We're sorry, we've decided to go with someone else.
Aargh. The worst words any professional wants to hear.
You did a great job, it's just we decided to go with a training solution rather than the coaching you proposed.
But hang on, I do training. In fact I'm great at it. Let me tell you about the training I do…
But it's too late.
Has that ever happened to you?
The chances are it's because you weren't really listening to your potential client. Or more accurately, you didn't ask the right questions and you made too many assumptions about what they wanted.
Listening is Sales 101. It's one of the basics. The stuff they teach in your first few days in a role with business development responsibilities.
Listening allows you to properly understand what the client really needs and how to position your services to show they meet those needs. And clients need to feel listened to. If they feel you're not paying attention to them they'll assume you'll be like that to work with and they'll decide it won't be a pleasant or successful experience.
So why do so many of us do it so badly?
Well, there are two types of people who struggle with listening: The enthusiast and the expert.
Enthusiasts are often business owners or the ideas person behind a particular service. They're passionate about their services, they truly believe in them and they're convinced that their potential clients will benefit from them tremendously.
Passion's great when you're selling. In fact it's essential. If you don't believe in your services, how can you expect your clients to?
But sometimes passion can get in the way of selling. Passion can turn into evangelising, into a one way monologue rather than a dialogue where you do most of the listening.
Experts struggle because they assume they know what the client needs without asking. The minute a client mentions the first symptom of their problem they'll jump straight to the solution. They've heard it all before and they think they don't need to know anything more for their diagnosis.
The trouble is, they're often wrong. And even if they're right, the client doesn't feel as if they've really understood the issue. And the clients themselves, because they haven't been involved in a process of mutual discovery about the issue, don't feel any ownership of the solution.
Unfortunately for us professionals – especially those of us who run our own businesses – we're often both enthusiasts and experts. It can be a deadly combination.
After experiencing a number of “I'm sorry we're going with someone else” incidents many years ago I learned to bite my tongue. I learned to pay full attention to what the client was saying, not to focus on the next clever thing I was going to say. I learned to probe their problems fully and to explore the impacts. I still make mistakes and I'm far from perfect – but it works.
In short, by learning to listen, I learned to sell.
Make sure you do too.