Thinking about sales – Just Listen!

Actionable Listening
This is a Sales Best Practices article from guest poster Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator. Follow Dave’s latest Tweets at @davekahle.

By Dave Kahle

I recently came across some research that confirmed what many of us in the profession of educating sales people have known for years: That purchasers would be “much more likely” to buy from a sales person if that sales person would just “listen” to the customer. (1) The survey found that some of the worst offenders were experienced sales people.

Listening is one of the four fundamental competencies of a professional sales person, and yet, the profession is, in general, so poor at it that most customers remark on our inability to do it well.

Wow! If there is anyone I wouldn’t want thinking I was a poor listener, my customers would be towards the top of the list.

Why is listening such a powerful sales competency?

In my book Question Your Way to Sales Success, I describe a number of reasons. Here are a few.

First, it is our primary way of digging beneath the surface of a customer’s needs and uncovering deeper and more powerful needs and motivations. That makes it a primary tool – of which the skillful use separates the master sales people from the mediocre. For example, it doesn’t take any skill whatsoever to pick up an RFQ, a set of blueprints, or to write down a list of what the customer says he needs. You don’t have to be a master listener to do that. But to dig deeper and uncover deeper issues, that takes the ability to listen.

Here’s an example. In a routine sales call with a regular customer, the customer says, “We’re thinking of going to X product. What’s your price?”

Lots of sales people would look up the price and provide it. There. Job done.

The master would hear the words “Thinking of going…” and dig a little deeper.

“What makes you interested in that?” he says.

The customer replies: “Well, we’re looking for a solution for a problem with our widget production line, and one of the key operators mentioned it as a possibility.”

“I see. What sort of problem are you having in that production line?”

“An abnormally high reject rate.”

“I may have some other solutions. Can I talk to your production manager?”

I don’t have to take this scenario much further to make the point. A visit with the production supervisor could very well result in a deeper understanding of the problem and the development of an alternative solution with a whole lot more gross margin to it. The master sales person, exercising excellent listening skills, hears opportunities where many sales people don’t. Listening is the primary tool for digging deeper and uncovering deeper and more significant issues in our customers.

But that’s not all. When we listen, we send a powerful message that we care about the other person. Conversely, when we don’t listen, we send the message that our agenda is far more important than the customer’s trivial ideas and issues. That makes effective listening one of the all time great relationship-building devices.

Listening requires us to take in information, ideas and opinions that are outside our comforts zones. It is, therefore, one of the primary tools we use to grow intellectually, to broaden our views, and ultimately, to become wiser and more knowledgeable. If we never listen to someone with a different perspective, we never consider the possibility that we might be wrong.

From a sales person’s perspective, the more we listen, the more different positions, motivations, opinions and nuances we are able to understand and accommodate. The wiser and more capable we become. Since we are able to understand an ever-growing panoply of positions and opinions, we are able to feel a rapport with more and more customers, and move closer to a consensus position with them.

Listening positions us as a consultant, not a peddler, in the eyes of the customer. Ultimately, listening provides us our competitive edge.

So, how do we do it better?

Here are two specific techniques to help you improve your listening effectiveness.

Listen constructively.

My wife is a crisis counselor. She talks about “listening empathetically.” That means she listens in order to understand what a person is feeling. That is very appropriate for that type of work. However, we are sales people. It is more important that we listen “constructively.” Think of “constructively – construction – building.” We need to listen for things upon which to build. Listen for opportunities, problems, opinions, etc. on which we can build our solutions.

One way to do this is to plant a couple of questions into our mind before every sales call. These are questions for which we want to gain the answer. You could, for example, say to yourself before a sales call: “What is the one thing that is this customer’s most pressing challenge today?” And, you could ask yourself, “On what basis will this customer make the decision to buy or not?”

By planting those questions into your mind, you sharpen your sensitivity to what the customer says, enabling you to listen more constructively to the customer’s conversation.

Discipline yourself to build the habit of responding to your customer’s comments.

Here’s how we think the sales interview should go.

  1. We ask a question.
  2. The customer answers.
  3. We ask another question.

When you exercise the habit of responding, you change the format. Now, it goes like this:

  1. We ask a question.
  2. The customer answers.
  3. We respond to the answer.
  4. We now ask another question.

Notice that we have intervened in the process with something we call a “response.” A response is a verbal or non-verbal signal that we send to the customer that we are listening, and accepting what the customer says. It flatters the customer, makes him/her feel good about answering, and encourages him/her to answer in more depth and detail.

Here are two powerful responses:

1. Select one or two words out of the customer’s conversation, and repeat them back to the customer, nodding your head.

Here’s an example. You ask the question, “Which of these challenges are most pressing for you?”

The customer responds by talking for a few moments about his challenges. When he pauses, you say, “back orders” and nod your head. “Back orders” was one of the issues he talked about. You just repeated it, and nodded your head.

That’s a powerful response because it shows the customer that you have listened to the point that you have captured and repeated one of his main thoughts. That feels good to the customer and conditions him to answer the next question with even more depth and detail. Just as importantly, since you were focused on finding a key word or two to repeat, you had to listen to the customer’s conversation! This technique forced you to listen more effectively, and made the customer feel good in the process.

2. Summarize and rephrase what the customer has said, and repeat it back to him.

This is similar to the one or two word techniques discussed above, more intense. When the customer has finished answering your question, you say something like this: “Let me see if I understand you correctly. In other words, what you are saying is…………………………” Paraphrase and give him back your understanding of what he just said.

Like the prior technique, this is a powerful tool because it forces you to listen, it engages the customer, and it seeks agreement. Using this a couple of times in the sales interview will make the customer feel good about you, ensure that you understand him, and create an atmosphere of agreement.

Ultimately, your ability to listen more effectively evolves out of your discipline to apply some of these techniques regularly and methodically. If you are going to listen more effectively, you must first make the commitment to expend the effort to do so.

By the way, you’ll find this kind of insight into dozens of sales issues in our Sales Resource Center. It houses 435 training programs to help every one live more successfully and sell better. All delivered over the internet, 24/7, for one low monthly fee.


(1) Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, August, 2005

Image “Actionable Listening” by Beth Kanter on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales educators. He’s written nine books, presented in 47 states and eight countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. A great source of specific tools to help you close is Dave’s book, Question Your Way to Sales Success.

Copyright MMXII by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved.

NJ Software Company Makes Compelling Offer to Small Businesses

Let Commence CRM do the heavy lifting for you.

Every business large or small needs a quick and efficient way to capture, track, manage, and share vital customer information with the people and departments that need it to do their jobs efficiently. It is the only way to stay competitive, efficiently manage your business, and provide your customers with the buying experience they expect. Thousands of small companies who have been managing their business using and Excel spreadsheet or a contact manager are looking for an efficient and affordable way to automate and improve how they market, sell, and provide service to their customers.

Customer Relationship Management software or CRM has long been touted as the solution to address this growing need and today there are literally hundreds of solutions to choose from. Some offer basic packages for managing customers and contacts; while others are more comprehensive offering business applications that automate sales, marketing, and customer service. The majority of the solutions are cloud based thereby alleviating the requirement to purchase, implement, and manage computer hardware and software and deployment of these systems is rapid. You can select one of these solutions in the morning and be operational the same day. Despite this, CRM has one of the highest failure rates among small to mid-size companies in the software sector. Industry experts claim that as many as 70 percent of CRM installations fail to get properly implemented or properly used. There are several reasons for this beginning with simple human behavior. The implementation of a CRM system requires change and human beings are simply resistant to change. Some will question that management has made the right decision while others will be adamantly opposed to changing how they currently conduct their business. Managing this change requires a “CRM Champion.” This is someone with the experience and authority to communicate: why the change is important to the business; and what is expected from the staff going forward. The challenge is that the majority of small businesses do not have a CRM Champion and with no one to turn to for assistance – failure with implementation and use of the CRM system is on the horizon.

Commence Corporation has taken a hard look at how to address this challenge, and has developed a compelling service-based program that is enabling small to mid-size businesses to reap the benefits of CRM software without the heavy lifting. What Commence is offering is that its staff will assume the role of the CRM Champion during the initial stage of implementation and use, or for as long as the customer would like Commence to take on this responsibility. We are not talking about a simple training program here. Commence personnel will assist the staff with data entry, lead qualification, managing the sales process, creating marketing campaigns and generating reports the reports management needs to run their business.

This is much more than a standard training program. It is a mentoring program designed to ensure the successful implementation and use of the Commence CRM solution. The CRM champion works closely with customers for 90 to 120 days at which point they can assume the responsibility on their own or continue to have Commence personnel stay engaged.

Commence Corporation is uniquely positioned to offer this level of service and support to customers. The company has been in business for more than two decades and has a staff of highly qualified professionals with more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, and customer service disciplines. The program has been widely adopted by Commence customers who have one of the highest successful implementation rates and use of the Commence CRM software. To learn more visit

The Incredible Power of an Elevator Speech


By Dave Kahle

“Why should someone spend time with you?”  That was the question I asked the six sales people who were the subjects of an intense week-long training session.

The response?  Blank stares. Some uncomfortable fidgeting.  Nothing anywhere close to a coherent, persuasive response.

That experience made me realize the need for what I call a “value-added proposition,” and what many people refer to as an “elevator speech.”  It is a well-thought-out, meticulously prepared, and memorized set of ideas that ultimately answer the question above.  It should exist in several different versions:

1.  There should be a one-page (250 words or so) description of

  • who you are
  • what you do
  • why your customers and prospects should care.

2.  That should be reduced to a 30 word version that should be memorized by everyone who has contact with the customer.

3.  Finally, that should be further reduced to a four-to-eight word version that can accompany every communication, from web site advertising to face-to-face interactions.

Why this is important

“Five minutes or it’s free.”  That was the banner hanging over the fast food restaurant near my house.  I noticed it as I drove past one day.  Interesting.  In a mini-environment of intense competition (there must be a dozen fast-food options within a mile of this road) they chose to focus on one aspect of their offering – speed – and turn it into a “value-added proposition.”  In a world of other options for the customer, they chose to take their strength, turn it into a benefit for the customer, and boil that down to say to the customer, “Buy it from us.  We’ll guarantee quick service. “

It had its desired impact.  I noticed the banner, and decided to stop in for breakfast.  The waitress took my order, noted the time on the order pad, and handed me a stop watch!  I took up the challenge, clicked it on, and waited to see if they would perform.  The order arrived within five minutes.  I noticed the waitress look at her watch and note the delivery time on the order pad.

Let’s consider what we can learn from this experience.  First, the value-added proposition consolidates some of the strengths of the organization, and turns them into benefits for the customer base.  Then, it translates those benefits into a “proposition” which challenges the customer to become involved.  It reaches out into the world and says “Consider me.  Here’s why.”  It serves, then, as a proactive way to interest and attract potential customers.

Just as importantly, it helps refine who you are as an organization.  You will become who you tell people that you are.  For example, I suspect that the restaurant did not have a quantity of stop watches in their inventory prior to deciding to toss “Five minutes or it’s free” into the world.  I suspect that the order forms were modified to accommodate the claim, that the wait staff was trained in the processes to implement it, that some items came off the menu and others were added, and that there were some cooks who don’t work there any more because of their inability to be who the restaurant said they were.

Once you say that you provide “outstanding customer service,” or “the highest quality products” for example, you have to back that up.  You must become who you say you are, and actually do what you claim you do.

The value-added proposition, then, brings with it tremendous power to focus your image to your customer base and, at the same time, organize your internal operations to deliver what you say you will.

From the point of view of the sales force, the value-added proposition gives them a focal point — a place to hang their claim for uniqueness. But it also gives them a wedge into the doors of the prospect, and an appropriate topic of conversation with every contact.

That’s why the 30-word version should be memorized and practiced until it can be delivered accurately, fluently and persuasively.

How to do it

The creation of a value-added proposition can be much more significant than it may look at first glance.  Once you understand the power of this set of words to attract customers, equip sales people, and shape operations, you will realize that this can be a “bet the business on this” strategic initiative.

Get it wrong, and your organization’s very survival may be in jeopardy.  Get it right, and it can provide fuel for your growth for the foreseeable future.

So, it ought to be treated as a major strategic initiative in your organization, and given the allotment of resources that accompany such efforts.

Gather your best people for a brainstorming session.  Capture the output, and bring it to a more analytical group to refine.  Put it in the hands of your best communicators to create the three versions mentioned above.

Then, test it before you commit to it.  Put it in the hands of some sales people and gather their comments. Float it by some of your customers whose honest opinion you expect. Run it through the search engine optimization folks.

Refine it until you are ready to live with it.

Then, publish the short version in every conceivable place.  On business cards, letterhead, voice mail messages, web sites, email signatures, etc.

Bring the sales people in, require they memorize the 30-word version, and train them in persuasively presenting it.  Lots of role-play and practice here.   Do the same with anyone who has regular customer contact.

Finally, publish the one-page version.  Make it into a hard copy leave-behind for the sales force.  Publish it on your web site.  Hand it to every vendor.

Distribute it to everyone who has an interest.

Then, watch as it begins to flow into every aspect of your business, stimulating and shaping your growth.



If you are interested in digging deeper into this subject, you may want to purchase, “How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime.”

If you are a subscriber to The Sales Resource Center ™ , consider Cluster CL-72: How to market your small business on-line, Cluster CL-46; Four part elevator speech, and Pod-47: How to make a more effective first call.

Copyright MMXI by Dave Kahle

All Rights Reserved.

Sell Today, Educate Tomorrow

This is a Sales Tip of the Week from guest poster Shulman & Associates.


Tim was driving from another disappointing sales call when it hit him.  Now he knew exactly what he had to do to get more appointments and close more sales.  He needed to know everything possible about his company’s products and exactly how past customers had used the products.  Tim had a plan.  He was going to be prepared.

For the next three weeks, Tim was a man possessed, meeting his objectives and developing a knowledge base that surpassed every other salesperson in the company.

“Success is assured,” he thought.  “No one can compete with me now!  I am a walking encyclopedia of product information and usage.”

And he really was.  Other salespeople, amazed at Tim’s radical change in sales behavior, started coming to him for product information.  Tim even found and alerted marketing to a small but significant error in a product brochure.

It wasn’t long before Tim started lining up appointment after appointment.  With his new-found security, the old timidity was gone.  Tim was turning into a tiger.

And an unbelievable 85% of the initial sales visits were turning into requests for proposals.  Tim further intensified his personal product and usage education and poured this information into the most comprehensive and informative proposals anyone had ever seen.  Everyone, especially the prospects, agreed that Tim knew his stuff.

As the months rolled on, with Tim being swamped by more and more requests for proposals, there was a little voice in the back of Tim’s head that kept mumbling something.

Seven months after starting his education, Tim was completely exhausted.  But he felt good.  Or at least until he figured out how many sales he had closed since starting his education.  He was shocked to find out that his closing percentage had gone down.  “What am I doing wrong?” he asked.  “I have prospects begging me for what I know.  I can’t write the proposals fast enough.  How could I be selling less?”

The Result:

Tim was incredibly successful selling knowledge, not product.  Tim learned to educate the prospect, not sell the prospect.  Unfortunately, many salespeople become caught in this trap because while they are doing this, it feels as if they are getting somewhere.  Product knowledge is helpful, but Tim forgot that he was hired to sell product, not knowledge.


Product knowledge and how past customers are using the product is very useful information to have.  Unfortunately, many sales training programs have as their focus educating the sales staff with product Information.  From this focus on product information, the sales staff comes to believe that the way sales happen is by educating the prospects.  The belief is that educated prospects are prospects who will buy.  Nothing could be further from what really happens.

Prospects buy for their own reasons.  While their reasons may be similar or even identical to those of other customers, you cannot presume that you know what those reasons are unless you ask.

While educating prospects is a worthy goal, it does not make sales.  Blindly assuming that educating prospects will increase sales is a path to frustration.

Prospects don't need to be educated; they need relief from their pain.


Don’t provide education.  Tim is immensely successful at selling education.  Prospects know that when Tim is the salesperson, they will have an education that prepares them to get the best possible product.  Unfortunately, it won’t be from Tim because he is perceived as a teacher, not a salesperson.

Free education by salespeople is a common situation fostered by most sales training programs.  The rationale for this is simple; you don’t want to send out a salesperson who doesn’t know the product.  The salesperson then mistakenly comes to believe that even more product knowledge will result in even more sales.

This situation ignores why prospects buy your product:  They buy your product because it solves some problem they have.  And the problem it solves might never have been covered in the sales training sessions.  If all you do is educate, you will never learn what the problem is.  Which would you rather do?  Learn the prospects’ problems and sell your products to them or educate and sell nothing?


Prospects don’t need to be educated; they need relief from their pain.

About the author:

Shulman & Associates is a professional development firm specializing in sales and management training and sales force evaluation. Visit their website to register for a FREE Sales Training Workshop. Learn how to increase sales, improve margins, and accelerate new business development. Breakfast is included in this workshop.

  • When: May 12th, 2016 from 8:30 AM-11:00 AM
  • Where: Shulman & Associates, 379 Thornall Street, 9th Floor, Edison, NJ 08837

To view the latest Sales Tip of the Week please click on the link below:

Software & Best Practices for Improved Business Performance

The CRM software sector is highly competitive and while the majority of basic low cost solution providers are struggling to make ends meet, the companies that are providing measurable value and a real return on investment for their customers are doing just fine. One of these companies is New Jersey based Commence Corporation, manufacturers of Commence CRM.

New Jersey Based Software Company Offers Software & Best Practices for Improved Business Performance
New Jersey based software company offers software & best practices for improved business performance.

What separates Commence CRM from the pack is a combination of rich functionality coupled with the company’s dedication to ensuring that customers are prepared to make a commitment to improving their internal business processes. The onboarding process looks at a customer’s current internal procedures and workflow requirements, and then configures the Commence CRM software to address those requirements. “CRM software by itself provides minimal benefit” says Larry Caretsky, President of Commence Corporation “regardless of what product you choose. In order to realize substantial value from a CRM solution you need the customer’s commitment to outline their business objectives, and their assurance that they will use the software and best practices to improve how they market, sell, and provide service to their customers.”

“Unfortunately, in the small to mid-size business sector the majority of companies that contact Commence about our CRM are simply not prepared for this. They seem to want a CRM solution that is fast, easy and quick and if it requires any real effort to implement or configure for use, they throw that one out of the evaluation process and move on to the next one. This is insanity and impossible to understand, particularity when we are talking about selecting a software solution designed to automate your internal business processes to improve business performance. For some of these companies the management may not believe they have a need for improvement, so selecting a CRM solution is simply a way to get the sales manager off their back. As a result, they make a decision based on either price, month-to-month billing, or the vendor’s commitment to free training and support; and guess how this has worked out. Well I suspect you already know.”

“Our firm is not a volume player,” says Caretsky. “We are not free, don’t sell solutions over the internet via credit card, and don’t offer the use of our solution on a month-to-month basis. We provide a best in class solution coupled with a staff of professionals with more than 20 years of experience in sales, marketing, and customer service. We provide the advice and counsel that ensure our customers realize the maximum value from our products. If you are looking to use CRM software to streamline your internal business processes, give us a call. Talk with our customers and hear what they say about our product and our company.”