Sunday, October 4, 2009

Oh Shut Up and Listen, For God's Sake!

Man's most recent evolutionary leap is his remarkable ability to appear to be listening to others while he's pretty much tuned out. Think about the people you love, and who love you; The most important people in your life. How often have you said to yourself about each of them, "He didn't hear a word I just said?" For any number of reasons, most of us are pretty self-absorbed. The I-Man (radio personality Don Imus) interrupts his interviewees all the time with, "I'm sorry. My mind strayed after I asked you the last question and I have no idea what you answered and uh, actually what I even asked you; Uh what's your name, again?" I'm not so sure he's always kidding when he does that. Perhaps the survival instinct is so a part of our DNA that we are, at the end of the day, a pretty selfish group. We spend so much of our lives in self-interested thought and action, and expecting little different from others, that we are in awe of truly altruistic behavior. When on those rare occasions we exhibit other-directed behavior ourselves, the reaction can run the gamut from pride and self-respect to, "What was I thinking?"

I believe the people we admire most are the few we are blessed to meet who really care about what others are saying and feeling. That's because most of us have learned to nod intermittently and at appropriate times while others "have the floor, " so as to appear to be focused on them and their needs. All the while our thoughts are running to, "How shall I respond?" or worse, "When will this ever end?"

And so, are you aghast to learn that Buyers believe that you have no real interest in them other, of course, than to sell them something? And honestly, unless you are an uncommon seller, they are probably right. The barrier between you and your prospect was erected long before you got into the game, but it is tall and wide, and grows taller and wider and stronger all the time. In fact, while both buyer and seller revel in the new technologies that allow them to transact electronically (from RFPs to executed contracts), and credit their enthusiasm to the efficiency of it all, the more plausible rationale is the consequence that they don't have to spend any more face time with each other pretending to be listening. It's exhausting.

Friends, Buyers have no expectation that you care one whit about them or what your product or service might do for them. That is why they are wary, non-communicative and non-committal. Most of we sellers go on prattling nonetheless about how our product/service is going to change their lives and, at a fifty per cent discount, if they buy today. The more we prattle, the less we listen. The less we listen the more we meet the Buyers' expectations and the less interested the Buyer is in the discussion.

My first advertising sales job was for a terrific trade publishing company. The newspaper I represented was so much better than me. I was the archetypal hot shot, aggressive New York salesman. I could rattle off the pitch in my sleep and had an answer for any possible objection. My first out-of-town sales trip was to see Bill Stanback, CEO of a powder headache remedy whose brand bore his name. The Stanback Company was in Salisbury, North Carolina. I'd targeted a six issue double truck ad campaign and I was ready. Bill welcomed me into his cavernous office and nearly crushed my hand with his. (Gee, he was really happy to see me, make it 12 issue double truck ads.). I got started. Once the first sentence of my canned pitch escaped my lips there was no stopping me. There could have been a gas leak explosion and I wouldn't have yelled "fire" until I'd finished with "sign here, Bill.").

When I finally came up for air, a giant smile crossed Bill's face as he rose to presumably finish off my last few unbroken metatarsels. "Well, well," he said. "That was terrific. Next time your down this way, make sure that you stop in again, you hear?" He walked me to the door. What a gentleman.

It wasn't until the cab left Stanback's building for the ride to the airport that it crossed my mind that I had sold zero, zilch, nada. How could I have? Our meeting had nothing to do with Stanback. No one in the world could have made that more clear than I. Hell, he might as well have not been in the room. In this case a failure to listen wasn't my flaw. There was nothing to listen to--I never shut up. (Who cared what he had to say? I had a nifty pitch).

Have you ever heard someone comment about another, "He has the gift of gab. He ought to be in sales?" I would argue that if he has the gift of gab, he ought to be in gabbing--not sales!

Do you hear me?

Great Selling!

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