Volume 15, Issue 3 - May/June 2013

Customer Service
tips for quality service

The Wealth Within Listening
by Carl Tompkins

Having had years of experience of providing sales skills training, one of the leading objectives within this pursuit is to teach people how to become better listeners. It’s probably not too hard for anyone, by any stretch of the imagination, to believe that one of the toughest challenges for sales people is to just shut up. Why? Because most salespeople have an exciting story to tell and a strong recommendation to make to potential customers as they move through the buying cycle of purchasing products. But this behavior almost always means sales people fail to learn what the customer really wants to buy, resulting in a much lower closing rate. After all, no one can learn when they are the one doing the talking!

Listening Beyond the Field of Sales
This same scenario stretches well beyond the field of sales. This subject of becoming a better listener applies to all people in business. The higher up on the management totem pole people reside, the greater the need. The number one reason behind this statement is that the higher up in management people go, the farther away from the marketplace and factory they live. When management does all of the talking, they fail to learn from the frontline producers within the company what is needed to succeed. The outcome is often a failed business.

A recent example of this situation occurred when a newly-appointed executive officer within a company was approached by a top-ranking veteran sales manager. The sales manager asked if it would be helpful to meet and share recent discoveries that revolved around a marketing strategy for a new product release. The executive’s response was that he already had enough information and that nothing more was needed. The result was a missed $8 million opportunity known only by the sales manager, who was willing to follow orders and keep the news to himself. Unbelievable but not uncommon!

Herein lies the most common root of error with management when it comes to bottom line results. It is best defined in this statement: “The most costly problem within management is that they do not know what they do not know.” So, as I’ve attempted to do for years with sales people, I now encourage people within management to start listening more and talking less in order to improve the bottom line; possibly worth $8 million.

Prado’s rule of 80/20 comes well into play within this learning experience, where the ratio of talking verses listening requires rotation. Rather than management doing 80 percent of the talking, they would be much better served to do 80 percent of the listening. The 20 percent of the talking should be made up of more and better questions.

Good Questions Are Key to Success
Whether you’re in sales, management, or any other role within business, the first rule to follow within a regime of effective questioning skills is to ask “high-gain” questions. High-gain questions are worded in a way to solicit high value information; they invite people to think, speculate, share their feelings and tell it all. Closed-ended questions, which are those that can be answered with either a “yes” or “no,” are overused and cut conversation right out of the picture.

Now that the appropriate mix of high-gain and closed-ended questions have been asked, the added dimension of “encouragement” must be applied. Being an active listener is to be quiet while yet demonstrating attention and interest toward the person responding. Nod with approval, take notes and provide reinforcing facial expressions.

Once the responder completes their answer, provide an appropriate closed-ended question to make sure you’ve got all the information. For example, ask: “Is there anything else that you can think of?” If all that has needed to be said has been said, then summarize what you’ve heard.

Now that the summary has been given, you’re appropriately positioned to respond. The key is to never leave people hanging. Respond with an evaluation of their input and tell them what will be done as a result of their information. People don’t mind that their input isn’t used or that their suggestions are viewed as being less than favorable; what they mind is not hearing anything. Whatever you do, don’t let them down by not keeping your commitments of follow-up. If this happens, you’ve proven your interest to be nothing more than a political façade.

With 37 years of experience under my belt within our beloved industry, I now know so much more than I did at the very beginning of my journey. I hope that my own personal testimony reinforces your own desire to become a better listener. n

Carl Tompkins is the global marketing resources manager for SIKA Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich., and the author of Winning at Business. He is based in Spokane, Wash.

Copyright 2013 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.