We recently had a fascinating team discussion about business development. Experts say that the vast majority of successful sales conversations involve the buyer talking more than the seller. (No wonder we are turned off by the fast-talking used car salesperson!)

Whether you’re selling a product, service or idea, the most important job of the seller is to listen. You will gain valuable insight about the buyer, but only if you are fully listening (not planning your next comment).

The next priority is asking powerful questions in order to understand the reality of the potential customer.“How is production affected when this machine breaks down?”

Finally, summarize your understanding to make sure that what you heard is really what the other person said. Do not assume that you get it. Periodically sum it up in your own words. “What I heard was you have a problem with the amount of resources this solution will require.”

One potential pitfall is asking questions in order to persuade, not to understand. Questions with an ulterior motive feel manipulative to the listener and can be a barrier in any conversation. When seeking to influence, whether you’re selling a service or an idea, ask honest and sincere questions.

Excellent tips for asking questions (stay in a state of curiosity to sort out where people are coming from) and listening (eliminate judgmental self-conversation, such as “They’re just not getting it!”) are found in Kevin Cashman’s blog on Fast Company.

You have listened, asked questions and ensured that you have mutual understanding. Now is the time to offer your solution. “The wise man puts himself last and finds himself first” (Lao Tsu).


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