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Hearing What We Want To Hear

by David Brock on September 11th, 2013

One of the biggest errors any of us can make is Hearing What We Want To Hear.  Most of the time it’s totally unconscious, we don’t realize what we are doing.

As sales people, we want to engage the customer, we want to qualify the opportunity, we want to win the deal.  We’re taught to probe and question.  However, too often, those questions elicit only the thing we want to hear but not the real view, attitudes, or even needs of the customer. So we engage them in discussions about their business.  We uncover dreams and opportunities.  We discover challenges.  The customer is engaged, their body language is right.  We’re on the path to qualifying an moving the deal forward.  But we fail to discover–Do they intend to do anything about it.  Is the opportunity big enough for them to pursue, investing time, resources, and money in making the change?  We mistake their positive reactions to our conversation, the quality of the discussion, and so forth as signs that indicate they are interested and committed to making a change.

We know we have to ask those questions, but we don’t.  We may be just so happy that we’ve found a customer that’s willing to talk and engage.  We’re afraid to push them with the hard questions—possibly because we may be afraid of the answer.

Or we listen with an agenda.  We ask questions that will elicit the responses we want, ready to pounce once we hear them.  After all, we really want to be pitching, we want to be telling them about our product

Or we are later in the buying cycle and we  ask, “Do you like our solution?”  If the customer replies, “Yes…..,”  we are overjoyed, head back to the office and commit the deal to the forecast.  But we may not have probed sufficiently.  Is our solution superior to any other they are considering?  Are there things they are unhappy with about our solution?  Do they really intend to change?

We constantly look for answers that keep us moving forward.  We look for the things that confirm what we want to believe–even if those answers may not represent reality.

As managers we do the same thing.  We hear what we want to hear.  We may not like a person that reports to us.  In a review, we constantly look for faults and things they are doing wrong—missing the great things they are doing.  Or the opposite, our favorite sales person, we have great reviews about all the things they are doing well–but skip over those things they could improve.  In both cases we fail to do our job–we fail to get people to perform to their full potential.

Or  managers look at the pipelines—we have the right coverage– 3, 5, whatever we’ve determined the number to be.  But we fail to drill down to look at pipeline coverage.

Or your people are jumping to your ultimatums, not only responding to what we have told them to do, but smiling and saying, “How high?”  But behind your back, they are worried, skeptical, polishing their resumes.  They may fear telling you the truth because you really don’t want to hear the truth, you just want them to do what you tell them to do.  They’ve reverted to keeping their heads down and out of trouble.

Our belief systems, our values, our biases, our attitudes or opinions all cloud what we hear.  We seldom stop to consider are we hearing what is really being said?  Are we understanding things as they are, rather than what we want them to be.

One of the biggest sources of performance failures, individually and organizationally, is the inability to see things as they are, to understand the true facts, to confront reality—however good or bad it might be.  We choose to be blind to differing points of view, other perspectives, or facts that don’t fit the reality we construct for ourselves.

The funny thing about confronting reality is that once we really understand what’s going on, where we’re at, what the situation is; we can start to develop and execute strategies that move us to where we want to be.  We can always solve the problem, we just have to know what the problem is and be solving the right problems.

Are you listening openly?  Perhaps even with some skepticism?

Are you questioning your premises or assumptions?

Are you trying to really understand others’ points of views?  Are you willing to change yours?

Are you asking yourself, “What am I missing?”

Or are you just hearing what you want to hear?

Are you trying to discover what is, not what you want things to be?

Are you prepared to confront reality?

 Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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2 Comments
  1. one concept that really stood out to us in the Challenger Sale – when your customer responds with “Yes! that’s what’s been keep me up at night” – that’s actually not the response salespeople should be looking for.

    You want to actually define a problem they haven’t even thought of yet. It creates so much more value.

    I thought of this specifically when you mentioned pushing the customer with tougher questions – not always easy but it takes reps further!!

    • Brent, thanks for the great comment! I agree, too often, we respond to the immediate need and don’t push to understand the real underlying issues. It’s kind of like treating the symptoms. We need to probe and push, so we understand the real issues the customer faces—we probably create greater value doing so. Thanks for contributing to the discussion! Regards, Dave

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