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Beat Your Competitors At Level Four


Most of us have heard sales trainers point out that we have two ears and one mouth because we should listen twice as much as we talk.

A Huthwaite Study of more than 60,000 business-to-business sales calls determined the single most differentiating attribute of high-performing sales people is their ability to ask questions.

So how can you question and listen differently than all of your competitors who use the standard industry Customer Needs Analysis or CNA?

First, you have to earn the right to ask deep and probing questions.

The keys to earning the right to ask deeper questions are: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare. Preparation begins with sincerity of intent. If your sincere intent is to deliver value to the client rather than simply getting an order, the preparation and homework necessary will automatically be part of your strategic account plan.

If, on the other hand, you are simply in pursuit of an order, you will naturally default to the same mundane questions your competitors have already asked your sales-weary prospect.

I once had a media buyer say to me “If I have one more media rep ask me who my target audience is, I’m going to scream!” She went on to say “I want to deal with marketing professionals who already know who my target audience is.”

In preparing your questions, you must first decide which level of listening is strategically correct for each client interview.

Of the four levels of listening, only two of those four should be considered.

Level 1 is Avoidance Listening and should never be used. You have probably experienced the avoidance listener.
They say “uh huh” a lot, they don’t look you in the eye, they appear to be pre- occupied, and they are. You know they are not interested and, certainly, they are not really listening.

The Level 2 Defensive Listener is mentally preparing his counterpoints and rebuttals while the client is talking.
Level 2 Defensive Listening is one of the most common mistakes radio account executives make. Level 2 listeners never really get to the heart of the matter because clients detect defensive listeners and in turn begin to give defensive answers.

Level 3 is Problem-Solving Listening and is the highest level most radio sales people reach. Problem-Solving Listening can be the right approach if your prospect wants your solutions.

Problem-Solving Listening is listening to move things forward. Problem-solving listeners listen until they hear a problem they can solve, at which point they offer their solution. This can be the right level if your prospect wants your solutions…but that’s a big IF and the risk is you have not listened well enough to understand the underlying problem or opportunity.

Level 4 listening is called Connective Listening. At Level 4, you are listening to learn. It is listening in the highest order, on the advertiser’s terms, not yours. Connective listening involves understanding where your prospect is coming from in order to establish genuine rapport.

To prepare Level 4 questions, you must first do your homework and answer all of the questions your competitors are asking about the advertiser’s current situation before you meet with your prospect.

Top performers go online. They search for industry and marketing articles about the prospect’s category. They talk to the prospect’s staff, customers, and suppliers. They review their prospect’s advertising, and conduct a competitive analysis of their competitors’ advertising and websites. If the prospect has enough potential to become an “A” client, they will go the extra mile and conduct focus groups, facilitate an online survey, and document their findings in preparation for their diagnostic call.

Level 4 questions focus on the prospect's goals, objectives, and desired outcomes. At Level 4 you will ask questions like, “What does that mean to you?” “How do you feel about that?” “What’s your perspective on, or what do you think about…..” 

At Level 4, almost every answer will spawn another question. You will dig deeper with each question by asking questions like, “What else comes to mind?”

When you have mastered Connective Level 4 Listening, your client has literally written your presentation for you. Making a proposal that clearly achieves the client’s objectives and goals will increase your closing ratios dramatically.

Wayne is President of ENS Media Inc., and producer of the SoundADvice radio e-marketing system and Winning in the New Media Economy advertiser seminars which are converting former print advertisers to a radio/online mix every day. Wayne is a featured panellist at the NAB Radio Show in Orlando in September where you are welcome to meet him.

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