Thursday, October 21, 2010



We often think of a great salesperson as a spin artist—a big talker—never at a loss for words and blessed with the gift of gab. Well in today’s world of business sales, that is no longer true. In fact, the best salesperson may be the best listener, not the best talker!

So the learning styles that used to be associated with sales success are no longer the most appropriate. And that opens up a lot of space for thoughtful people, quiet people, those who like to deal with facts and process information in chunks rather than those who get the big picture quickly and run with it.

If you are a quiet, thoughtful person and you are in sales, or interested in sales, there are many ways to cultivate your gifts. The best of these is to learn how to ask great questions.

If you are going to make sales by listening to your prospective customers, empathizing with them, understand their needs and the problems they are trying to solve, you will need to have expert ways to help them tell you the things that you want to listen for. That means you will need to be prepared with a steady stream of pertinent, probing questions that are not offensive and that invite a rich conversation between you and your prospect.

Here are some characteristics of great questions:

· They are open-ended. They invite discussion and commentary, not a one-word answer.

· They are circumspect. Maybe you want to know if the person you’re speaking with is the ultimate decision maker. But in a big company, multiple people are involved in the decision. So you can ask, “Who else will be affected by your decision?”

· They are historical. Great questions ask someone to talk about how they did it last time, or another time, so that you get a factual account that is predictive of future behavior.

· They are narrative. They invite someone to tell you a story, to get involved, to get engaged with you.

Great listeners are not listening for what they hope to hear. Rather, they are listening to the truth as understand by the person or people with whom they are conversing. If the truth is there’s no budget, we’re not going to make a change at this time, I don’t have time to think about that right now, or if we did make a change it would probably not be with you—wouldn’t you rather know that sooner than later? You can have one conversation and gracefully exit until a better time.

Big talkers are going to miss many key signals early in the sales process, causing them to pursue fruitless deals far too long. On the other hand, good listeners will be in tune with the real circumstances early on.

So let’s re-think our notions of the “salesperson learning style.”

If you are in sales or interested in sales, I invite you to join The Whale Hunters online community, Pier9, ( where you will find a wealth of resources for sales and business development, including many resources about how to ask great questions.

Happy Hunting!

Barbara Weaver Smith
October 2010

The Whale Hunters is a strategic sales coaching company that helps small businesses achieve explosive growth by landing bigger deals with bigger customers. Our business development process has consistently helped hundreds of companies create a repeatable, disciplined sales culture that optimizes the company’s ability to land and harvest whale-sized accounts in any economic climate.

Small business is the best way to reinvigorate the American economy. Barbara Weaver Smith, founder of The Whale Hunters, shares a lot of information of benefit to business people who want to grow their business. The question is how can small businesses grow at a rate that will show results sooner rather than later? That’s where The Whale Hunters comes in – and we invite you to register for a free account which gives you access to the wealth of information on the new expanded Whale Hunters website–

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