27 February 2024
6 mins read

Listen up! The key to winning new business

Will Reynolds
Will Reynolds
Managing Director

As agency owners, we navigate various roles, and one of the most significant hats we wear is that of a new business or sales lead.

Initially, the transition into this role may not have felt entirely natural to me. Having spent over a decade immersed in the world of large multinational agencies servicing enterprise-level brands like CommBank and Virgin Group in the UK, the notion of actively engaging in sales felt somewhat alien.

In those previous agency environments, new client leads typically flowed to us through established channels or holding groups, sparing us the need for extensive self-promotion or lead generation efforts.

However, things dramatically shift when moving into entrepreneurship or launching a startup agency. It’s a whole new ballgame. Suddenly, the imperative of selling becomes unmistakable.

Embracing this reality, I found myself drawn to the challenges and rewards of sales. Today, it stands as one of my favourite aspects of my day-to-day role – connecting with new people from different industries, listening to their stories, empathising with their challenges, and collaboratively developing solutions.

This transition wasn’t without its hurdles. Yet, over time, I honed my personal approach to sales, a methodology uniquely tailored to my strengths and conducive to our agency’s growth, which has seen a remarkable 900% surge over the past four years.

In many sales interactions, there’s a tendency for dialogue to turn into monologues, with people competing for attention rather than fostering genuine conversation. The art of active listening, however, represents a different, potentially less ‘salesy’ way of selling your agency, or any business for that matter.

Recently, I came across Molly Bloom’s book, Molly’s Game, after hearing her interviewed on The Diary of CEO podcast, where she attributes much of her success (she made millions) in orchestrating high-stakes poker games to her ability to listen. Drawing parallels to the selling, she highlights the transformative power of active listening in cultivating meaningful relationships. She recounts how, through attentive listening, she gleaned profound insights from billionaire poker players, insights that transcended the confines of the gaming table.

Active listening transcends mere passive reception; it embodies a deliberate endeavour to comprehend, empathise, and connect with others on a deeper level. Studies published in the International Journal of Listening detail the multifaceted nature of active listening, which encompasses nonverbal cues, paraphrasing, and responsive feedback.

By embodying attentiveness, respect, and empathy, active listeners cultivate an environment conducive to trust, collaboration, and ultimately, shared success.

Imagine a common scenario in any sales meeting, be it a pitch or pre-qualification meeting: a client arrives, eager to share their vision or discuss challenges they’re facing. However, instead of being met with attentive listening, they’re bombarded with self-promotion or preconceived notions. In this scenario, the client is unlikely to feel valued or respected. Consequently, they may retreat inward, withholding crucial information about their needs and objectives. As a result, you risk missing out on vital insights necessary for crafting tailored solutions or developing accurate business proposals.

Let’s face it – if a client doesn’t feel respected or heard in their initial encounter, they’re unlikely to agree to a follow-up meeting.

After doing some research on the subject I discovered Author Jim Smith’s example of how this impulse led him to lose a prospective customer in an article for Forbes he shares an example of how this impulse led him to lose a prospective customer in an article for Forbes:

“Throughout the meeting I was given plenty of clues as to how I should steer the conversation if I wanted the work, yet I kept right on talking, selling my services and preferred approach and not listening. When I didn’t get the job, I resisted the temptation to find a convenient excuse and instead asked the potential client. That call confirmed what I deep down already knew: I wasn’t listening.”

To develop proficiency in active listening, you must commit to deliberate practice and continual refinement. Here are my 5 practical strategies that can help to improve your active listening in sales meetings:

Stay present: Minimise distractions and fully engage with the client. Put away your phone, close unnecessary tabs on your computer, and focus solely on the conversation at hand. Try to maintain eye contact, smile and nod occasionally.

Be empathetic: Try to understand the speaker’s perspective by putting yourself in their shoes. Empathetic listening involves not only hearing what the speaker is saying but also considering their emotions and underlying motivations. Show genuine concern and compassion for their concerns and challenges.

Ask open-ended questions: Encourage meaningful dialogue by asking open-ended questions that prompt the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.

Paraphrase and reflect: Summarise the client’s points in your own words to ensure you’ve understood them correctly. Reflecting back what you’ve heard not only confirms your understanding but also validates the speaker’s perspective. Use phrases like “If I’m hearing you correctly…” or “It sounds like you’re saying…” to convey active listening.

Practice patience and silence: Resist the urge to interrupt or interject with your own thoughts prematurely. Allow the speaker to express themselves fully before offering your input. Embrace moments of silence as they provide opportunities for reflection and allow the speaker to gather their thoughts.

Here at WB, active listening isn’t merely a guiding principle; it’s the foundation of our client relationships. We recognise that effective communication leads to a positive exchange, where listening holds equal importance to speaking. By fostering an ethos of open dialogue and mutual respect, we ensure that our clients’ voices resonate authentically, guiding our strategic endeavours with precision and creativity.

The potency of active listening in the sales arena cannot be overstated. Its transformative potential extends beyond transactional engagements, fostering enduring connections, and catalysing organisational growth.

Ready to give active listening a try in your next sales meeting? I’d love to hear about your experience.
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