January 14, 2020

The Most Important Sales Skill We Have

By Ayesha Dillon, Unison's VP of Channel Sales for Forbes Council


As salespeople, we’re taught to sell. We get in front of our potential clients and give them a carefully orchestrated pitch. We check off all the features and benefits one by one. We may even throw in a few anecdotes to better connect with them on a personal level. Sometimes, if they’re not prepared to say yes right away, we come back — ready to tell them once again why they need us. We even craft “elevator pitches” to convince someone when they’re short on time. But for all the pitching, selling and convincing that we’ve learned throughout our careers, there’s one overlooked sales skill that may be the single most important thing any of us can do.

We should stop talking and start listening.

Rather than coming into a business meeting with an iron-clad agenda and a slick sales pitch ready to go, sales professionals should be prepared to listen. While it might seem easier to walk into a room with a set presentation, first listening to your prospect’s situation and their challenges can actually give you the upper hand in the long run. When you're armed with extra information, you can adapt your pitch and match your solutions to your prospect’s pain points. Pivoting and reacting in real time takes practice, but the first step is shifting your mindset to listen first and talk later.

Before entering into a sales pitch, one way to make a strong impact is to be the most knowledgeable person in the room. Study up on your craft, your product and your company ahead of time. Research your prospect and individuals you’re meeting with — know how their company makes money and what makes each individual successful. So when you’re in a meeting listening to their problems, you can be creative in your problem-solving and tie back to their company’s mission in your approach. If you can combine your research with active listening in real-time, and you can show how your ideas and your products will help your prospect’s bottom line, you’ll be many steps ahead of your competition.

Listening and really understanding your prospect is one of the best ways to discover precisely what your they need. Giving someone a pre-rehearsed hard sell is rarely successful because it’s a one-size-fits-all strategy. In this era of almost limitless customization and optimization, being adaptable enough to first understand what they’re asking for, and then show how they can specifically benefit from your product, is key to closing a sale.

In real estate, I’ve learned to first listen to loan officers talk about their clients, then I use what I know about each group’s unique needs to provide the best solution for them. If, for example, they tell me their clients only focus on luxury real estate (they’re not first time home buyers), my sales pitch changes dramatically — as I know those groups have vastly different needs.

It seems counterintuitive for a sales professional not to sell. It’s what we’re conditioned to do. But by simply listening to your prospects before you start into your pitch, you’ll not only increase your chances of landing a sale, you can become the sales professional customers trust and ultimately recommend to others.