Are you (active) listening to your prospects?

This article was written by contributing writer David Gee.

Today the most successful salespeople aren’t engaged in solution selling or consultative selling. They’re engaged in problem finding. And when done well, it elevates the salesperson from product peddler to trusted advisor.

For several thousand years, or so, there has been relative scarcity around a particular product or service until a salesperson entered the scene to provide information and nurture a sales process. That is no longer the case.

Facts and information have never been so widely available and easily accessible. The internet, social media, and now AI have ushered in yet another new paradigm. In a matter of minutes, a prospect or customer can know all about you, your company, your products and services, your pricing, your competitors, and what your buyers are saying about you.

That’s why today’s prospects and customers don’t typically enter at the top of the sales funnel, but rather from the side. You have to keep that in mind with your sales and marketing messaging. As a result, the last thing our audiences need from a salesperson is a bunch of product features and specs. That’s not the way our brains are wired to make a decision anyway. You can’t reason your way to a sale. You see, reasons lead to conclusions, while emotions lead to actions. And every single decision we make, including every buying decision certainly, is rooted in – and driven by – emotion.

So, when cutting through today’s buying clutter, creating emotional connections quickly as early as possible is vital for whatever it is we are selling or marketing.

Why then, if we know all this, are so many salespeople still stuck in the old-fashioned ways of telling and selling?

“Part of it is simply because many of us like the sounds of our own voices,” opines Leif Larson, technologist, inventor and serial start-up sales entrepreneur. “I also think there is a bit of nervousness on the part of salespeople, even really experienced ones. They tend to be high energy and passionate and may not be particularly comfortable with silences or pauses. So they fill that space with constant talk and a flow of information. But if you’re not leaving enough opening for the prospect or customer to respond the formal sales interaction can become very one-sided. The customer wants to participate!” I had a mentor advise me on this a long time ago when he wisely said “if you’re running your mouth you’re not learning.”

So how do you ensure this problem finding process happens? By using sales techniques informed by neuroscience and human psychology. Precise, strategic questions asked at just the right time that take the prospect or customer through a discovery process, and don’t trigger sales resistance.


“Salespeople who have learned what are called neuro, emotional, persuasion questions will naturally deliver well above a buyer’s expectations because their dialogue will uncover pertinent problems the prospect is not even aware of,” says acclaimed sales trainer Jeremy Miner. “That’s called problem finding.”

It sounds rather simple, but it’s not easy. It requires a tremendous amount of curiosity, emotional intelligence and a desire and willingness to listen. And learn.

In fact, Leif says at his company the top 20 percent of salespeople are outperforming the bottom 50 percent by spending 60 percent of the formal sales interaction listening.

“Active listening is the most underdeveloped skill of salespeople today,” states Larson emphatically. “Yet for those who have that skill it is a remarkable superpower.”

Salespeople often get overly focused on our own specific objectives and outcomes when instead we should be laser focused on the objectives and outcomes of our prospects and customers.

When we genuinely have a desire to help someone’s business, and not just complete a transaction, this will create emotional connections which in turn will create a competitive advantage.

And we need it. The signal to noise ratio in the sales and marketing ecosphere has never been higher. We are all drowning in non-stop marketing messages.

It is hard to earn – and keep – the time and attention of our audience.

“You have two main options for sales success today,” says Larson in closing. “You can either play the frequency game, knowing it can take up to 25 touches to get a prospect to even enter the funnel. Or you can tighten up your messaging, show up differently, be customer centric, add value, ask better questions, and turn a formal sales interaction into a discovery process. We should all aspire to become sales detectives.”