The Sales Balance: Listening to Buyers and Asking to Close

Lori CornmesserA recent column in the Richmond Times Dispatch detailed two fundamental challenges that virtually all salespeople face – how to engage and listen to a buyer, and when to ask for the sale.

Listening can go a long way.

According to the author, research shows that when a customer is present, a salesperson should only be speaking roughly 30 percent of the time. While this number may be difficult to quantify in real-life sales situations, the underlying principle is clear: a salesperson needs to listen more than speak. The reason for this is that buyers tend to value sales representatives who are attentive listeners and problem solvers over those who place an emphasis on the values of the product or service that they are attempting to sell.

Buyers wish to explain their individual situation, including their pain points and potential for gain. A salesperson who poses profound and in-depth questions, listens carefully to the answers and poses potential solutions is far more likely to gain the confidence of potential buyers than one who monopolizes the conversation.

Employ closing strategies with care.

However, there is a balance to be struck. A salesperson who is only listening and not speaking, cannot ask to close the sale. According to the author, nearly half of all sales calls end without any attempt being made to close the sale. Not asking for a sale, the author argues, contributes to a national closing rate of around 27%.

Knowing when to move on from listening to closing requires the use of what the author calls an “open-ended trial question.” This is a question that helps determine what progress a salesperson has made in the course of the sales talk. A question such as, “How do feel about what we’ve discussed so far?” helps to move the conversation toward the subject of the sale. The answer to this question will tell the salesperson whether the buyer is ready to buy, is still on the fence, or has other concerns that have not yet been addressed. Again, the key to this strategy is listening to the buyer. If a buyer seems hesitant or as if they not quite understanding something, more discussion may be in order. However, if the buyer responds to the trial question with comprehension and enthusiasm, then it may be time to ask for the sale.

Ditch the manipulative tactics.

In asking for a sale, the author cautions against any manipulative sales tactics in favor of a simple, “respectful close-ended question.” These are questions that are direct and require either a “yes/no” or choice-based answer. A question such as, “Based on terms we’ve discussed, would you like to get started on this?” is a direct way of asking a buyer to make a decision that shows respect and a desire to do business.

In all stages of a sales conversation, from the introduction to the close, asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers will have a strong impact on your buyer.

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