By Jeff Fortney
Several months ago, I started losing my voice. It seemed like a form of laryngitis; I thought it would pass. I fought through it and continued to work. It didn't pass. In fact, it grew steadily worse. I would start the day with a raspy voice and listen to it worsen as the day progressed. On one call, I explained my vocal issues and was told I sounded like a teenage girl.
After three weeks, I went to the doctor. I tried various medications, but talking remained a struggle. Finally, I was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who diagnosed me with vocal dysfunction, a condition commonly found in long-term telemarketers and kindergarten teachers. I had pushed my voice to the point where my vocal cords were not functioning correctly, which meant I needed to see a vocal therapist.
I was told to talk only when necessary, and after speaking for a period of time, to stop talking altogether. Now, I like to talk. Being told to not talk was a serious challenge.
Since working is in my DNA, I didn't want to take time off. I had to find a way to work through my vocal issues. I found the answer by concentrating on something that I knew worked, but requires effort: active listening.
Listening has always been the key to success in any sales profession. The distinctions between listening and active listening can make the difference between deals made and sales lost.
Listening can be, and often is, subjective. We listen for key words or for areas we can react to with a solution. We listen to hear what we want to hear, and when we hear it, we are prepared to react.
Active listening requires a change in mindset. You aren't listening for specific key words and responses, or to react. Instead, you're listening to hear what the speaker is truly saying and to understand the context in which it's being said.
Of course, this practice is easier said than done. You must put aside your natural sales tendencies, and instead of looking for a fit or trying to identify any points of pain, you must encourage your prospect to continue talking and sharing information.
Becoming an active listener takes practice and intent. Active listeners do not subjectively listen. They seek to truly hear everything the other person is saying. It does not mean you are purely holding a conversation. Your goal remains to identify a potential fit, pain or gain that will lead to a sale. The difference is that you must temper your desire to always be closing. Instead, you are gaining information that will help you determine whether the merchant is truly a prospect worth pursuing further.
Being an active listener requires that you provide minimal information about yourself at the beginning of the conversation. After introducing yourself, ask open-ended questions that will get the prospect talking. Several examples begin with, "What is your opinion …" or "Tell me about …"
If you are selling a POS solution and the prospect is still using a terminal, you could say, for instance, "I see you are using a terminal to process transactions today. Could you tell me about what led you to choose a terminal over a point of sale system? What is your opinion of point of sale systems?"
Some merchants may resist jumping into a conversation and be leery of answering questions. It may be necessary to first offer a positive lead-in. For a retail merchant, this could be something like, "I have been meaning to come in and see your store for some time. I'm impressed by your offering and selection." Tailor the compliment to the merchant. Be specific and genuine. Then ask your first question, and truly listen to the answer.
If there is a pause, do not jump in. Follow up with an open-ended question, such as, "Could you tell me more?" or even a simple, "And?"
An active listener will repeat this step as often as necessary to gain as much information as possible. Once you have garnered sufficient information, make sure you truly understand what was said. Recap what you heard by saying something like, "What I am hearing is …"
By being an active listener, you will gain valuable information that will help you structure your sales approach specifically to the merchant. You will also be able to determine if there is even a reason to continue the conversation.
Being an active listener is not easy. You must set aside your perceptions and your subjective approach; you must listen intentionally, concentrating on not only what is said, but also the tone.
My voice is mostly back, and I'm not about to dispense with this powerful tool. It keeps me from talking more than listening, shortens the sales cycle and deepens my business relationships. It likely helped me recover my voice and it can help you grow your sales – if you listen.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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