I had the opportunity to listen to a TED presentation titled “Want to Help Someone: Shut Up and Listen”, by Ernesto Sirolli. He was speaking about the challenges he had when he first started working in developing countries distributing aid and “helping” people develop crops and businesses. He could not understand why; for example, the natives would not plant gardens. His team would demonstrate and the crops would become ripe and almost ready for harvest when the Hippo’s would come and eat everything. His team thought they knew better and they were going to show these people the “right” way. And yet the locals already knew if Ernesto would have listened. He makes the startling claim that aid organizations have spent trillions trying to do economic development and yet by listening he could help locals build what they see the need and capacity for.
How many times as business leaders do we do the same; either within our own organization or with a potential customer? We come in with the solution and we are going to “show them” how to get it done right.
Over my career in sales I have had the opportunity to travel with countless sales colleagues. And over and over again we would “show up and throw up”. We would walk in and tell them all about our company our product the solution and not ask but a question or two. And yet the masters, the guys that sit at the million dollar table they ask questions. By doing so and really listening to the answers they are able to understand the situation and the opportunity.
I remember an opportunity from several years ago. We thought it would be a simple contract for our basic service. We geared our whole presentation around this product. In the course of the tour and interview it turns out the buyer had a bigger vision. Like by a factor of five; $1,000,000 vs. $200,000.
I would like to report to you that I am a master listener. But I still have to write down my questions prior to the sales call to make sure I ask them. I need to pull back and be patient with the process. When I am the sale seems to be just a little easier.
How much is not listening costing you?