I recently purchased  a gym membership to LA Fitness in Dallas, Texas. I’m in Dallas once a month and a membership is cheaper than paying the daily guest rate. The gym was running an after holiday promotion so I called late on a Thursday afternoon to get information before signing up online. I was transferred to the sales department.  Max (fake name) answered the phone. He was friendly and energetic. All good.

Then it started. . .the non-stop talking.

I was in my office trying to finish a project. I like to work uninterrupted so I can concentrate completely on the task at hand.  Max kept talking and giggling and talking and giggling some more. “Don’t you just love living in California? I’m sure you do. What a great place to live: the mild weather, the diversity, the beaches and the mountains,  and the great cities. Living in Dallas is great too. You have the best of both worlds: the restaurants, the great people, the sunshine…..blah, blah, blah.” I moved to an empty conference room (except for the janitor working quietly in the back) and put my phone on “speaker” and tried to get some work done. At some point, I began timing the call. 12 minutes and 38 seconds later I had to choose between hari-kari and being impolite.  I chose impoliteness. “Excuse me Max. Excuse me.” I couldn’t take it anymore. “SHUT UP AND LISTEN,” I screamed. The janitor looked up from his mopping, smiled, and went back to mopping. I mopped up our conversation. “Goodbye. Please don’t call me again.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was free.

Two days later I received a call from someone at the gym. I broke into a cold sweat.  Perspiration dripped on the floor. And there was no janitor in sight. I tried to get off the phone. I began to pray. Was I condemned to a loquacious hell?  Fortunately my prayers were answered. It turned out to be the trainer saying, “Hello.” He offered me a free 1 hour session.

This situation reminds me of an important sales lesson. Great sales people ask smart questions and then listen. The best sales people often leave a meeting having said very little. They get the buyer to share his/her needs, what will make his/her life easier and what is his/her end goal. Many times the end goal has little to do with the product you are selling.  It’s important to understand what the client is looking to accomplish.

Listening involves more than the ears. If I am too busy talking, then I might miss body language clues and  facial expressions. I will definitely miss the valuable clues present in tone of voice.

Listen carefully as I share my “Shut Up and Listen List”

1) Research the buyer(s) and company: It’s important to know as much as I can about the company’s current state. I find quotes from the CEO or executive team that reference their goals for the company. I reference these quotes in my discussion with the buyer.

2) Prepare questions: I prepare at least 10 questions for each meeting. This ensures that I start the conversation by getting the buyer to open up. If the conversation goes well, I will ask questions that flow organically with the conversation. If the buyer is not as open, the questions will guide me and ensure that I have enough to talk about.

3) Include questions in the meeting invite: I learned this from  Amy K’s presentation at the PSDA’s young innovators conference last year that it’s not enough to send a meeting invite with a call-in number.  One should send a list of questions that will be discussed. It helps the buyer prepare, keeps the discussion on track and ensures that I get the information I need. Here’s a screenshot from my Outlook calendar for my next meeting:

 

4) Have a note-taking plan: If you prefer handwriting, have a notepad and pen ready. If you are like me and prefer typing, have a document open on your computer. I know how I want to format my notes. I don’t have think about it while trying to listen. I like to have each question listed and take notes under each. When someone is talking, I don’t want to be texting or checking my email. Being prepared to take notes helps me to not get distracted.  I can then really listen to what my buyer is saying.

5) Look at a picture of the person you’re talking to:  At the risk of appearing as a stalker, this tip is valuable.  It puts a face to the voice I’m hearing on my listening device.  (I would not recommend this for a in-person interview or FaceTime. You could serve some jail time.)  I typically pull up a picture from LinkedIn. It helps put me in the right mindset by reminding me that I’m talking to a real person.  My tone usually improves.

One more piece of advice.  Join a gym. Get in shape. But look out for Max. Your ears will thank me.

This article first appeared in the Print Solutions Magazine produced by the Print Services & Distribution Association (PSDA).

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