Earlier in the year I joined an incredible panel of marketing and business development experts including – Helen Blake of FutureCurve, Bernard Savage of Size 10 and a half Boots, Claire Mason of Man Bites Dog and Elliott Moss of Mishcon de Reya. The session was ably facilitated by Meirion Jones of Tongues in Trees as part of the Managing Partner Forum “Retuning your firm” summit. You can see the 24 minute video of the client panel (my segment on The impact of Covid on listening while selling) is from five minutes to nine minutes).
I was asked to talk for just five minutes about listening skills in consultative sales situations – particularly with regards to the impact of Covid and remote working. These are the headlines of my talk on the impact of Covid on listening while selling.
- I am a strategy, marketing and business development consultant – who is also a trained psychologist, counsellor and mediator. I’ve worked with the professions (lawyers, accountants and surveyors) for over 20 years (You can watch a short video introduction to Kim Tasso)
- I am an author of seven books – on selling, business development, growth and better business relationships
- I am also the lead trainer for the MPF’s sister organisation the Professional Marketing Forum (PM Forum)
- Many people have said – including Stephen Covey – that we listen to reply, not to understand
- Listening is a core part of communication and relationship building – and therefore selling
- I explored the soft skills needed by lawyers for my last book last year “Essential soft skills for lawyers” and listening as well as other communication skills featured heavily
- Research reports vary but indicate that generally we only absorb between 10% and 25% of what people say
- A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Other studies show that whilst we spend many years learning to speak and write, we spend just a fraction of this time learning how to listen. Some other research is shown here.
- In my training as a counsellor/therapist I’ve spent years learning how to be totally attentive and to listen properly – without allowing unconscious bias or subjective judgement to interfere. It isn’t easy
- You have to listen with your eyes as well as your ears – through NVC – and that is especially hard through a screen. There’s a short video introducing Non-Verbal Communication.
- Professional service advisers – when in “expert mode” – have a typical modus operandi of speaking and sharing their wisdom rather than listening. And silence is something that they often find really difficult.
About selling and listening
- I constantly remind people that “Telling isn’t selling!”
- Before you can start to sell, you need to develop empathy and rapport with clients. And the main way to do this is by showing interest, asking questions and paying attention while listening to the answers
- A fundamental part of consultative or solutions selling is to ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. And to probe those answers further. To identify underlying wants and needs. To diagnose the problem. There are many books on consultative or solutions selling. For example: Hope is not a strategy
- You have to ask questions and listen carefully to the response in the hope of picking up clues or weak signals about what is causing the client pain (or what they want to gain) so that – after further investigation – a solution can be formed. I often reframe selling as “Be more detective!”
- The emphasis on using stories in communication is excellent – but not if it reduces the time spent listening to the people in the interaction. There’s a video on storytelling
- But when selling, the temptation is to leap into talking the minute you hear a word you recognise – ignoring other things the client says or does that might be more relevant. And this can happen when developing referrer and intermediary relationships as well as with clients. It can shut down communication prematurely and it can lead to the wrong sales strategy.
- The research indicates that the most effective form of selling is now insight or challenger selling. This is where the person selling controls, directs, educates or guides the client. However, the danger here is that the importance of listening can be overlooked
About listening, selling and Covid
- I observed that during Covid a lot of past good practice disappeared, marketing and business development budgets were slashed and some firm’s structured client listening programmes stopped
- Whilst a few firms did do thought leadership research to listen and learn about new and emerging sector and client needs, many did not
- Many professionals stopped asking questions and listening as they tried to keep clients up to date with the deluge of constantly changing Covid regulations and schemes. They resorted to broadcast mode – and they stopped listening
- And I’m not sure we’ve escaped from that TELLING mode yet
- I think that when we do stop to listen we will see new needs, new ways to segment our markets and new ways to serve our clients – with new products and new services
So those listening skills will become even more important as we emerge from lockdown and feel our way together towards the new normal
There is a short video on active listening techniques
There are other articles about listening:
Listening and selling feature in some of my books too: