Leadership / Management

Don’t sell. Listen, then solve.


There are some rare souls out there -- Steve Jobs, for instance -- who could sell us air. Why? Because they make the air. They produce the things we didn't even know we needed until we saw them.

Here's the problem: Geniuses like Jobs convinced the rest of us that we could sell the same way: "Here's my stuff. Buy it!"

It doesn't work that way, does it?

The really great salespeople (and yes, CPAs -- you are salespeople, like it or not) do two things before trying to make any sale. First, they ask questions. Second, they listen. I mean, they really listen. What do their clients want? What do they need?

The answers to those two questions will drive the conversation. Great salespeople don't sell products or services. They solve problems. And they can't solve their clients' problems until they understand those problems.

That requires two skills that too many salespeople lack -- shutting up and listening.

Business Learning Institute thought leader Greg Conderacci says every selling situation requires a die-hard focus on four areas:

  • Why you? Why should a client choose you and your firm over the competition?
  • Benefits, not features. If your answer to “Why you?” is a feature (experience, age of firm, number of CPAs, industry expertise, dedication, commitment, number or type of clients, etc.), you’re missing the boat. What are the specific benefits the prospect is seeking?
  • Question for needs. You won’t know the answer to the question “What’s in it for them?” unless you ask what they need.
  • Listen.

Which raises another question: How do we listen?

That question isn't as stupid as it sounds. Too many of us are so focused on what we are going to say next that we fail to really hear what the other person is saying.

There's an art to listening, and Andrew Rose set out to find it.

In this MACPA article, Rose -- director of marketing and business development for Naden / Lean -- asked fellow marketers for their opinions on how CPAs can improve their listening skills. Among their answers:

  • "Listening begins with asking the right questions. Don’t use questions to show how smart you are. Ask questions that get to the heart of what you need to learn -- ask questions that actually elicit the information you want."
  • "Fight the temptation that you know what they are going to say."
  • "Backtrack what you are hearing to get agreement and support clarity. It might help to reiterate, 'So, what I hear you saying is ...'"
  • "Carefully determine when to insert an appropriate question that will guide them to discovery. If you remain truly present, without your own agenda, this should come instinctively."
  • And for God's sake, put away the smartphones. You can't check your e-mail and listen at the same time.

Read more of Rose's advice here, then tell us: What are your favorite tips for becoming a better listener?

Want to learn more?
These customizable BLI programs will help you improve your listening skills:


Bill Sheridan