January 27, 2011

Listen More Than You Talk For Better Meetings

If you listen more than you talk, you just may find out how to win the deal.

This was the biggest takeaway I got from my days as Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo, working on some of the companies biggest sales opportunities.  Normally, most sales calls or networking meetings are all about the presentation - your spiel.   You have an agenda, answers to all potential objections and some ideas on next steps.  

Usually, the sales executive shows a power point deck, which takes up three quarters of the allotted meeting time.  Sometimes the slides are customized to address the prospect's needs, other times they are canned.  Even when there's no formal presentation, the conversation is heavily weighted towards the sales person, not the audience.  After all, it's in our sales-DNA, sell-sell-sell!  

I reversed this approach, in order to gain valuable insight from prospects that could give us a leg-up on competitors that were just trying to 'sell stuff.'   We had a goal: only talk 40% of the meeting and use the rest to listen, record and brainstorm.  Meeting dynamics changed, as we became more consultative and prospects became more open with us.  In the end, we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, securing several deca-million dollars deals in 2001 and 2002.  Here's how you can listen more than you talk: 

1 - Don't make a presentation until the end, and treat it like a TED talk (18 minutes, timed).  Open the conversation with questions that either help you discover value opportunities or spur your prospect's imagination.  For example, during a high level pitch to HP, I asked a senior executive to imagine that they just bought Yahoo!, and her assignment was to integrate our most valuable parts into their company.  "If you owned Yahoo," I asked, "what would you do with us?" She outlined a few quick ideas, some branding placements and others pure technology integrations (eg. Business Instant Messenger, Printer refill levels on Yahoo Maps, etc.)  In the end, her laundry list of ideas were poured into a pretty big strategic deal.  That's the value of having a conversation. 

2 - Measure your word count.  I asked prospects and partners if it would be OK to record the meeting, and have a transcription service (like On-Sitemedia) turn it into a Word doc.  That way, we won't miss any details and both parties have a better understanding of what we are talking about.  Most of them were happy to allow this.  When I received the Word document back, we were able to calculate word count (our stuff in black, their words in red).  Then, it was easy to see exactly how much we were talking vs listening.  The more we did this, the lower our word count got (and the higher our sales became.) 

3 - Under-answer questions.  Don't launch a multi-point ten minute speech when answering a common question or objection.  Pick your greatest hit and deliver it in about 60-90 seconds.  Then ask a question to get them talking.  

4 - Insert pregnant pauses.  Our tendency is to rush in when someone's just finishing up a question or comment to provide our answers.  That's not how to do it.  Great interviewers know that you should always leave an uncomfortable pregnant pause after a guest's answer or question.  Why?  Your conversational partner will feel uncomfortable with the silence, and fill it with more content.  Most of what people say or ask is heavily scripted to keep the 'cards close to the vest'.  But, as we learned with Frost-Nixon, when you are filling dead air (pregnant pause), you come off script and the truth spills out.  Some of the juiciest sales intelligence I ever gathered happened when I waited out the prospect after he/she gave me a pat answer. 

5 - Read a new book on the subject.  Of course, that's my prescription to most performance improvements.  Read, learn, innovate and experiment.  There's a brand new book out, cued up next on my Kindle for consumption: Talk Less Say More: Three Habits To Influence Others And Make Things Happen by Connie Dieken.  




Excellent analysis on the ears an mouth thing. Completely logical, when a meeting is all about listening to each others ideas; the discussion comes after.


I humbly submit proverbs 10:19, proverbs 18:13, James 1:19-20 and grandpa ," God gave u 2 ears & 1 mouth for a reason..."


Phil ... Elaine ...

Both great additions to this post. Heard them both before and LOVE their simple wisdom.




I was always told that you were given two ears and one mouth - use them in the same proportion. Don't always put that in to practice - but I try...


Excellent! I always used the slogan, "If you want to sell, ASK, don't TELL!"

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