Listening skills for effective key account management

Mansmith Mentors
By Emilio Macasaet III

Posted on December 01, 2015

My new book is finally coming out in time for Christmas season. Below is another excerpt.

In Chinese, the traditional character for the active verb “to listen” is created with four component characters: ears, eyes, undivided attention, and heart. If one of these elements is missing, you are not really listening. Interesting?

Listening is the best communication skill. Sadly, most of us want to speak more than to listen. Note that there have been a lot of training seminars and books on how to speak effectively and deliver persuasive presentations, but there is very little attention to teaching salespeople to listen more effectively. According to PR Daily, less than 2% of people have had any formal education on how to listen.

Here are some interesting facts:

Did you know that we derive 55% of a message’s meaning from the speaker’s facial expressions, 38% from how he says the message, and 7% from the actual words spoken?

Half or 50% is how much information we usually recall immediately after we listen to someone talk.

We can listen at a speed of 500 words per minute, but a speaker can speak at the speed of only 250 words per minute. This means we have twice the capacity to listen than a speaker can speak. This leaves us more than enough listening terabytes while the speaker is between words.

I remember my first presentation to a really major account. I wasn’t a new salesman, but I was new to this more complex level of account engagement. I was transferred by our company from the province to Manila. “The main battle ground,” my boss said.

All our major accounts were seemingly guarded by seriously astute buyers wired to squeeze dry all suppliers who dared engage with them. I felt I was treading on anaconda land. When I introduced myself to the head buyer, she made sure I felt like a fly being welcomed by a spider in the jungle.

But, I was well-trained. I knew exactly what to do, even prior to going there. Our sales director saw to it that we were all given adequate preparations before we engaged with customers.

One of the presentation skills we were trained in then was to follow a simple procedure in handling customer’s objection with the acronym LAPROC:

Listen -- Intently listen to what the customer is saying. Do not interrupt.

Acknowledge -- Respond to acknowledge what has been expressed by the other side.

Probe -- Ask questions to clarify and understand what has been said.

Restate -- Restate the objection and verify understanding.

Overcome -- Respond to the objection directly. Use factual information.

Close -- Move the sale forward.

In presenting your proposals or account plan, practice the art of listening to gain better understanding of what those in the other side is saying. Listen to clearly see the world through their lens.

This does not mean that you should agree with their point of view. It’s only a better way for you to understand the other person so you can be more effective in interacting with them.

The content of any presentation varies with the kind of customer and situation. But, as a general rule, an effective presentation happens when the following order is followed.

1. Build a great background story. The prime objective of your presentation is to persuade appropriate decision-makers to accept your account plan spot on. Understanding how the people or customers who judge your proposal make their decisions is vital.

Keep your story clear, factual and believable. Your success in this stage rests on the credibility of your assumptions, evidence you use, logic of analysis, and your integrity. And please, remember, tell stories, not stats!

2. Present your account plan. It is often not enough to have a great account plan, or a fantastic product or service to offer. You also need to sell it to the other side -- at times, to multiple buyers with multiple issues to raise.

3. Secure buy-in. One of the most important stages of selling is closing the deal. A sales presentation is useless when it can’t persuade a customer to make the necessary commitment. However, when presenting to major accounts, do not sound like you’re selling something. A professional buyer can spot simplistic closing techniques a mile away, especially a hard close.

4. Summarize and set next steps. This step simply allows you to summarize the key points discussed and agreed.

5. Calibrate and commit. The higher the level of trust and confidence you have established with the customer, the easier it is for you to secure agreements. But sometimes, decisions in favor of your plan are not made right away during the initial presentation. New information, change in direction, or new people, may cause alterations in your plan and create delays in implementation.

Do not be tempted to hammer away your point. Be patient. This is normal. Likewise, this is the part when your negotiation skill comes in handy.

Emilio Macasaet III is Partner and Chief Distributor Strategist of Mansmith & Fielders, Inc., the country’s leading marketing and sales training company.