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Q: My Company has recently asked me to move into a sales role. I am excited but there is so much to learn. What do you think is the most important skill I can immediately develop in sales?

A: While I am answering this question in regards to sales this is one of the 3 or 4 most important things you can learn in life and if you don't learn it you will dramatically decrease the opportunities to learn the things ahead of it in priority. The skill is listening. Yes, everyone reading this has heard this but how many of us truly practice it to the best of our ability? As some of you know I also write a weekly devotional for a group of men. This was recently the theme there and you would be surprised how many men, many very successful, wrote me back saying they were very poor at listening. A lot of women reading this will say an amen to that.

I want to start with a short story. Recently another group picked up this column. It was a column, some of you will remember, I did on finding a good recruiter. First of all my little info line (name, profession, etc) is always posted at the bottom of every column. I received an e-mail from a recruiter telling me he was just the person I was looking for and then spent at least a third of the e-mail giving me self serving reasons why he was that person. He also proceeded to ask me three or four items such as salary, etc. I believe one was about the field I was in. So how does he know he can help me and why did he not read the bottom of the column? I am not here to castigate this individual, only to point out an example of what many of us do.

What is it we do? We think we listen but we actually are forming our response, many times based on what I can get out of it, before the other person even finishes. I find that when I do that I can miss the key point the other person is trying to make.

While I am going to tie some of my suggestions to sales, all of them can be used no matter what profession you are in, in your personal life, with your spouse, with your children (especially with them), etc. This column certainly will not be all-inclusive. In fact I would recommend picking up a book or two on this subject. Also a course would be very valuable.
  • Leave your sales brochure and cap (agenda) at the door. This is one time you want to try and leave your mind totally blank. You'd be surprised how many things you are going to find out that your competition won't.

  • If you hear something you don't understand (even if you hear something you totally understand that is important.) repeat it back to them, say this is what I heard and finish up with something like, ''Did I get that correct?'' You will
    demonstrate good listening skills and a sincere desire to hear them. Husbands, are you listening?

  • Always pause to the count of at least 3 (and not as fast as you can count either) before you respond. This will make sure you don't step on the end of their sentence; you keep focused on them and hopefully say something that isn't all about you. Again, I know probably all of you have heard this one but if you are like me it may be the hardest to practice. Sometimes we get so excited that we can't wait to get the answer out. Don't worry. You won't have an accident if you give it a few extra seconds.

  • You don't have to have all the answers. That is another one that was tough for me to learn. First of all I thought that was my job and secondly my ego seemed to want to get involved. IBM teaches their sales people to gather the information and say something like, ''Let me go back to our staff and see what we can come up with for you''. They almost never give any answers on the ''discovery'' call. I wouldn't suggest that line for your spouse but you can come up with something equally appropriate.

  • Start any conversation with an attitude you are going to do whatever you can to help them. This might mean you are not going to get a sale. The hardest thing most sales people ever have to do is walk away from something that is truly not a ''right fit'' but in the long run this will benefit you greatly. Again you don't have to have all the answers and you don't always have to be right, even if you are. There is a saying I like, ''Would you rather be right or rather be happy?''
The last point I want to make is sometimes people just want you to listen. They don't want you to fix it. They don't want a solution. The women who read this will know exactly what I am talking about. As many of you know my now, adult children have been my greatest teachers. Last week my youngest daughter had a ''challenge'' going on. I immediately went into fix it mode. What she really wanted was for me to listen. I realized that after a couple hours and called her back to apologize. In general, I try to listen to my children and ask them questions back. This way they come up with their own answers, which will have a much greater impact.

The same idea can be used in any situation including sales. If they can see the problem themselves it is much easier to give them assistance in solving the problem. The sale then becomes a joint effort.

About Author
Bill Gaffney has 17 years experience as an executive recruiter, and a career coach.. He also likes to teach men how to act right. Bill can be reached at 937-567-5267 or For questions to be considered for this column or topic suggestions please e-mail
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