Tag Archives: outside-in

Sales Success: Learn to Listen like a Jazz Musician

You’re on your way to an important meeting. Let’s say it’s with a prospect your company has been pursuing for two years and the COO has agreed to meet with you. You know she’s got a trough of problems – that’s what your sales team has found out so far, at least.Listen like a jazz musician

You’ve got an hour-long drive. You call your mate to check in. Your eastern regional sales manager calls because two of his salespeople just won big deals. You get stuck in lunchtime traffic at the bridge. You check your Blackberry (c’mon, admit you do). You turn on the news and none of it is good. You switch to a music station. As usual, none of that stuff is good either. You arrive at your destination, wait for fifteen minutes in the lobby, check your Blackberry three more times, and then finally go to your meeting. Sound familiar? Is it any wonder that listening skills are at a premium in the 21st century?

This post isn’t about “listening skills” – nodding at the prospective customer while she answers your questions, repeating what she says and using her name, so that you’ve indicated that you’ve heard her (and hoping you did). It isn’t about quieting the noise in your head either. You didn’t really need to check your Blackberry six times in the last hour, did you? And, it isn’t about a technique to try and reconstruct that most important morsel of information your prospect has just told you, that you’ve just missed while your brain has been multi-tasking. You know, the one tidbit that means the difference between a $200K sale and a $2M sale. You’re a senior sales executive – a trained professional! You know this stuff by now.

Let me turn you onto a little tip, something that you may not know unless you happen to play jazz, blues or some other type of improvisational music. This tip will perhaps help you quiet your brain and get the bigger deal that solves all of your prospect’s problems.

Think of a great jazz show you’ve attended. If you haven’t been to one, then go, they’re good for you. Then, come back and read this again.

What distinguishes a great jazz performance from a good one is the listening skill, not the playing skill of each musician. In this day and age, any musician you hear on stage is highly skilled at playing their instrument, but many of the musicians you hear are lousy listeners. The great stuff that’s making you bob your head and dance in your seat is the interplay between the musicians – the subtle adjusting, reacting, leading, and inventing that goes on chorus after chorus. (For all you non-musicians, a chorus is each time the song goes around.) Each solo you hear is a product of both individual invention and supportive collaboration.

All of this fantastic interplay is grounded in intuition. This intuition isn’t something these musicians were born with. Their intuition was developed by paying attention, in other words listening, to what’s going on around them; absorbing the mood of the piece, moving to the rhythm, and inventing counter-melodies to something the bass player or singer might be doing at that moment. We jazz musicians call this improvisation, but really it is an intuitive management of the situation combined with an invention – original or not – that suits it.

One additional point: When you find yourself bored or yawning during one of these shows, it most likely isn’t that you don’t like jazz, or that you haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before. It’s because the musicians on stage aren’t there. They’re playing licks that they’ve played a thousand times in the same way and even though you may not have heard those notes in that particular way, the notes lack energy and creativity. These licks are not born of the moment, they are standard issue notes grounded in past years of meticulous practice and current situational distraction. It’s the soloist’s stock marketing material. No wonder you’re bored, who isn’t?

So what does this have to do with a sales call? The short answer is everything. As you know by now, anything can and does happen during these calls. Whatever you’ve heard before, or heard from your team is only information. What goes on during a sales call is all possibility. There is a rhythm and a mood to each one of these situations that calls for intuitive management and invention, energy and creativity.

To play like a jazz soloist, you need to listen like a jazz musician. Don’t rely on your licks, your marketing material, and your pre-planned competitive differentiation strategy. If you’re good at that stuff, you’ll get the $200K deal. When you’re on, you need to forget that stuff, and forget the jibber-jabber on your Blackberry as well. Key into the people in the room. Listen, absorb, react, and observe, and then step out and “take a solo” that’s driven by your intuition. That’s the difference between a good and great performance.

Peter Krammer is Managing Partner of ELA Consulting Group, co-author of Let Your Music Soar with Corky Siegel, and a jazz guitarist.

Selling to Stressed-Out Customers

by Pete Krammer

I was consulting recently with a sales executive who sells components to large computer electronics manufacturers. Her customers, though nice people (this is Northern California, after all) are almost uniformly stressed out. They are high-strung, over-worked, and out of time. They operate on rapid design and purchasing cycles. Strategy is something the marketing department deals with. What they need, they need now, and they don’t have much time to think about it.

My client’s descriptions of her customer base validated my general business premise:  People in today’s corporations act completely naturally in unnatural environments.

How can you hope to get more than your fair share of time with a customer like this? By being a better observer of human behavior–their behavior–so that when you walk into their office, you know their needs and interests almost better than they do. This is not the time to play with a blank slate. (We deal with this in many other blog posts in The Sales Cafe.) Most importantly, learn how to cool your customer down so that they can listen to you.

How do you accomplish this? First, center yourself. You need to be less rushed than your customer, willing to compartmentalize your troubles (meaning forget about them), and operating with your eyes and ears wide open. Put away that BlackBerry please! Carefully observe your buyer’s behavior. People give off very distinct behavioral cues that illuminate their comfort zone. It’s harder to observe on a phone or by email, but the cues are still there. Under stress, these cues become even more distinct – for instance they suddenly attack, delay, avoid, or start dictating. Good salespeople understand this as a call for help. (Bad ones try to sell harder.)

Here are four tips:

  1. If your customer mentally or physically disappears, they most likely need good, solid information. Find out if you can what they’re missing and provide it. If they’re physically avoiding you, retrace your steps to just before things went awry. That should provide a clue to what they’re missing. Once this individual has the information they need, they are ready to talk.
  2. If your customer suddenly brings in new people, or creates a political scene, they most likely are uncomfortable with you or the process you’re using to sell to them. Confront this individual’s discomfort; ask them what they need and let them tell you. If you answer that need first, and keep your word, you’re customer will open doors for you.  If you go over this person’s head when they’re in this state, your opportunities will crumble, and not necessarily at a time of your choosing!
  3. If your customer has attacked you or your company – or anything else around them – you need to help them get it out of their system quickly. If it’s aimed at you, listen, validate their feelings, and help them see the other side of the coin without arguing with them. If their outburst is aimed elsewhere, use your empathy and help them focus on their interests. Once they’ve dumped their bucket, they’re ready to listen. And if they haven’t scared you off, you’ve earned their trust.
  4. If your customer starts dictating to you, guide them in a way that helps you understand what they’re missing. Usually they can’t see any measurable difference your offer provides. Once you’ve got a lock on the situation, focus on just their interests first, and make sure they understand how things will change with your solution. If they perceive that you can deliver results, you’ve made a friend for life.

For more information, please ping me about a course called The Versatile Salesperson, or make your way over to Amazon and pick up Versatile Selling: Adapting Your Style So Customers Say Yes.