Fatal assumptions: How failing to listen kills business

When I trained to fly as a private pilot it was drummed in to me by my instructors and through the compulsory study of human performance and limitations, that making assumptions in aviation can have fatal consequences. The study of human performance and limitations is a major reason that flying is so safe; pilots understand how to overcome the risks associated with being human.

Making assumptions when we need to win more business might not have the same significant consequences as in aviation – but it certainly can endanger important relationships.

Making assumptions kills listening, and not listening kills relationships

Making assumptions is a human trait and is particularly evident in those of us with years of experience and knowledge. We are experts in our field, have extensive experience of solving customer problems and we might feel we’ve “seen it all”. What’s the point of listening when you know all the answers?

On the other hand, some people are so anxious about getting their point of view across or closing a sale that they tend to be pitching their idea, product or service from the moment they meet a potential buyer. Some will be anxious to impress with their expertise and feel they need to get to a solution quickly. Some have just one solution to sell, so they think it’s best to get that out onto the table quickly to test the interest of the prospect.

A sure fire way to demonstrate we only have our own interests at heart is to not listen and take too much time, too early talking about ourselves – long before we have earned the right to tell our story.

I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care

Listening demonstrates that we have our customers’ best interests at heart and that we are as genuinely client focused as our marketing messages claim we are (when did you ever see a marketing message that says “We don’t listen to our customers”?).

When we demonstrate genuine interest it builds trust and clients will not only share the level of insight we need to find the right solution, they will share with us how best to win their business. Today’s buyers are actively seeking suppliers they can trust and how we go about winning their business becomes a test for how much we care about delivering on our promises.

Ask a question then shut up!

We all know that questioning and listening are the two most important selling skills. In fact it is smart, insightful questioning that best reveals our knowledge and credibility. To give ourselves the chance of really understanding a customer we need to ask a question, then shut up and really listen to the answer.

Of course if our heads are full of assumptions then we won’t really be listening. There will be a tendency to be formulating the next question in our head, to be waiting for our turn to get our own point across, to interrupt or to make a judgment without properly exploring the response.

It is easy to tell when someone isn’t really listening to us. The signals we give as human beings range from obvious to subtle and we are all sensitive to them. There is nothing more that says, “I’m only interested in me and my own view” than not listening.

Important relationships thrive when we invest in them. Listening without making assumptions is one of the biggest investments you can make.

David Tovey is a speaker and author of ‘Principled Selling – How to Win Business Without Selling Your Soul’, published by Kogan Page.

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