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Got a business? Nervous about your future?  Anyone who says they don’t feel fearful sometimes in the face of this uncertain economy is in deep denial.

One symptom, research shows, is that it is literally harder to hear when we’re stressed. That’s a signal to savvy, caring business owners to listen sooner, deeper and longer.

Only then can we discover which problem keeps our customers awake nights. Solving that one hottest concern is the thoughtful and successful way to sell.

In so doing you can begin collaborating with that prospect or customer in front of you.

Just Listen – then collaborate with them into buying

Who does most of the talking when you are with a prospective buyer? As in fishing, until you find the hook that grabs their attention so they want to know more it is highly likely that they will get away.

As infants most of us were rewarded with wide smiles and warm voices when we talked. Later we enjoyed more reinforcement for talking as we learned to read.

Beginning in kindergarten, we’ve been rewarded to sit still and be quiet. Yet, even when we do, but we aren’t trained to listen. Yet we are expected to know how. As we grow older we may hunger to be heard and understood yet not learn to listen. We talk until they go on a mental vacation then physically leave.

“It is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

In this increasingly connected yet complex economy competition can hit faster and from more places. That’s all the more reason to listen closely to diverse people. You’ll be better able to serve your customers and to identify valuable allies with whom you can generate stand-out value in your mutual market – perhaps becoming the top-of-mind choice.

By listening closely, then speaking to the sweet spot of mutual benefit you can also forge profitable partnerships with complementary companies that serve the same kind of customers as you.

Collaborating with other businesses in this way is often the most credible and cost-effective way to stand out from your competition – a priceless possibility in this bad economy.

Here are 16 pointers to sharpen your listening-to-connect skills – vital traits in this increasingly transient, economically uncertain, information flooded and time starved world:

1. Control outside interruptions and distractions.

2. Where possible meet in a place that is not noisy, where seats are comfortable and where you can sit at a right angle, “sidling”, rather than across from them.

3. Avoid patterned shirts, blouces or other distractive clothing especially on the upper half of your body.

4. Get your whole body involved in listening and show that you are paying attention. Look the person squarely in the eye most of the time, using facial expressions and other non-verbal clues to show that you hear and understand what she is saying.

5. Open your eyes, mind and ears to be truly receptive to the messages the other person presents – both by what they say and what they avoid saying.  Begin listening from the very first word and give the person your undivided attention.

6. Lean slightly towards them, look them directly in the eye, nod sometimes and do not fidget. Avoid frequent rapid movements of your arms or legs. You are demonstrating your attention – making the other person the center of attention.

7. Focus on what the person is saying right now. Avoid trying to figure out what she is going to say; you may miss what she actually means.

8. Don’t interrupt. It sends the message that your views are more important than theirs.

9. Confirm your understanding of what they said, using their words. Don’t paraphrase.

10. Ask follow-up questions to clarify and to glean the specific benefits they seek or the problems they want to solve.

11. Take notes. It demonstrates interest and respect and enables you to recall exactly what was said. When you take notes you triple the amount you remember – even if you do not look at them later.

12. Be direct in answering questions. First answer, then elaborate – not the reverse, which is more common. Don’t give qualifiers and background before answering. That’s underbrush they must wade through. You will seem evasive or thoughtless or both.

13. Remain genial and receptive. Do not react negatively – even and especially to highly charged words and tones. Hear the person out, then respond. Don’t change the topic. Most people will cool down and begin to talk calmly once they vent their anger and frustrations and feel heard.

14. When the other person gets more intense – negatively or positively, she is discussing what most matters to her.  That’s your hook.  Offer the specific benefit – the solution to that point to move her closer to buying.

“Every moment counts, and that moment is lost if you’re not in that moment 100 percent.” ~ Tachi Yamada, M.D.

15. Remember, your objective is to listen your prospective customer into buying or potential ally into collaborating. You do not need to remind yourself of what you think, you must find out what your prospect thinks. There is no sales principle that suggests you must “get your two cents worth in.”

16. Look for connections between apparently isolated remarks. What’s the underlying theme, the hottest thing that most concerns them?

“To truly listen is to risk being changed forever.” ~ Sakej Henderson

The bonus? The more strongly that person connects with you the more likely they will emulate your behavior, tell others and extend your presence to their friends and the friends of their friends.

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.” ~ Karl Menninger

moving from me to we


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