring and positive problem solving. Critical in selling. Make no mistake about it, listening takes work. It requires conscious effort to listen to what is and is not being said. If you are NOT consciously listening, conversations can—and do—go south. This is why sales opportunities die on the vine.
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.
As a whole, the sales profession still gets a bad rap. Fair or not, there is a bias buried deep in the collective human psyche of the image of the “traveling snake oil salesman,” out to hustle every unsuspecting person they meet. That bias is also perpetuated because the hustlers do exist.
Selling is about solving problems. That requires listening. That’s a big problem for many salespeople who are notorious for:
- Talking too much.
- Talking all about themselves, their company and their product.
I read a blog post recently where the author suggests that the top salespeople hear and suggest solutions while the other 80% are only listening (as if that’s a bad thing) and then responding. Totally backwards as just about every bit of research on the topic of hearing and listening will support. Top sellers listen to understand the buyer’s needs. Once those needs are fully understood, that’s when the top 20% work with buyers to create a solution. Together.
Seek first to understand.
For many years, I’ve been a fan of Stephen Covey’s landmark book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Habit #5 is applicable to the topic of listening. Covey reminds us to seek first to understand, then to be understood. He didn’t say plan your side of the conversation while the other person is talking. He didn’t say jump in with guns blazing to pitch your product the moment someone takes a breath. He said, “Seek first to understand.” Buyers do want to buy, but they are tired of being “sold.” Think of them as people first, not simply a revenue source.
Personality styles play a role in listening.
Successful selling requires good communication skills. Listening is a big part of the equation. For years, I’ve used my knowledge of Inscape Publishing’s DiSC® behavioral assessment and model to foster better interpersonal communication. The key lies in your willingness to adapt your communication style to meet the needs of someone else. In sales, that someone else is your prospective buyer.
How DiSC works
Unlike the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, which identifies your top personality traits, the DiSC assessment examines behavioral and communication style. Our personalities are largely formed by the time we are five years old and rarely change throughout our lifetime. Behavior, on the other hand, is situational. That means we choose how we respond to our environment or to other people.
The DiSC model is made up of four quadrants. Though each of us is a blend of the four styles, we all have a primary style, followed by a secondary style. For example, my primary style is High i. It is called “high” because on the DiSC scale, it ranks the highest of the four quadrants. My secondary style is “D”. Combined, these two styles are the essence of my natural approach to communication. If you know that about me, you know what I care about or what I fear. That understanding will lead to more fruitful sales conversations. When you learn to identify the clues that provide insight into the behavioral style of your buyer, you have the ability to adapt how you communicate with them. In sales, this knowledge is priceless, so let’s look more closely at the four quadrants to understand what they mean.
D – Dominance
People with this style are primarily focused on results and maintaining control of their environment. They are fast-paced, questioning and skeptical, expect results, and have little patience for useless chit-chat. A phrase a former boss used sums these individuals up perfectly: Be brief, be bright, be gone.
When talking with people with this style, cut to the chase. If they ask you a direct question, they expect a direct answer. It might be uncomfortable for you if that’s not your natural way of communicating, but trust me: delving into detailed minutia confirms for them that you are not listening to what they want.
i – Influence
Unlike the Dominance style, the Influence type’s first priority is the personal relationship. They are positive, upbeat, and want people to like them. Collaborative team players, they move quickly and their gestures are often animated. When you sit down to meet with them, they find it rude if you roll right into business. Friendly banter goes a long way with them.
When endeavoring to entice them to buy from you, you have to listen carefully. They will often—without meaning to—either gloss over important details (like budget), or be overly optimistic about next steps (quick decision). They are big picture thinkers who prefer not to be caught up in details, and do not assume that the friendly conversation means an eminent sale.
S – Steadiness
These folks are sort of like the office camp counselor. Others turn to them when they have problems on their mind. Harmony at work and a routine they can count on is extremely important to them. Resistant to change, this style avoids taking risks. Like I’s, they care about people first, and they never want to feel as if they are letting anyone down. The ultimate people pleasers, it can be difficult for them to clearly express what they want or need.
When you are in a sales conversation with this particular style, it will be important for you to gently draw out of them what you suspect may cause them to resist making a decision. From a sales point of view, people with this style often prefer to stick with the status quo. You need to be prepared for a lengthy sales cycle as you help assuage their fears.
C – Conscientiousness
Finally, individuals with the Conscientiousness preference are focused on quality and accuracy. They are your detail people. Spreadsheets and data will be key to them making a buying decision. When looking for those visual clues to help you determine their style, you will notice that they move at a moderate pace. In meetings, they often don’t say as much, preferring to have time to think before they answer.
In a sales situation, be prepared for the questions they will ask and the detail they expect you to provide. Expect the buying decision to take time as they dig deeply into the data. These individuals, like D’s, aren’t the touchy-feely types. They view bubbly optimism (High i) as hiding something. Before walking into a sales meeting, you need to prepare a detailed agenda and send it ahead of your meeting. People with this style like to be prepared; they don’t appreciate being caught off guard.
Sales meetings can become very uncomfortable when there is a lack of awareness of the style preferences of others. When you shift your communication approach by focusing on what’s important to the person you are meeting, ultimately, you close more deals.
Dedicate yourself to listening proactively to buyers when they grant you precious time on their calendar. Give them your full attention. As Dale Carnegie said, “You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”