Chasing sales outcomes limits the types of conversations you need to generate to make the sale. Why? Because it impacts what you listen for, how you listen, and your credibility as you present your case for change. I think it can be said that the person who listens the best will learn the most and will build the best case for “why” the prospect should make that change. It can also be said that if you and your competition are both focused on an outcome, there will be little difference in the extent of your listening and argument for change.

Let’s start with what it takes to procure a new conversation with a prospect. The effort in constructing an effective email that you hope will elicit a prospect response. The risk in making the phone call when they don’t respond to your email. And the constant internal and external pressure you feel to persuade someone to accept your invitation to meet. Week after week, year after year. It’s understandable why you might be so jacked up to make sure any meeting you get has a positive and productive outcome. You know that:

    1. It’s a payoff and gratification of your initial prospecting effort if the meeting turns into something.‌‌‌
    2. If the meeting turns into something, it’s less time you have to spend subjecting yourself to the arduous process of going back to the drawing board and starting the whole outreach process over.
    3. There’s a financial reward if you can engage the prospect in your sales process and convince them to want to do business with you.

So, what do you listen for when meeting with a prospect? Given the emotional impact of the three points above, you listen for anything that signals a path toward “next steps” – an outcome.

For most, generating next steps is how you judge your performance in the meeting, and the value of your time. You’ve also learned that it’s a required part of the process if you are eventually to make a sale. Here are two reasons why focusing on next steps actually works against you:

  1. It directly influences what you want to hear vs. what you need to hear. You will innately only listen for words, phrases, and commentary that will help you achieve your next steps.
  2. You will only ask questions that help you direct the conversation, discovery, and evaluation toward your desired next steps. Your listening is finely tuned toward the ultimate path of achieving an outcome.

However, spending time on the things you want to hear because they help you achieve your next steps is not what helps your prospect debate and decide on change. If it were, you’d have a closing ratio far greater than what you experience today. Answer this, what percentage of prospects that agree to a second meeting, or hand over their data for review, become clients?

Think about it, the sum of your outcomes – procuring data to analyze, gaining a second meeting and an invitation to present, don’t always add up to the whole – making the sale. The fact is – what you don’t take the time to hear and understand always comes back to bite you in the ass, so free up your listening to better identify and understand the barriers before it’s too late.

Finally, because you compete every day for the prospect’s time and trust – differentiating is critical. Think how your competition approaches this endeavor – platforms, promotions, processes, and promises. Everyone searching for that next great technological nuance, each competitor canceling the investment and effort of the other like a military arms race, these are the actions that dominate the arena – and yet the real differentiator is right there in front of everyone, and it’s free.

If you want to sound and feel different to your prospects, then start doing what a majority of your competition will not – temporarily compartmentalize the pursuit of an outcome and listen to what your prospect is really saying.