Sales Conversations: Earning the right to be heard

A company launches its new advertising campaign, confident that the message is exactly what customers want to hear.

A sales person launches into his pitch, confident that his message is exactly what his customers want to hear.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the messages are just what the customers want to hear. Does this mean they will hear it?

A customer may be standing in front of you, or may be listening as your ad starts to play, but chances are that he is not listening to you. His doors to perception are not open to you. His sense receptors are actually pointed in another direction.

The starting point in our cacophonous world, where the average person is bombarded with 5000 messages each day, is that customers are not ready or eager to listen to us.

The first thing we need to do, if we want customers to listen to us, is to earn the right to be heard.

Contrary to the most fundamental beliefs about sales and marketing, you do not earn the right to be heard just by delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time. You earn the right to be heard once you have engaged your customer in a dialogue that is meaningful to him.

To create a dialogue that a customer cares about, there are two key truths we need to remember:

  1. Customers don’t really care about our stories. They care about their own stories.
  2. At any moment you encounter a customer, that customer is in the middle of a rich personal narrative. The story that he really cares about is going on in his head, right now.

Because of these two truths, the worst thing a salesperson can possibly do, if he wants a customer to listen to him, is to start to tell his own story. Not only does the customer not care about the salesperson’s story, the salesperson is interrupting the rich story that the customer is currently thinking about.

To earn the right to be heard, it is important to jump into your customer’s world. Don’t force him to abandon his inner narrative. Sense what is going on with him, and try to become part of it.

Let’s say that today is the day of a very important meeting with a very important prospect. You have prepared extensively for this meeting, and you are certain that you know exactly what the prospective customer would like to hear. As you greet each other and sit down in his conference room, the prospect sits back, as if he is ready to hear your proposal.

Is he?

You must assume that he isn’t.

Just because a customer looks like he is ready to listen, you should believe that he is not ready, and that you have to earn the right to be heard. The prospect in our example is in the middle of a very busy day. He is concerned about many other things, and it is possible that he has spent no time preparing for this meeting. If you jump right into telling your story, you are forcing him to jump straight out of his own day, right into yours.

Instead, use the first minutes of the meeting to enter his world. Engage him in a dialogue about himself. What is going on with him? What’s important to him right now?

When you create a conversation that is centered on your customer, he will be much more comfortable. You are not interrupting his internal narrative, and you are focused on what he really cares about – himself. Once this happens, he will be much more open to listening to you.

A customer may be sitting right in front of you, making eye contact with you, but his ears may not be on. He may even think he is ready to listen, but his mind may be in another place. If every moment you interact with customers you believe that you must earn the right to be heard, you will increase the chances that you actually will be heard.

Notice

How often do people who are selling you things try to earn the right to your attention, and how often do they just assume that you are ready to listen to them?

How do you compare?

What about you? Do you assume you need to earn the right to be heard by your customers, or do you assume that you already have that right?

Try this

In your upcoming customer interactions, focus on earning the right to be heard. Be careful not to “yank” a customer out of his own world and into yours, but instead establish dialogue about your customer before you start bringing your own story into the conversation. Enter his world and assess, at all moments, whether you have earned the right to be heard.

Remember that being heard by a customer is a privilege, not an entitlement. Keep earning that privilege, and you will find yourself with better customer relationships and better sales results.

Steve Yastrow

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Posted in Conversation, Customer Encounters, Ditch the Pitch, Newsletters, Sales

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