The single biggest mistake business developers make when it comes to selling any product or service is failing to listen. Too often, salespeople get focused on their brilliant idea to the peril of the most important thing in the sales relationship: the customer.

Customers happily buy from business developers who understand what they want. Trouble is, most business developers don’t listen for that. Instead, they want to present an idea they’re particularly excited about without any regard to customer needs.

In the world of agencies, it’s easy to get focused on an idea. An idea, after all, is what sells. Right?

Wrong.

What sells is whatever your customer wants. And that almost never gets the attention it deserves. Despite being ignored, this concept is older than dirt: “People buy the hole, not the drill.”

How can your staff do a better job of listening?

The secret to selling is almost never in the “selling.” It’s in the “asking.” Effective sales questions seek to understand things like...

  • Why would someone buy from us?
  • Under what conditions will they buy from us?
  • How will they buy from us?
  • What do they think they need?
  • What do they really want?

Salespeople are all too willing to ignore all of that in favor of a few leading questions. Or, even worse, they just launch into a presentation without ever seeking to understand their prospective customer even a little bit.

The best business development questions don’t focus on your marketing ideas, your agency’s abilities or anything like that. They focus on your customers. And nothing else.

Like these:

  • Who else, other than you, of course, is involved in this decision?
  • What kind of budget do you have in mind?
  • What will the success of this project mean for you, personally? For your organization? For your career?
  • As you’ve been meeting with potential vendors, what have you seen in a provider that you particularly like? What have you seen that you haven’t liked?
  • How would you define the ideal relationship with a provider like us?

My favorite question of all time is, “Just curious, what makes you say that?” or “Tell me more about that.” You can follow any statement your prospect makes with that kind of question and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.

Of course, just asking questions isn’t enough. Your team must also be credible and have well-developed trust-based relationships with their prospects. How can they do that? By focusing exclusively on their prospects and customers!

In short, sales presentations should focus more on listening and less on pitching. Only then will your business development staff see the kind of impact they’re really seeking.

Continue the Discussion:

  • What questions do you think are most important to ask customers?
  • Evaluate your presentation style. Have you built in time for discussion?
  • What’s been your greatest success when taking the time to listen?

Originally published Jan 4, 2012 1:00:57 AM, updated December 02 2014