Steel Products

The Truth About Selling Steel: The Art of Listening

Written by John Packard

Written by: John Packard, President & CEO Steel Market Update

Your customer will tell you what you need to know. The key is to listen. The key is to suppress your temptation to dominate the conversation.

Brian Buckalew, Vice President of Business Development, Majestic Steel, recently wrote in a LinkedIn post:

“People that are not in sales tend to think that the most outgoing person in the room is the best salesperson. What I have learned over the last 28 years is that the best listener tends to be the best salesperson. Many times, salespeople are viewed in a negative light as fast talking people. However, I believe the people that are the best at servicing their customer’s needs are the ones that listen well and have the most leverage in closing business. A fast talker might miss what a customer really needs.”

This led me to think about my past sales experiences and to reflect on the art of listening.

argumentOne summer, during my college days, I sold encyclopedias door to door. This was not a glamorous or high-paying job (straight commission), but it was one that taught me many lessons. One was the need to identify whether those you had targeted could be a potential customer. The way you discovered if you were speaking to a family that would actually pay for the encyclopedias was to present specific questions that required specific responses. If you were not asking the right questions, and if you were not taking the time to listen to their responses, there was little chance of making a sale. A real example from my encyclopedia experience was to ask, “How important is education in the lives of your children?” The question was not an isolated off the top of my head statement. It was meant to elicit a specific response. If I continued to talk and not wait for a response, I was missing an opportunity to qualify the level of potential interest for the product I was attempting to sell.

I was an awful encyclopedia salesperson. I had not yet learned how to listen, respond appropriately to what was being shared, and then listen some more.

Selling steel is no different.

The key is to develop a plan that includes a couple of specific questions. The questions are meant to elicit specific responses or pieces of information you can build upon.

Another part of your preparation is to anticipate questions you will be asked. Think about how you will address those questions before you ever step inside the company you are going to visit (or speak to on the phone).

As a young salesman, I remember sitting in front of the head of steel purchasing for General Electric Appliance Park and being at a loss as to what to say. I remember the buyer taking charge of the conversation by asking me why their company should do business with my company? This was followed by an awkward silence, and a missed opportunity as I had not been prepared with an answer. In retrospect it should have been the easiest response since I was talking to someone who did not know either me or the company I represented.

Before you speak to a customer, or potential client, if you have developed a plan, an outline of questions and potential responses, then you are a step closer to success. However, if you become a “fast talker” and forget what should be obvious – to listen to what the other person is saying, and how they are saying it – your chances of making the sale are fleeting.

Know your tendencies, practice with your friends and family, and take the time to learn the art of listening. Your customers, work colleagues and your family will appreciate this one skill much more than you realize.

This article is one of dozens that can be found in The Truth About Selling Steel section of the SMU website. There is also another section dedicated to steel buyers entitled: Steel Buyers Basics.

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