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Are You Listening?

My car mechanic was fond of saying “They call it the art of medicine, but the science of car repair.” If you ask the PSB radio Car Talk guys, it is the art of car repair. The same can be said of hospitality sales – it is an art not a science. Perhaps two of the most important skills in sales is talking and listening. Talking is a skill we all acquire over a lifetime. In sales talking is a critical part of the closing sales. Listening, however, may take a lot more practice.

The Webster dictionary defines listening as “to make a conscious effort to hear.” In sales a conscious effort involves not only hearing, but understanding the message of the talker. Each client is unique and has unique needs. To close sale after sale, understanding the message of the talker can be far more important than what the sales rep has to say.

In our “just in time”, “on-demand” world potential clients typically have a very tightly focused need for information. A web page or profile sheet can usually answer many questions a client might have. However, when a sales rep is talking over the phone or in person, the message behind the words can sometimes be more important than the actual words. A smart sales rep will pick up on the client’s “hotĀ buttonĀ topics” and address those topics during their discussion.

If cost is not as important as handicap accessible, spend more time talking about handicap access. That can include where the coach drops off the guests, any stairs, elevators, escalators, bathrooms, theater seats, etc. From a sales rep probing questions, they can quickly determine if there is an opportunity to “up sale” – sell more than just a museum admission such as food, special programs, discounts at the store, etc. Such options can make the visit more attractive and help close the deal.

Effective listening also takes time. No matter how pressed the sales rep might be, always find a way to spend an appropriate amount of time listening. Sometimes listening falls into the category of “visiting with the client.” This can be good because it allows the rep the opportunity to learn more about the client than they would normally learn during an all-business conversation. Once again, this may present an opportunity to up-sale or help develop a prospect for repeat business.

What are the qualities of a good listener – patience, learns about the client before the first contact, quickly determines the most important needs of the client, asks brief follow-up questions to further understand client needs, etc. If you don’t have these qualities, develop role-playing exercises to fine-tune your listening skills. Attending a class, read a book, participate in a Dale Carnegie sales program, read a sales magazine, etc. But do whatever it takes to be an effective listener. And use each contact with clients to fine-tune those listening skill.

A conversation is a give and take between at least two individuals. At some point in the conversation both participants will be a listener and a talker. A good sales rep learns quickly learns their ability to be a good listener can be more important than talking. Listening is a skill that essential if sales goals are to be met. Sometimes just “being quiet when the client is talking” – meaning listening, can be a most effective sales tool.