Every month, Sherpa Co-founder Alex Fisher answers your questions about senior housing sales based on her experiences as a successful leasing counselor, sales director and community owner. Read more about Ask Alex in Alex’s Open Letter To Senior Housing Professionals.
To submit a question, email AskAlex@sherpacrm.com .
Dear Ask Alex,
During my conversations with prospects, I try to listen closely but I get distracted at times. Can you help me become a better listener?
Curious in Sales
What a fantastic question. You’ve made such a huge stride in your goal already by simply realizing you need, and want, to be a better listener. Active listening is the key to being an effective sales counselor and that starts with your intention: What are you listening for? In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change,” Steven R. Covey makes an interesting note that ‘most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’
In the world of sales, I have noticed that our focus is on listening for problems so we can respond with our solution. In most cases, we ask questions to qualify for our product. We tend to avoid asking questions that would prompt a conversation that steers away from our solution. Becoming a better listener requires that you want to listen to understand. Let your natural curiosity be unhindered by the thought ‘I have to close this person on my product.’ Go deeper into the prospect’s state of mind, and stage of readiness. It will also create a trusting bond that allows you to get “inside” the prospect’s world, where you have a much better chance to understand how to advance their readiness to buy.
There is nothing more sublime than feeling heard and understood.
This isn’t just a ‘you’ problem. As a culture, we struggle to listen and are constantly distracted by all that’s around us. Keeping that in mind, I think the best way to answer your question is by looking at the barriers that keep us from effectively listening with curiosity and from truly hearing, and being heard, by others. Then I’ll explain how we can break those barriers to create openness and authenticity in our conversations with prospects. Here we go!
Barrier #1: Listening is challenging.
Anyone who disagrees hasn’t worked in senior sales. Listening requires our focus, our energy and our time. Those are hard resources to give away when we barely have enough of each for ourselves. So, how do we rise to the challenge of listening? As a start, try to remove any stimuli that divert your energy away from focusing on the conversation. If you are on the phone, try closing your eyes to eliminate distractions, if face to face, give your full attention to the person in front of you. We could talk about eye contact, body language, crossing or un-crossing legs. Bottom line, if you want to look like you are listening, then just listen! When you do this, you build trust and show your prospects that you respect their story and their time.
Since we’re only covering the basics here, I’d suggest some homework for you by way of a great Ted Talk from Celeste Headlee on “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation.” I encourage anyone in sales to watch it.
Barrier #2: Making assumptions so we can move on…
How often do we find ourselves saying “sure” or “I understand.” Most often, however, we find that we want to make quick assumptions and move on to our “next topic.” When a prospect shares that they don’t do much cooking anymore, we are SO tempted to tell them about our dining program! So, we heard what they said about cooking, but what does that mean? Is it that they got tired of it? Is it that they have difficulty shopping for food? Is it that they are not inspired to cook for one person? And, is cooking important to them? You get my point.
Remember, listening happens in the context of a conversation. If you hear something interesting or funny or emotionally charged, you may make a mental note of it so as not to disrupt the flow, and come back to it later. “Mr. Jones, you mentioned earlier how close you and your wife were; I am curious, how did you two meet? Practice clarifying and confirming what you heard, so you feel confident that you understand them. You might say, “I want to make sure I understand you fully; it sounds like one of your biggest concerns is that you may not be able to bring all your furniture, is that correct?” These questions allow you to truly participate in the process and to seek confirmation from the prospect before moving forward. That, in turn, gives them back a sense of control, which ultimately leads to a more constructive and empathic conversation.
Barrier #3: We’re afraid to be vulnerable.
In our line of work, if we intend to listen to understand, we will need to become vulnerable. That’s uncomfortable at times. It feels like unchartered territory, and we run the risk of not having answers, not knowing what to say, provoking objections, or accidentally touching emotionally sensitive issues.
Being willing to be vulnerable was always a challenge for me. The voice in my head would convince me that I should be worried and nervous. So, I practiced becoming comfortable with being vulnerable with prospects (and others in my life)! I found that nothing terrible happens, quite the contrary in fact. I discovered that empathic conversations were powerful and vital to facilitate “untangling.” They allowed the prospect to hear themselves talk about what they value and where they are stuck, therefore increasing their readiness for change. Simply put, these vulnerable and open conversations allowed prospects to convince themselves and then make a confident decision. The worried voice in my head became silent. I found that by really listening, I could learn a lot about life and how people make difficult decisions.
While I usually sign off by saying ‘stay heroic,’ I think another salutation might be fitting for this answer.
Stay curious (after all, most heroes are)!