When I founded Richardson over 30 years ago, in addition to designing content and selling I taught sales and sales leadership. Most of my clients and seminar participants were men. In those days, women in B2B sales were considered an oddity. Many questioned how women in sales could possibly travel with men, specifically married men. That of course was only one of the innumerable obstacles women faced in sales—starting with the most common one, namely are women tough enough to close?
Much has changed since then. Today, women fill sales and leadership roles across industries. Women such as Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, are making their mark even in industries that are typically male-dominated. Ms. Barra has changed the automotive industry by putting the customer at the center of every decision and by pushing GM to develop the Chevy Bolt EV, beating rival Tesla in developing the first electric car with a range of 200.
Yet, when I think back to my early sales seminars I remember how with client after client I could not help observing one thing: the women were the strong listeners able to “hear a pin drop” when it came to customer needs, while the men were the strong closers. As coaches, my team and I worked to show how valuable both skills were across genders.
While the gap between Venus and Mars is shrinking, and certainly many men are very good listeners , in general women continue to hold the lead in listening. And today this is especially good news. In the age of cyber superior listening skills will be an extraordinary advantage.
Over the past few decades the presence of women literally and figuratively has changed the face of selling—especially in B2B sales. Women have been a part of the transition from product selling to consultative selling to insight selling. Today another large scale change is happening in selling: the internet has become the formidable competitor. It is the real disrupter in sales. With the meteoric rise of consumer-driven ecommerce, technology is replacing or supplementing many sales jobs, even high-level ones.
How do you make sure technology does not replace you? That you must bring relevant ideas and technical expertise to your clients is a given. But while technology can or soon will deliver product solutions to clients more quickly, efficiently, and cheaply, technology is not good at relationships. That is where your edge in listeners comes in.
In the new high-tech world, personal connecting will become more and more difficult. The times to meet or speak in person will become fewer and fewer, which means that there will be less time to make a vital human connection. This is why active and acute listening, whether face to face, by phone, or email/text will give the edge.
Listening is a vestibule to empathy, and in many ways, it is empathy in action. It enables you to build reciprocal trust. As you listen, you create a relationship in which you, too, are heard.
Selling has come full circle. Old selling was pushing product. As sales advanced, client needs and customized solutions became the watchwords. Next came insights. These are shoulders to build on but today they are not enough to stand on.
That today’s professionals lack the ability to relate interpersonally was underscored by LinkedIn research that identified interpersonal or soft skills as the number one skill that is lacking in employees in the job market. The skill gap was three times higher in the U.S. than software engineering. LinkedIn research also showed that based on descriptions of job openings in 2018, the leading soft skill needed was leadership followed by communication and collaboration. All of these require listening–without it the empathy and compassion needed to build relationships are almost impossible.
Of course you bring technical value to your clients. But my advice to you is to leverage your listening skills and start each sale with your heart—and then to listen to the client’s heart. Ask yourself what does this client need and how can I make a difference? The ability to empathize with clients and show that you are aware of their needs and feelings is the key to sales success in the age of technology-assisted and soon to be technology-led sales.
Push beyond how you feel and how the sale impacts you to find out how your clients feel and think about their objectives and careers. With solutions just one click away and devices taking on the role of a seller, you will make a difference by making the connection personal.