A Lesson in Listening

I don’t have to tell you how important repeat business is in any industry. That’s how I made as much as I did during my career. I knew how important getting those customers back was, so I worked at sharpening my listening skills my entire career. But I too had to learn that lesson the hard way. I can remember a very specific instance early in my career when I took my eye off the ball for a moment and it cost me a sale. But it was a valuable lesson.

Listening To Your Customers

A well known contractor came in to see me one day to buy a loaded, top of the line model. After going through all the steps with this prospect, including a demo ride, I handed him the pen to sign the purchase agreement. He balked, politely excused himself, and left. I couldn’t figure out what happened. “How did I blow this sale?” I asked myself. Later that evening, when I was going through my meditation process as I reviewed the day, I could only think about that failure. I kept pressing myself for an answer to the question, “What went wrong?” Finally, as the evening wore on, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I picked up the phone and called Dominic. I told him that if I wanted to become a better salesman than I was that afternoon, I needed to know what I did or said that made him leave without buying.

“Dominic, would you tell me what I did wrong?” I asked. He said, “You’re serious, aren’t you?” “You bet I am”. “Alright. ARE YOU LISTENING NOW?” he said bluntly. “I’m all ears”. “Well you weren’t this afternoon.” He proceeded to tell me that he had just made up his mind to buy from me when, in a moment of final hesitation, he started to tell me how proud he was of his son, Jimmy, who was studying to be a doctor. He talked about his son’s academic and athletic achievements as well as his ambitions. As he recalled these comments from our meeting, I must confess I couldn’t remember him saying any of it. I was obviously not focused and not listening to him. He went on to say that he had noticed ( the customer has keen senses too) I didn’t seem to care much. It was as though now that I had this sale clinched, I didn’t need to show any interest in anything he had to say anymore, not even something that was dear to his heart. In his mind, he went from being a customer to a guy with a checkbook. The truth of the matter was that he had far greater needs than transportation; he needed to be complimented on something that was more important to him, a son who was his pride and joy—something I rapidly dismissed. In other words, I BLEW IT!

I have said repeatedly that the product or service a customer buys from you is YOU before it is anything else. What he was really buying that afternoon, along with the car, was me. And quite frankly, on that particular day, I didn’t measure up. At the end of the conversation, I apologized to him for not paying attention and thanked him for being so straightforward with me. I also told him that no wonder his son was doing so well because he had a very special dad who cared so very much about him. My parting comment to him was, “Perhaps the next time you’ll give me a second chance and buy from me”.

I learned two lessons from that experience. First, failing to recognize the importance of listening carefully can cost you a sale. Second, if I took that lesson to heart, maybe, just maybe, I could one day recapture that lost sale. Those were the lessons I never forgot from that day forward. I never made that mistake again. And yes, there was a next time. Dominic did buy from me. I did recapture that sale. So how do you go about being a good listener? Before you can become a truly good listener, you must first make an honest effort to pay attention to what is being said to you. This means blocking everything else out and focusing on the message. When people ask me: “How did you become the world’s greatest retail salesperson?” I tell them I started by listening first. The rest is history.