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    Did your buyer say what your salesperson heard? Probably not.

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    In theory, conversation is easy. Humans are built for it. I say something, you hear it and respond, and I hear your response. We exchange information and both of us walk away understanding each other better.

    In reality, communication is much more complex, and we often misunderstand each other, sometimes catastrophically. In fact, according to research, we hear each other correctly far less often than we think we do - and this has major implications for salespeople.

    Why we don’t always hear what the buyer actually said

    When it comes to communication, there are three points at which things can go wrong:

    1. Something on the speaker’s end - the speaker doesn’t say what they meant
    2. Something on the listener’s end - the listener doesn’t hear what was said correctly
    3. Something in the space between the two - the speaker and the listener experienced the communication differently

    Sometimes buyers don’t say exactly what they mean. This can be due to poor communication skills, but often it’s simply a matter of human nature. The world is full of distractions, especially with so many people working from home now. A cat, a dog, a child, music in the background, the neighbor’s making noise, or assuming that the other person will pick up what we're saying "between the lines" - any of these things can create distractions that cause the speaker to choose words that don’t accurately communicate what they mean.

    Even when the speaker is completely accurate in their communication, the listener doesn’t always hear correctly.

    In fact, it’s worse than that - even the inside of our own heads can provide distractions that prevent us saying what we mean. And if we mumble or stutter, the listener’s brain often fills in the gaps, and not always in the way we need them to. As someone wise once said: "We exclude and distort information to preserve our generalizations."

    Even when the speaker is completely accurate and complete in their communication, the listener doesn’t always hear correctly. The same distractions that cause speakers to miscommunicate can cause listeners to hear incorrectly.


    How to hear what the buyer actually means

    As long as there are salespeople and buyers, there will always be humans involved in complex b2b dealings. And where there are humans, there is the potential for miscommunication.

    There are a number of ways to help salespeople hear what buyers are actually saying - and one of them is simple and underused: Teach them better note-taking skills.

    1. Teach them to write down what was actually said in quotation marks
      When taking notes, it’s tempting to just jot down a few main points. But when it comes to understanding the buyer, writing down their actual words and placing them in quotation marks can yield better understanding. Quotation marks help differentiate between where the salesperson is recording what they think they heard - and when they’re recording the actual words spoken.

      It helps the salesperson’s brain more accurately hear and understand what was actually said (to prevent assumptions.) And it builds trust with the buyer when they come back two weeks later and remember precisely the words spoken.
    2. Teach them to repeat back what they think they heard
      When the buyer says something important, repeat it back to them and ask if they’ve been understood. Salespeople can use phrases like, “What I think I heard you say is...” or “Did I understand correctly that you want to...” in order to slow the conversation down and smooth out any differences in communication.
    3. Review and follow up later
      Often, in the midst of a conversation, we miss important opportunities to dig deeper. When salespeople take good notes, they can go back and see where the conversation could have gone deeper and where they would like to follow up. This opens up opportunities for them to continue the conversation in a meaningful way.
    4. Tell the customer you are taking notes
      Sometimes, it helps to let the customer know what you are doing. Not too long ago, I was furiously typing notes while talking to a partner. He heard me typing and wondered what I was doing. If he hadn’t asked me, he might have assumed I was typing emails or otherwise distracted. Instead, once I explained, he felt reassured that I was truly paying attention. Remember to tell your conversational partner that you are making notes to make sure that nothing important is missed.

      If you are using call recording software that can provide a transcript, you can reduce the need to make notes, which helps you be even more in the moment. If so, Write down the time slots where important topics were discussed and go back to these passages afterwards to highlight as notes.
    5. Coaches and managers should take notes too
      Coaches and managers can misunderstand salespeople for all the same reasons salespeople misunderstand customers. Taking notes can help managers understand their people better, and respond to the concerns and needs of their team more directly and productively.

    Listening skills are critical to sales, and should be part of any complete sales training and coaching program. Note-taking is a simple and effective way for salespeople to quickly improve their performance in this regard.

    I’d love to know your tips and tricks for taking better notes and hearing what the customer says. How are your salespeople performing on this measure?

    George Brontén
    Published March 9, 2022
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn