"People don’t listen, they just wait for their turn to talk."

That is a saying many of us have heard before; many of us have also seen it in action when we are conversing and then the other party responds with something totally out of line with what you said and you think "you didn't listen to anything I said...!!"  

This happens all the time in sales.  You wouldn't immediately think it, but the culture within a sales organization contributes to the lack of listening skills. Many teams are pressed into results and are forced to quickly qualify or dump prospects in order to build their pipeline. Good relationship building and conversation skills aren't rewarded, revenue is.  Unfortunately, the thing that happens is the rush to qualify also misses many revenue opportunities because prospects aren't going to open up when they are being "sold" or told to come back later when they have money.

Here's an example....a company (the prospect) has a major problem collaborating with their partners and distributers, they have looked at a variety of options and they all weren't a fit. If someone can present something they will move on it as this is a critical need for their business. They haven't budgeted for it yet because they don't know what they need--is it technology? Process? A consultant? All of the above? They need something to get their head around the "How will we do it?"  The company talks to a senior level biz dev expert at a firm, and they love the approach and the creativity to make suggestions and create a vision for them of how to solve this...they want to talk more. The next call a rep is on the call....within 5 minutes the rep is asking if they have a budget...the rep loses interest when the VP says they need to figure it out first, and then the rep says once they are further along with their planning and know what they want to do, they can reconnect and talk about it. All the creative ideas, all the solutions options, all the helping them to envision working with them has been reduced to "if you have no money up front to tell me this is worth my time, I am not interested."  End of call, end of interest.

This happens all the time...it isn't isolated incidents. It boils down to 2 things, 1) the mindset of the rep, and 2) what is reinforced as a culture. If the culture of a company is to discourage spending time with prospects before they have a clear budget, wait till they are "old-school BANT "qualified,  then they are only going to focus on later stage deals.   It is a punitive way to respond to prospects that want to engage at the time they are planning and choosing options.

It's a complex problem because there are some fantastic reps out there that intuitively know to spend time to help their prospects come to a decision. They invest in their relationships and genuinely care about what they do--you don't have to train them to listen because they do it anyway. There are also very selfish reps that really don't care about their prospects at all, and much of what they do that displays genuine concern for their prospects evaporates as soon as they don't see anything in it for them--you cannot transform them into people that  care. Unfortunately many buyers have experienced the latter and this is what has contributed to the initial pushback ALL reps get in the beginning.

How can this be solved?

"Listening must become part of the sales cycle"

  1. Coaching your team to have a deeper discussion and truly understand the requirements..."this is what an early discussion needs to look like."
  2. Understand your buyer persona. Do they engage early? Do you know if this buyer profile generally will explore options, chose a vendor(s), and have a more developed plan before they have their budget defined?  Answer this honestly, not in the perfect world of everyone that calls has their budget and will buy within 60 days. If your buyers typically are early engagers, you need to have more invested in early discussions. 
  3. Hire people that understand this. It may change your interviewing model to more of a character vs. skills search. Ask them questions about their views of prospects, ask what is important in early conversations, ask how they go above and beyond for their customers, etc.
  4. Help your team(s) have a conversation template. Sometimes conversations aren't had because the reps don't know how to have them. Give them a list of questions, and a B List of questions if the prospects are chatty.
  5. Help the team understand the importance of documentation. Even if you listen and have the greatest conversation in the world; if no one documents it, you will backtrack over topics already covered every time.

The good thing is more and more companies understand this and are doing something about it. I'm interested to learn what you have done to modify your approach to implement better listening and early engagement best-practices!