When I am at a business networking event, I hear a lot of emphasis on the importance of listening well. Yet I often get the sense that many people are not doing it as well as they need to. Sometimes this is due to the listener not being “present” during the conversation (as I too-often hear from my lovely wife) but it is often a result of not knowing how to listen carefully to extract the full meaning of what is being said. This has real risks.

For example, a salesperson may all too quickly accept what is being asked for by a customer and immediately offer a solution which may turn out not to be relevant to the customer’s real need. Kate Reilly, a highly successful corporate sales trainer now in executive sales herself, recommends “re-framing” what the speaker is saying or asking for by repeating the comment or question in his or her own words and asking if (s)he has accurately heard and understood what is needed.

Kate exemplifies this with a simple story about a homemaker whose basement is being flooded with water and calls the local hardware store for help. Almost before she can finish her cry for assistance, the store owner says he has a bucket and a mop on hand for only $9.99. However, this is a solution that wont help much because there are six inches of water on the floor and a mop and bucket wont do the trick. Instead of originally offering up his solution, the store owner should have probed first by re-framing the question: “So you have water in your basement?” and listened to her response to understand fully the customer’s situation, i.e. she has 6 inches of water on the floor. At that point he would have been able to offer a more relevant and useful suggestion, such as a sump pump. wet-vac, etc.

The moral of the story for sales people? Be sure to listen carefully to hear and understand real needs before suggesting solutions.


About Wilder Baker

Retired advertising agency CEO now active as management consultant with focus on marketing and marketing communications. Work with small companies and business owners to develop their business over the long term. My relationship with clients often evolves into that of trusted personal, as well as business, adviser. I also take short term projects as I can be helpful. I serve on the Board of the American Advertising Federation where I am a past Chairman and am a Trustee of the Hyde Leadership Charter School in New York City.
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