How to Actively Listen to Your Customers

Get the information you need without dominating the conversation.

If you were to ask customers what their number one complaint is when working with a salesperson, what do you think they might say? Some possibilities are: They need to lower their prices, their quality isn’t as good as we would like or their customer service could be better.

While all these may well be true, the biggest complaint customers have about salespeople is that they talk too much. In fact, they spend more time talking than they do listening. This perception exists in all sales businesses, regardless of what the salesperson is selling. But why does this happen? There are several reasons.

When interviewing a new salesperson, too many companies tend to try too hard to find extroverted people, believing they can more easily talk to customers and build rapport than introverted people. While this may be true, there is a major downside. They talk too much – way too much. It’s easier and much more natural for introverted salespeople to comfortably listen to their customers without getting jumpy or impatient. Having a very introverted salesperson won’t work either, as they tend to be perceived as unfriendly or even awkward at times. So it makes more sense to hire salespeople who are a blend of both, who can naturally adjust to the multiple types of customers they may encounter.

When a new customer walks into the dealership for the first time, the nervous salesperson often tries too hard to prove their competency by vomiting nine thousand words at them, causing the customer to quickly back off and retreat into a shell. They become unwilling to get into a discussion, which makes it that much harder for the salesperson to get the information they really need to recommend the best product for that customer.

Some salespeople talk too much by design, to gain control over customers in the first few minutes and lead them to what they want to move off the lot, because it’s more profitable and has a higher commission for them. While this might work with the extroverted, overly enthusiastic customer, it will shut down communications with anxious customers who may have been pushed around by the salesperson at a competitor down the street. This apprehensive customer tends to walk in with their guard up and have less patience with the chatterbox salesperson.

There are simply too many salespeople who are not well trained or not confident, and they use their nervous energy to talk too much during meet-and-greets, making this critical part of the customer interaction even more tenuous than it already is. Even the poorly trained salesperson can improve the chances of getting customers to do most of the talking about what they want and why.

The bottom line is that the plan to show up and throw words at your customers simply does not work with most of them. Even if you are an extrovert, taking an introverted-type position of asking questions and listening will be the most effective technique you can use early in the process.

The key for any salesperson is to simply slow down the process in the first 10 minutes of the customer interaction. Nervous or insecure salespeople tend to rush the introduction, speeding past any chance of helping the customer feel comfortable enough to communicate openly and honestly. Slowing down will relieve tension between the customer and salesperson, and help everyone relax and allow trust to build.

I am aware of some sales managers who put a time limit on how long the salesperson spends in the meet-and-greet process to get them in front of a product as soon as possible. However, all that does is increase the risk of the customer falling in love with a product that might not fit the way they’re going to use it or may be over their budget. When this happens, the customer would typically want the dealership to lower the product price to meet their budget, lessening profit. That doesn’t work either.

In addition to slowing down the initial process, it’s important to explain to your customer that you have a great deal of inventory on the lot and not every piece will meet their needs. This shows that you are being respectful of their time, and that you will eliminate products that might not suit them (or their budget) by asking questions about their camping/RVing plans. You will work with them to build a profile of the perfect RV for them, identifying the few that best meet their needs and then take a look at them. In many cases, there are only two or three RVs that are perfect for them.

When asking questions, some other helpful tips that set the atmosphere for open, honest communication:

    • Be a nice person, always polite and respectful.
    • Proceed with soft curiosity and sincere interest.
    • Be inquisitive but not investigative when asking questions.
    • Be interested in answers and not judgmental (with negative body language or facial expressions).
    • Frame questions in a way that paints a picture of fun and enjoyable camping experiences for them.
    • Be enthusiastic and have fun in asking questions and enjoying their answers.

Other Key Tips

Facial Expressions

Customers will be more passionate about information that means the most to them. Be conscious of facial expressions accompanying their words, so you can capture those emotions and identify the things that are really important to them. Your own facial expressions – smiling and nodding – or even short comments will signify that you are listening and understanding what they are saying.

Take Notes

It’s helpful to take notes of key things a customer says, as you can’t remember everything. However, you must announce to the customer that you will be taking notes before doing so. Writing down customers’ answers to your questions can make them nervous, so let them know you’re doing so to eliminate inventory that doesn’t fit their needs.

Clarify & Verify

Be sure to completely understand what the customer is saying. If you’re not sure, ask follow-up questions to confirm. Restating what they just said is a great way to do this. You will be surprised how easy it is to misinterpret something they just said. Getting confirmation shows your interest in what they are saying and motivates customers to talk more.

Stick to the Budget

Whether they admit it or not, every customer, even the wealthiest ones, has a budget of what they want to spend. Two things are important here: establishing the preferred budget or at least a range, and then not exceeding that when showing products to them. Both will build credibility in your word not to sell them something over that. This is a major customer fear with all salespeople – that they will try to get them to spend more than they planned.

If you are respectful of the stated budget by refusing to show them products above their budget, you will be shocked at how many customers will bump themselves up to a higher budget without you needing to try to get them to do so. When it is done in this way, even though they will be spending more money than they planned, most customers are comfortable doing so because they decided to take that leap and were not pressured by the salesperson.

This represents a bottom-up way of receiving all the information you need to sell the customer the right product at a price they prefer, and all because you asked questions and listened to what they said.

Customers are prone to dislike salespeople who try to force them to do what they don’t want to do, which greatly contributes to the negative perception many have of salespeople. Asking questions, listening to their answers and then acting on it in good faith and with respect will help you sell what you want while allowing the customer to buy what they want.

Thomas Morin

Thomas Morin is a Certified Sales and Career Coach. After joining Alpin Haus in Amsterdam, New York, Morin quickly became a top RV salesperson and was named as Trainer for all new salespeople. He was subsequently promoted to Sales Manager, followed by Director of Employee Development, responsible for company recruitment, succession planning and training of all salespeople. For more information on Morin and his coaching company, visit his website at https://www.unlockyourcareercoaching.com/.

Related Articles

Back to top button