Thoughts and ideas from SHAKE Marketing Group
Stop Selling and Start Listening
by Stacey Danheiser
Pink headphones on a pastel background

Of all the emails I receive in my inbox every day, only 10% are either work-related or from family and friends. The remaining 90%? You guessed it: Cold outreach emails from salespeople. Normally, I just delete such emails—most of those still unread when I relegate them to the trash folder—because they waste my time and energy and add no value. But this one time, I tried doing something different.

It was an email from a software vendor that I didn’t know, and whose products I’ve never heard of. Like most typical cold emails I receive, the sender didn’t ask me any questions or demonstrate that he even knew what my company did before launching into his product pitch and “free trial” offer. Heck, he probably didn’t even know who I was.

But I wanted to see how this salesperson would respond if I provided a little more information. Would he be curious enough (or smart enough) to recognize the input I was giving him to better position his solution?

So I fired back a note and told him that I am currently not interested as I have “other top priorities,” and that I’m gearing up for “a new product launch in Q3”, which should lead to changes in my business.

The salesperson’s response—“Great, I will follow-up with you in Q4!”—was lackluster at best. Why didn’t he ask for more information about my “top priorities” or what my “new product launch” or “changes in my business” were all about? Surely that would have helped him better position his software as the solution to my current challenges.

Indeed, this was a missed opportunity on his part and you can be sure if he follows up with me in Q4, I will delete his email.

Be Trustworthy Or Be Ignored

It’s not just me; deleting or simply ignoring sales emails is sort of a ritual for most people. Like it or not, today’s buyers can sniff a direct sales pitch from afar, and find ways to avoid them. Matters seem to be worse in the B2B world, where nearly 88% of customers are comfortable placing high-value orders online instead of interacting with a sales rep, who they believe are more interested in pushing their own agendas than solving buyers’ problems.

In fact, it has gotten so bad that sales reps rank among the lowest of trustworthy professions. According to a research from Hubspot, only 3% people consider sales people (and marketers) to be trustworthy.

This means there’s a huge barrier for a sales person to overcome before they can engage a new prospect or customer, let alone, close a deal. After all, a customer isn’t going to buy from someone they don’t trust. Especially when it comes to the B2B space, purchase decisions are typically complex and made by multiple stakeholders. Plus, there are several factors to be considered, including ROI gains, whether using the product/service would give them a competitive edge, whether it would perform as promised, the vendor’s ability to support company goals, and so on.

Simply put, earning the trust of a B2B buyer is imperative to convert them into customers. As such, the job of a B2B sales person is not limited to just having a thorough knowledge of their product. They need to understand how the solution they sell meets a buyer’s unique needs and requirements. For that, sales people need to really listen to their customers and what keeps them awake at night—their problems, pain points, and goals they are trying to fulfil.

It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

Merkle’s 2017 B2B Loyalty research points to the fact that 65% of buyers are challenged with getting a sales rep to listen to their needs—they are too busy thinking about how they are going to hit their number. But what most sales people fail to realize that pushing products is definitely not going to get them there.

In other words, it’s not about you or your quarterly or monthly goals. It’s about your customer and their problem—and how you can help solve them.

Consider this report from Aberdeen, which found that buyers’ number one turn off with the sales experience is that “they focus too much on themselves and don’t get to know our company.” It’s true—we’ve all seen too many sales reps trying to rush us into a sales process even before we are ready to move forward. This not only causes distrust, but often does irreparable damage to the buyer-seller relationship.

Listening goes a long way in building that trust. According to a LinkedIn survey, B2B buyers are 5X more likely to engage with a sales rep who provides new insights. This is only possible when the sales person is actively listening—and not simply waiting for the buyer to finish or thinking about what to say next. In the era of the internet and social media, listening also involves picking up the digital breadcrumbs that a buyer may have left—such as a tweet, Facebook post or a blog—to understand their current situation and challenges.

When sales people spend time knowing the buyer and then, present a personalized pitch to them, they will find it easier to connect with people who are really in need of their product/service; they will be seen as helpful rather than annoying and their emails won’t be trashed.


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