In the heyday of the bag-carrying salesman, conversation between seller and buyer was a given. Before 1988, even Power Point didn’t exist. As a result, sales training was all about “the pitch.” It tended to work for one subtle and unrecognized reason: in that pre-internet age, the primary source of information about products and services was the sales person. What was revealed by research that started in the 1950s and continues to this day, was that effective sellers practiced the skill of Attentive Listening.
The bad news for most of today’s sellers is that technology has taken over the sales function. Look at the chart below and you will see just a piece of the “technology stack” universe available to improve sales efficiency and effectiveness.
What’s been lost is the science of Attentive Listening.
Did you know that Attentive Listening has everything to do with what a seller says and little if anything to do with polite silence? Two behaviors in particular are highly effective at generating rapport, maintaining control, building trust and uncovering key factors about a customer’s concerns, ie. consultatative selling. We call these behaviors Testing Understanding and Summarizing. They are a bit more complicated than the labels imply, but are quite easy to understand.
Testing Understanding: taking important points or questions that a customer has expressed and validating that you have understood them. The most important use of this technique is helping a customer think more deeply about what he or she has told you. It is not important that you actually need validation. What is important is that you are expressing real interest and consideration about what you have been told by the customer.
Summarizing: Simply restating in compact form, important points that you and the customer have exchanged. It is most useful to use this behavior when transitioning from one topic to another during a sales call or a demo. The key is not to robotically repeat everything that was said. Summarizing is done with one or two sentences, not with a checklist.
These and the other vital behaviors associated with the Science of Professional Persuasion have been studied for over 70 years! These sales behaviors are one of the best-kept non-secrets you can find. Imagine that the science of effective selling behaviors has been the subject of real scientific exploration for 70 years and yet so few business people even know that it exists. Sadly, the vast majority of so-called sales experts and sales training companies are blissfully unaware of this science. Too bad most folks don’t Summarize and Test Understanding.