The manager of a megastore came to check on his new salesman. “How many customers did you serve today?” the manager asked. “One,” replied the new guy. “Only one?” said the boss, “how much was the sale?” The salesman answered, “$58,334.” Flabbergasted, the manager asked him to explain.
“First I sold a man a fishhook,” the salesman said. “Then I sold him a rod and a reel. Then I asked where he was planning to fish, and he said down by the coast. So I suggested he’d need a boat — he bought that 20-foot runabout. When he said his Volkswagen might not be able to pull it, I took him to the automotive department and sold him a big SUV.”
The amazed boss asked, “You sold all that to a guy who came in for a fishhook?”
“No,” the new salesman replied. “He actually came in for a bottle of aspirin for his wife’s migraine. I told him, ‘Your weekend’s shot. You should probably go fishing.’”
The salesman in our story did something so few of us are doing today.
As technology has advanced, our ability to focus and listen, really listen, has plummeted. We take pride in multitasking, scan blackberries for the latest urgent messages while our clients and colleagues are talking to us. We allow phones and email alarms to distract us in meetings.
I recently observed a manager of a major company checking her blackberry every few minutes while she was leading the meeting. She already has the reputation of blackberry-itis. People rarely expect to receive her full attention.
What most of us are listening to these days is a whole lot of BAD NEWS. OK, there is a ton of it. But there is also a huge amount of opportunity and good news you are missing because you’re not listening.
Recently, I was at breakfast with a colleague. Inadvertently, my breakfast date mentioned she was preparing to hold a lunch-and-learn on communications skills. I started to ask more about that, what the objectives were, what the challenges were. As I listened, I heard a need, and maybe an opportunity.
I offered to supply content and advice. I asked if she would like that.
The answer was not only yes but ultimately an invitation and an engagement to work with her company.
I did not go to that breakfast anticipating an assignment. Nor did I pitch to this colleague. I simply listened and therefore was able to hear a possible opportunity.
What are you missing because you’re not listening?
1. When was the last time you spoke to your top 5 clients and really listened to what was happening in their business, not just from the usual viewpoint, but from a completely new perspective?
2. When was the last time you had breakfast or lunch with a co-worker and just listened to them about how things were going for them? Did you turn your blackberry, or phone, off?
3. When was the last time you met with someone in your office and didn’t take any calls and turned email off?
4. When was the last time you were in a presentation to a prospect and really listened to all of your prospect’s concerns and obstacles to hiring you, not just the ones they are willing to tell you about?
5. When was the last time you didn’t cut someone off when they were speaking?
Listening in the 21st century is becoming a lost art, but a huge missing in our business development, and life, toolkit. Adults usually retain about 20% of what they hear normally; with all of our gadgetry and distractions, the retention factor is only a fraction of this.
So, how did the salesman in our opening story know there was opportunity lurking behind the simple request for aspirin? He had the presence of mind to ask questions, listen, put himself in the customer’s world. Then, and only then, could his offer for service be heard and received so favorably.
What can you do to tune up your listening muscles?
Here are 9 tips (a very abbreviated list) to pump up your listening ability:
1. Turn off the blackberry. Yes you!
2. Practice staying in one conversation – and only one conversation at a time.
3. After a conversation or meeting, jot down a few brief notes about what you heard. Go back an hour later, and jot down a bit more. You’ll be surprised at what you “heard” additionally.
4. Summarize conversations – they reinforce your listening.
5. Look in someone’s eyes when they are speaking, really focus on them.
6. Do not speak for one or two seconds after someone has finished speaking. You will give them the experience you have heard them, and you will be training yourself to focus less on what YOU want to say than on what the other person is communicating.
7. Repeat back what you have heard the other person has said. Ask if you’ve understood completely and accurately. You’ll learn if you’ve misunderstood, missed something, and give the other person the experience you really get them!
8. Ask probing questions. Listen to the answers as opposed to assuming you know what you their answers are.
9. Don’t assume. There is a big step between listening and hearing.
Practice actively listening for just one week. See what new results show up for you.
Hey, if you don’t find some new successes happening for you, your blackberry will always take you back.