No matter what product or service you are selling, people buy for their reasons, not yours. Sometimes they even buy in spite of you! Once you accept this premise as the truth, you will realize that the key to selling is to find out what is important to the prospect. How do you accomplish that? By listening!

When selling, most people talk too much and listen too little. You have
probably never had to tell a salesperson, “I wish you wouldn’t listen so much.” Yet listening more and speaking less will help you

  • learn the prospect’s goals;
  • become familiar with the prospect’s communication style; and
  • take cues from the prospect’s nonverbal communications.

Move Slowly

When prospects come into a fitness facility to inquire about membership or personal training, the typical first step is to take them on a walk-through of the facility. We want to make sure they know how many machines our gym has, how great our training credentials are and how much we can do to help them get in shape. The problem is that all of this information comes out of our mouths before we have any clue about the individual prospect’s goals.

When we talk too much and listen too little, we miss out on an essential opportunity to learn a few things about prospective clients that could guide our sales efforts. For example, some first-time fitness buyers are completely intimidated by gyms and get anxious at the mere thought of beginning a workout program. Immediately parading them through a room full of unfamiliar equipment and perspiring bodies may scare them off before they get a chance to verbalize a single goal. Salespeople have a bad enough reputation as it is—imagine how we come across when the first thing we do is take a nervous prospect right into a place that seems scary and foreign! We are lucky that most prospects don’t instantly turn around and bolt for the door.

Study Communication Styles

Studies in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) teach us that people communicate and learn primarily in one of three major modes or styles:

  • Visuals want to see things.
  • Auditories want to hear about things.
  • Kinesthetics want to get a “handle” or “grasp” on things.

Introducing a potential client to your facility with a walk-through assumes that the person is a visual learner, but this may not be the case. All three types of learners use various words indicative of their style of communication. If you listen to the prospect first, you can determine his style and respond accordingly.

For example, an auditory may not care for you to immediately show him your facility, but prefer to hear about it first. If you take an auditory on an introductory visual tour, you may lose him. There is no bonding or rapport, since the alienated prospect feels that you just aren’t listening.

When you communicate with a prospect in his own style, you are employing straight communication. With straight communication, bonding and rapport
increase—as does the likelihood of a sale.
If you fail to listen for your prospect’s
communication style and to use that style to communicate back to him, a cross-
communication occurs, which will impede bonding, rapport and the sales process.

Practice Active Listening

Of course you want the prospect to see your wonderful facility! But taking a few minutes to sit down in the reception area or an office—or even a nearby coffee shop—to listen to the prospect first will strongly increase the likelihood of turning her into a buyer. A technique called active listening will take you a long way in sales. When you use this technique, you are following a well-known sales rule: Talk 30% of the time, and get your prospect talking 70% of the time.

An integral part of active listening is known as backtracking, a process in which you review and summarize aloud what your prospect has told you. There are four reasons to backtrack:

1. to be sure that you understand your prospect’s statements

2. to allow your prospect to correct, revise and validate or confirm her comments

3. to gain rapport (listening is a form of flattery and a strong bonding technique, since it shows you care)

4. to get time to digest the information and think about what to say next

Using the prospect’s key words reduces the risk of misunderstanding. Usually you can pick up key words by listening to the vocal emphasis (tonality) your prospect puts on those words. Preface your responses with statements like, “So what I hear you saying is . . . ,” “You’re feeling like . . . ,” and “Let me see if I understand. . . .” For example, if your prospect shares that her budget for personal training services is $200 a month, you can repeat back to her, “So, Mary, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that you have $200 each month to commit to training services.” (If you were to add “only” before the amount of money, the prospect could easily feel slighted.) To build and maintain rapport as you are repeating, be sure that your voice quality and gestures communicate interest. Asking permission to take notes will help with the repeating process and show that you are really tuned in.

Repeating the other person’s words can be very powerful, but pay close attention to how you repeat. Don’t mimic your potential client’s words, phrases and tonality; rather, use subtle matching and mirroring techniques. If the prospect crosses her arms across her midsection and puts her left foot forward, you might very slowly cross your arms and put your right foot forward. If she looks directly at you when she speaks, look directly at her.

People love to do business with people they like and can identify with. Make your prospect feel that way about you by listening attentively and demonstrating that you understand what she is communicating to you.

Tune In to Nonverbal Cues

One other thing to be aware of when interviewing a prospect is nonverbal cuing, which includes such things as facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and posture. NLP studies have shown that communication consists of 7% words, 55% body language and 38% tonality. Meeting with your prospect and listening to his answers to your questions before showing him your facility or telling him about your skills will allow you time to pick up on these nonverbal cues. Does his body language tell you he is uncomfortable in the gym setting? If so, when you show him the facility, you might explain that his training will begin in a private area of the gym, and that he will start out by working with body weight and dumbbells only. Does his posture reveal weak, untrained muscles or strong muscles? If he sits in a slouched position, you may want to question him about any back, neck or hip pain. If he appears fit and strong, you might say, “You appear to be very fit. You must be taking good care of yourself.” Even if the prospect isn’t in good shape, he will be pleased with the compliment, which will give you a good start at building rapport!

Hear, Hear!

As you practice listening, your ability to assimilate and use the prospect’s information will put you on a fast track to selling your services. Recognizing different prospects’ communication styles, understanding their goals and speaking their language will ensure your success. Never forget the old adage, “There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we speak.” Apply this to selling, and you will get positive results.

One last thought: Listening well is the sincerest form of communication. If you listen well and respond accordingly, you will build trust and increase sales. n

Matching a Prospect’s Communication Style

If you meet a prospective client who immediately asks to see the facility or tells you, “I see myself as out of shape,” that client is probably a visual communicator. With this person, you will want to phrase all discussions using visual dialogue. For example, you might say, “Would it make sense if I showed you a few exercises,” or “How do you see yourself 3, 6 or 9 months from now?”

When talking about goals, needs and current fitness level, the auditory communicator will use phrases such as, “I hear that I should be exercising.” Employ the same style by asking, “What specifically have you heard?”

A prospect who prefers kinesthetic communication may say, “I get the feeling I should be working out.” You will probably have the most success by responding along the same line, asking, “What kind of feelings do you get when you think about starting a workout program?”

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C. Noelle Brownson

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