The most successful sales meetings are conversations where the salesperson listens to understand and quiets their competing inner voices.
Sales is a blend of persuasion and negotiation, and most sales veterans are familiar with the push and pull dynamic of engaging a prospect. As in a poker game, we intuitively recognize that we have to account for the cards on the table as well as the player seated behind them. In any dialogue, there is a blend of spoken and unspoken communication, and good salespeople learn to carefully balance the dynamics of having a conversation but also reading between the lines.
That delicate dance, however, isn’t what great salespeople to do. If you want to move from good to great, to capture those high-value MSP clients, you need to play a different game entirely.
Chris Voss, former FBI hostage negotiator and bestselling author of “Never Split the Difference” (HarperCollins Publishers; 2016), argues that any conversation between two people is compromised of four voices. This is a bit like playing the cards as well as the player, but the perspective that Voss describes is much more actionable than a poker metaphor.
(Related: World Class Growth Checklist)
According to Voss, the four voices in a conversation are:
- Your spoken voice;
- Your internal voice;
- The prospect’s spoken voice;
- The prospect’s internal voice.
When you’re making a sale, you likely have an inner dialogue racing through analysis as you speak to your prospect. That inner voice might be preparing the next step of your sales process, it might be questioning what the prospect really meant by a statement or it might be thinking of another topic entirely, distracting you from the conversation at hand.
The prospect has a similar inner dialogue chattering in the background as they talk. Sure, some cards are on the table, but each person spends a significant amount of energy giving attention to a voice that only they can hear.
A great salesperson recognizes this and deliberately works to quiet the inner voices at play on both sides. As long as those inner voices are competing for attention, the actual conversation between you and your prospect will be hindered. You don’t have to think five moves ahead or outsmart your prospect as though they were a poker opponent. Instead, you have to create a conversation where both parties can be fully engaged in what each other has to say, which means that both sides are:
- Willing to give each other space to speak;
- Listening to understand instead of listening to respond;
- Confident in the trustworthiness of each other.
To reach this point, make a prospect feel heard and the rest will follow. There is some art to that, but the secret is to exercise self-restraint. For example, many salespeople actively pursue wedge or pain points (as they should), but they treat them as points of attack. When a prospect mentions a pain, sirens go off in their brain as they mobilize an aggressive pitch to exploit that pain. Prospects can sense that they are being pounced on, and the inner dialogue on their end ramps up in tandem.
A great salesperson will wait. Instead of attacking, the salesperson will nudge the prospect to dive deeper with a gentle, “Can you tell me more about that?”
As soon as that happens, the prospect feels heard. You didn’t try to manipulate them or push your agenda. You gave them a stage where they can truly explain themselves. In this moment, their inner voice can quiet, and the prospect often goes on to explain—in his or her own words—why they need someone like you.
Listening might not sound like an ultra-secret sales technique, but how you listen can be incredibly powerful and can set you apart from your competition. Whether they consciously recognize it, prospects notice when a salesperson works to hear them because so few salespeople take the time or effort to do it.