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Salespeople and the Listening Problem

July 28, 2008

If you are the boss and you need to hire someone in sales, would you hire a talker or a listener?

I know what most of you would choose. Talkers. Because in your mind, selling is all about talking. Wander into any shopping mall and you’ll be harassed by people peddling anything from credit cards to cellphone services. And what do they do? Talk, talk and talk. “Hi sir, credit card for you? We have a special promotion … yada yada yada” like an express train. No need to take a breath. Its become so common you start to believe that to make the sale, you gotta talk faster or sweeter than this express train coming at you.

But that’s hard selling. The tactic is to drown the prospect with verbal diarrhea until he or she gets thoroughly disoriented before you go in for the kill. That’s why sales people make us cringe. You hate these types, and you still want to have more of these people running around?

I have a completely different view of sales. IMHO, the best sales people in the world are people who listen. Sales people are there to solve a customer’s problem. You can’t hear the customer’s problem if you are so busy talking you can’t hear yourself think.

This may sound funny but I think the best salespeople in the world are doctors. They ask you what’s wrong. They listen patiently as you tell them. They ask you a few probing questions and then they prescribe (sell) you some medicine. Doctors have a success rate of 100%. Nobody says no to a doctor.

Similarly good salespeople listen. The last thing they do is bombard people with noise and shove products in their faces whether they need them or not.

Whenever I come across a sales department suffering high staff turnover, the first thing I think of is the listening problem. So far I’m seldom wrong.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2008 12:04 pm

    Can’t find any salesman that is HONEST. If I am a boss and want to hire sales person, I would hire someone who is good in networking as I am not good at. Probably a good listener and know the product well.

  2. July 28, 2008 4:44 pm

    It also depends on what and where they are selling. For me, a good salesman is a person who can read body language, has an eye for details, good listener, problem solver, excellent communicator..heck all the qualities we need for a great Prime Minister 🙂

  3. Damien permalink*
    July 28, 2008 8:44 pm

    As long as one can deliver the numbers, most companies won’t make an issue out of honesty and character. In fact, I’ve seen some people who are hopeless at communication but they still break sales records. For customers, sometimes low price is the only language they need to hear. 🙂

  4. July 28, 2008 9:47 pm

    I totally agree with you on this, Damien. Like you, I’ve come across way too many sales personnel that go on talking like a bullet train without having to take a breather to even listen to what I have to say.

    Another perfect example are telemarketers and I know how they work because I was one before, making my way thru college. They are given scripts and the yellow pages to call. They sit in an make-up office for 4-8 hours (depending on their work schedule) and just make calls and talk talk talk. If they can’t get a sale out of you, they’ll take whatever leads you can give them. Oh, and another thing, they don’t ‘LISTEN’. =P

  5. Damien permalink*
    July 29, 2008 8:15 am

    Boy you must be tough to do something like telemarketing. 🙂 I don’t know anyone who has ever bought anything by phone. It must be lucrative enough for companies to keep doing it.

  6. LC Teh permalink
    July 29, 2008 11:43 am

    I have to face lots of credit card sales-people whenever I take the wife to the supermarkets. My best and most effective response so far, instead of frowning or ignoring them, I flash them a broad smile, and when they pause in their verbal bombardment long enough to listen, I would say, “I already have half a dozen cards in my wallet, but I only need to use one. Why do I need another one?”
    They’d just back off with thanks and apologies…

  7. August 5, 2008 8:30 pm

    Good talker is important in order to convince people and to PUSH your products to people. But…a good listener provides much more value because you are showing you actually care, and you want to listen and you want to help.

    That alone would please customers……. not everyone likes good talkers…but mostly everyone would appreciate a good listener.

  8. Damien permalink*
    August 6, 2008 8:49 am

    @lc, you are one in a thousand. Most people I see just walk by without saying a word.

    @alvin, yeah without listening the sales guy won’t be able to understand the client’s issues much less articulate how the product addresses them, which is the talking part. I’m an advocate of the listen-and-talk method as opposed to the talk-and-listen method.

  9. LC Teh permalink
    August 6, 2008 3:18 pm

    Heheh… I usually have all the time in the world at supermarkets (when shopping with wife especially…) Other times I’d just walk by without a word!!

  10. Damien permalink*
    August 7, 2008 7:50 am

    Initially my tactic was to ask what credit card are u selling. HSBC? Citibank? Oh I already have them. It used to work and they’d let me go. Then they got smart and ask is yr card gold? Can we upgrade you to platinum? So I change my answer and say I have platinum. Then they got smarter. Can we give you supplementary cards was the new question. If you say you have it all, they up the stakes and say could we give you more of it all? If you say you own the bank, wait for them to ask how about buying another bank? Yup, these guys are learning fast.

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