customer listening in sales - Tanja Parsley explains how sales and customer relationships improve with listening to their needs
customer listening in sales - Tanja Parsley explains how sales and customer relationships improve with listening to their needs
customer listening in sales - Tanja Parsley explains how sales and customer relationships improve with listening to their needs

The Central Role of Listening in Sales For Service Providers


by Tanja Parsley

If you are a services provider (or consultant) I highly recommend that you utilize a listening-centered approach to selling that will be congruent with your professional image. This approach, which is equally applicable to all people in the selling profession, can literally transform the dreaded job of business development to one that is fun, rich in learning and extraordinarily rewarding.

In this article let's take a close look at your first meeting with a potential client. The purpose of the meeting is for you and your client to get know each other, for you to uncover the explicit needs of your client and for you both to mutually determine if there is a fit. (In corporate selling, do not make the mistake of beginning to sell your services before you meet. If you fall into this trap, you will forever be challenged with not charging enough, lengthening the process unnecessarily or not 'closing' the business when in fact the fit was there.)

 

businessLISTENING.com contributor Tanja Parsley is a performance consultant and leadership coach with over 20 years senior corporate and consulting experience.

This contribution is excerpted from a white paper Tanja wrote which describes her comprehensive approach to sales for consultants and other service providers which she calls "Intentional Selling™". If you are interested, you may ask Tanja for a copy of the white paper by e-mailing her at t.parsley@sympatico.ca.

Neil Rackham of the Huthwaite Organization and author of Spin Selling 1, conducted extensive research on the selling behaviours of high performers in sales. What he found through his research was that high performing sales people did three things differently in their meetings from those people who were not effective.

High performing sales people:
1. Asked a lot more questions;
2. Allowed the client to do most of the talking; and
3. Waited much longer before jumping in with a solution.

I have developed the following questioning structure 2 for service providers, including consultants, to follow when meeting with potential customers. It is in alignment with the behaviours of effective sales people identified in the Huthwaite research and is an outline of the general flow, although it is not always linear.

The structure uses (most of) the letters in the word DISCOVER (excluding the letter S).

D - DATA QUESTIONS uncover facts, data, and background about current state

Examples:
Can you give me an overview of your business?
What exposure have you had to our type of services?
What is driving you to explore coaching at this point in time?

I - ISSUE QUESTIONS uncover issues, dissatisfactions, concerns, problems

Issue Questions begin to reveal potential areas where your services may help, but just like in consulting, do not try to "fix" it or provide a solution yet. There are many more questions to ask to uncover explicit needs. Just because someone raises a concern does not mean they are ready, willing and able to use your services. Most consultants and sales people jump in too soon at this point with solutions.

Examples:
If something was not working, what might that be?
What challenges are you facing?
What concerns are you hearing from others in the organization?

C - CONSEQUENCE QUESTIONS uncover consequences, implications, risks and increase the severity of the problem, making issues more critical

Examples:
What's the impact of...(the issue)?
What risks are you running if you don't solve this?
How might (that issue) affect...?

O - OUTCOME QUESTIONS uncover desired outcomes, future states

Examples:
What are your personal goals?
What would you like to accomplish in the next year?
What would your ideal situation look like?

V - VALUE QUESTIONS uncover the value of solving the problem

Examples:
What's the benefit of achieving that outcome (or solving this problem)
What else would happen if you got that?
How important is it for you to solve this now?

E - EVIDENCE QUESTIONS uncover evidence of success for consulting

Examples:
What are your success criteria?
How will you know when you are successful?
How will you measure success?

R - RATIONALE QUESTIONS uncover how purchasing decision is made

Examples:
How will the decision be made?
Who else will be included in the decision-making process?
What budget are we working with?

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Just like in consulting, it is important to stay connected and in rapport with your clients when you follow this questioning strategy. When you listen with your focus of attention on your client, the right questions will emerge naturally. Remember, this is not an inquisition; it is a discovery. It is a process that not only deepens your understanding of your client's needs but also creates new insights and 'ah hah's' for your client.

Additional source material:
1 Neil Rackham, Spin Selling (McGraw-Hill, 1988) (>Amazon.com).
2 I call this structure the "Discover Dialogue™".

Portions of this page copyright 2003 by Parsley & Associates. "Intentional Selling™" and "Discover Dialogue™" are trademarks of Parsley and Associates.


by Tanja Parsley


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