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Sales Teams: Are You Listening AND Understanding?

Recently, I’ve had several experiences where I’m talking to buyers, they ask a question, and then as I respond to the question, they tell me the answer I’m providing isn’t answering their question. It’s frustrating for them. It’s frustrating for me. It doesn’t move the opportunity forward in any way and most of the time damages their confidence and trust in me – ouch!

As someone who prides himself on really trying to actively listen and understand what my buyers are telling me, this is incredibly discouraging. The buyer isn’t doing anything wrong. The fault resides solely with me and my biases that I’m allowing to influence what I think they’re saying, or what I think is important to them.

The fact is what I think doesn’t matter, at least not at the beginning of a relationship when I haven’t gained the buyer’s trust, which is based on my ability to understand and meet their needs. The only thing that matters in the beginning is truly listening AND understanding what the buyer is saying about their needs.

This is easier said than done. I doubt there is a sales representative that thinks they don’t listen to their buyers (at least those reps that care about what they do). However, we know this is the biggest area of opportunity for many organizations, because the most frequent reason that organizations lose business, as stated by their buyers, is they did not fully understand the buyer’s needs.

And that means that your competitor did a better job of listening, understanding, and then addressing the buyer’s needs.

Proactively Listening to Buyers Can Influence Decisions

Listening to buyers influences decisionsOne of the most important duties of Primary Intelligence’s consultants is having conversations with our client’s buyers to uncover the criteria that affected or influenced the buyer’s decision. We call these decision drivers.

In addition to uncovering these decision drivers, we need to understand how these criteria were weighted by the buyer. Once we understand the decision drivers for an opportunity along with their individual weight, we complete a discovery session with the sales team responsible for the opportunity.

The purpose of the discovery session is to reveal the root causes of the decision drivers identified by the buyers. These sessions are about understanding the sales team’s approach, perceptions and beliefs about the buyer’s needs, and anything else that occurred that led to them having an advantage, in the case of a win, or a disadvantage, in the case of a loss, in the buyer’s buying criteria (the decision drivers).

Discussing Past Sales Deals Uncovers Buyers’ Decision Drivers

people-coffee-tea-meetingWhen our consultants uncover how different criteria are weighted by the buyer, they often reveal how the sales team has focused on price, or particular product features, or specific product benefits at the expense of the deal. In other words, we didn’t fully understand the buyer’s needs and as a result we focused on the wrong things – things that weren’t important to the buyer.

Recently, a buyer explained how our client had seemed like a good fit for their needs but lost by failing to offer what they requested in their proposal. When we reviewed the decision drivers in the discovery session with the sales team responsible for the opportunity, the sales representative, backed up by colleagues, explained the decision-making process.

We offered something fairly comparable to what they were asking for in our eyes, but at a very competitive price. If we had given them what they asked for, it would have come with a price premium.”

Moments earlier at the beginning of the discovery session, we had explained how the buyer had crafted the business case to take price out of consideration and instead keep the focus on how the vendor’s solutions could address their most important needs.

Since this had not been absorbed by the sales team, we restated it.

“The buyer said that price was weighted at only five percent among the four criteria.”

There was only silence as the sales team digested the meaning of what had actually affected the buyer’s decision to choose a competitor’s solution.

Addressing Buyer Needs Puts You One Step Ahead of the Competition

Listening to buyers - staying ahead of competitionAs a competitor, I really don’t like it when someone outperforms me. As a sales representative, learning that a competitor did a better job of listening, understanding and addressing the buyer’s needs should always be viewed as a learning opportunity. Never rationalize the situation or buyer’s feedback away – this is something that we see in discovery sessions with sales teams who are new to Win Loss analysis.

Instead of rationalizing the loss or your actions, look at what the buyer said the competitor did differently and contrast that with your sales approach and strategy with them. This is your opportunity to improve your sales skills in a way that will lead to you winning more future opportunities.

Your alternative is to continue to repeat history.

Every lost deal is an opportunity to improve, understand mistakes, see missed opportunities, and take those lessons learned into your next sales opportunities. The best sales professionals are the ones that take advantage of every loss they have to identify where they can improve.


Are you checking in with your buyers to see if your solution is the best solution for their needs from their perspective?

Ken Allred on sabtwitterKen Allred on sablinkedinKen Allred on sabemail
Ken Allred
Founder & CEO at Primary Intelligence
Ken is a thought leader in SaaS-based sales intelligence, analytics, and sales enablement solutions. He is committed to the optimization of sales, marketing and product management teams through the implementation of advanced Sales 2.0 intelligence solutions.
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