Episode 60: The Language of Listening – Nigel Green

Predictable Prospecting
Episode 60: The Language of Listening - Nigel Green
00:00 / 00:00
As sales professionals we’re often told to smile before speaking to a client so they can hear the friendliness in our voice, but how often are we trained on listening to the body language clues coming from the other side of the phone? In this episode we’re joined by Nigel Green of Evergreen Consulting, a lifelong student of sales and the psychology of buying and selling. Nigel is an expert when it comes to understanding the power of listening in sales, specifically on the types of language we use while listening and communicating with a prospect.
Episode Highlights:

  • Knowing when it’s time to “get serious”: How Nigel Green decided to focus on top of funnel
  • Creating a framework for language listening
  • Is it possible to read body language over the phone?
  • Red Flags: 8 signs that you’re not listening to the prospect correctly
  • Nigel’s top three techniques for connecting better with a customer
  • Implementing a training and roleplaying schedule for your sales team
  • More from Nigel Green


 Episode Transcript

Marylou: Hi everyone, its Marylou Tyler. I have a guest this week that you’re going to really want to listen to. His name is Nigel Green. He is a lifelong student of sales and buying psychology and all of the things that we love for top of funnel. I’ve asked him to be on the show today because he has an amazing story. Even though he says he is a lifelong student, he’s also a founder of his own sales consultancy by the name of Evergreen. The real cool thing too about Nigel is that he walks the walk. He actually took a company from 2012 to 2015 that he worked at, in 36 months moved that company from $94 million all the way to $350 million. He knows his stuff, he is definitely a person that we’ll want to listen to today and has expertise on the entire funnel. Without further ado, Nigel, welcome to the show, it’s so nice to have you. Nigel: Marylou, thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. Anytime you hear your own story, you listen to the growth that we had from 2012 to 2015 and I’d be remiss not to point out to you that a lot of that growth happened in 2014 and 2015 when we decided to get really serious about the top of our funnel and put into practice Predictable Revenue, sales development, market response techniques and tactics. I’m very grateful for the work that you have done and you really paved the way for a lot of us who want to grow quickly to get that done. Thank you for that. Marylou: You said something, Nigel, that really resonates with me. You said the phrase, “Get serious.” What was the trigger behind you deciding, “Okay, now is the time to really get this thing done.” What happened? Nigel: You may have had something like this where you have been with a hiring manager, maybe someone you work with and they might characterize a sales rep or a sales manager, this person has all the characteristic of a good salesperson. They talk well or they are really good with customers. I don’t know if that’s true, I don’t know that all sales is sales. What I’ve learned is that it’s more science than it is art. I think that people that make the decision and the companies that decide that they’re going to get serious about sales, they leave their gut outside of the boardroom and they allow the data to be something that they listen to. We’re going to hopefully get into conversation today about listening. I want to say that listening is probably the most overlooked aspect of a sales team in a sales organization. You got to be able to listen to your customers, listen to your people. When you get serious, you start listening to the data. Stop ignoring what it says. The truth is always on the data. That’s what we found with Predictable Revenue and Predictable Prospecting, you said, “Numbers very rarely lie to you.” Marylou: That’s so true. Can you frame your story with this growth in the context of listening so that our listeners can come away not only with the framework that you’ve created for listening but also be able to relate it to your story in growing this company? Nigel: My dad used to tell me, “Son, you got two years and one mouth.” It took me probably 16 or 17 and him beating me over the head with that to really understand it. And then, Jim Collins comes along with his book Good to Great. He had an entire chapter on question to statement ratio and how level five leaders are very conscious about two questions for every statement that they make. Then I started thinking about if I’m building a sales team and part of scaling a sales organization is having predictable training and onboarding. It became apparent to me that language is so important, so much in fact that we spend almost all of our training time when we onboard a new sales rep and develop that sales rep on language that they use out of their mouth. What they speak, how they position, how they frame, but we don’t spend hardly any time on the language that we consume. I think that is the most important part of what we do in sales. All day, thousands of times a day, there are sales calls. We ask things of others, potential clients and we’re all attuned to language and signals that language pervades to us, whether it be willingness, commitment, reluctance. I don’t think we practice language listening. I think we practice what is perfective listening. If we talk a little bit today about listening, particularly in a one on one setting, I think that might be something that people listening to this podcast can take away today, practice, and immediately implement in their business. Marylou: That sounds great. You’ve obviously come up with a framework for listening. You want to share that with us? Nigel: Good listening is fundamental to sales but the good question is what is it? I want to start with what it’s not. Good listening is not being quiet and letting the customer talk. I think that’s where most people start. “I’m going to listen, I’m going to be really focused in this meeting and I’m not going to talk.” Yes, creating space for the customers to talk is essential, but being quiet isn’t listening. What typically happening is while our customer is speaking, is we are thinking about what we want to say next. We’re all guilty of it from time to time, that’s not listening. That’s thinking or planning. When I’m talking about listening Marylou, I’m really talking about active listening. Once you learn active listening, you have an invaluable gift. Not only gift to those with whom you come in contact, but also your customer will feel more appreciated and you will eventually have more sales. That’s really what we’re in this business to do, to create more sales, add more value. When we’re actively listening to a customer, completely attentively, then we are listening not only to the words but also the feelings being conveyed. We’re listening to the feelings that the customer is trying to express to us. We’re listening to the whole conversation at that point, not just part of it. What we know to be true is that people buy things based on how the solution of the product makes them feel. If we’re not listening for those non-verbal things or their body language and the feelings that are being conveyed, we’re not listening. Stephen Covey wrote 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m sure you read that book. You are one of the most effective people I know. Marylou: Yes, I’ve read it. Nigel: He talks about the five levels of listening. He says the most surficial level is really just ignoring. We’ve all been in meetings, we’re guilty about it,  we’ve seen someone that just ignored us. Then, there’s pretending or maybe we’re just doing the nod but we’re checking and looking at our phone and nodding at someone. Selective listening, we hear what we want to hear. There’s attentive listening and there’s empathetic listening. We want to get to the place of empathetic listening because what that really does is it opens an opportunity for the customer to stay on track, to continue considering and exploring what might be an uncomfortable reality of the business. As we have conversations with these customers, we inevitably are going to reach a point in the conversation where we want to contribute. Sometimes we feel the need maybe to affirm their feelings or maybe to interject and challenge their opinions. How we respond is going to be important and also an indicator of whether or not we’re listening or whether we’re not listening. What I’ve done is created some training around eight times to know that you’re not listening and I think it might be cool if we ran through those and give your opinion on some of these eight signs that a rep or a manager is not listening on the sales call. Marylou: Let’s do that. One thing I want to clarify for the audience, you mentioned the term body language which sort of implies you have a belly to belly, face to face thing that is going on. Is body language a term you can use when you are working on the phone? Nigel: Absolutely. Body language, I can hear you breathing, Marylou. That is a non-verbal auditory response to how you feel. That could be a sigh, pauses, fidgeting. If you are on the phone with someone, you can feel that they’re fidgeting, you are deserving their body language on the other hand. Body language is true and important because even though every inside sales position we’ve been in, they talk about before you get on the phone, smile. We’ve all been on the other end of a phone call where we just know that person is not smiling or that person is having a bad day. I think we can intuit body language through the phone. Marylou: Cool. I just wanted to clarify that for the audience so that when you go through this eight signs, it doesn’t matter modality wise whether you’re belly to belly in the same office or you’re on the phone or you get to see them through a video chat type of thing or even probably chat. There are certain ways people type that you can get a gist of what they’re feeling, how they’re behaving, etc. Just open your mind, audience, to the fact that this is just not face to face related. It’s all methods of communication via all modalities. Nigel: Correct. You want to start with the first one? Marylou: Let’s do it. Nigel: This is one of my favorites, it’s telling. Telling when we give an order and we try to direct the customer’s next response or we issue up a command. Here’s how this one goes. The client says,”I just don’t know if we need new chairs.” You’re actually telling if your response is anything like this. “You’ve got to sit in our new line of chairs, they’re so much more comfortable.” We didn’t hear them say that they may not be needing new chairs, we actually just jumped right into telling them that they have to sit in new chairs. That’s a response that would be from a rep that is telling and actually not listening. All of these are indications again that you are not listening. The second one is scaring. Scaring happens when we warn, caution or threaten a customer. Your customer might say, “We’re really pleased with our current provider.” Then a rep, you might say something like this. “Did you see a recent article about the lawsuit? I think they’re going to be in big trouble.” That’s kind of using negative or some type of scaring tactic to get them to really think about our offering. But it’s just another sign of not listening. Consulting. This is kind of one that I think a lot of people have a hard time embracing the fact that they may not actually be listening because they see themselves as a consultative sales person. There actually is a role in that. You have to use it appropriately. Consulting is giving advice, making suggestions, or providing solutions before the customer has asked for your opinion. The client might say to you, “One of our newest robots broke down yesterday during surgery.” And then the rep would respond, “Why do you call the manufacturer and ask for it to be replaced?” They didn’t ask for you to tell them what to do, they asserted that one of their newest robots broke down yesterday. A more appropriate response might have been, “Oh, that must have been inconvenient, can you tell me about it?” It’s a subtle difference but it’s asking for more, it’s keeping the conversation going, it’s letting them continue the drive. The fourth is tricking. We trick when we persuade with logic, provide figures out of context or just make up success stories. I see this happen all too often. We state facts and figures that haven’t been scientifically validated. Where this comes out is a client might say, “I’d love to see some white papers on the product.” The rep will respond, “We’re working on some material but I can’t tell you.” 97% of customers see it as an improvement. I laugh at that because we see it all the time, everybody loves this. When customers are asking, let’s not trick. Let’s actually give them statistically validated data on that. Another one we see, Marylou, is combatting, disagreeing, judging or criticizing the customer’s decision; that’s all just being combative. I like to tell people, “Just don’t argue with the decision maker.” That will go everything against some of these challenger sales models. Marylou: The gist of the delivery is to get the clients thinking outside the box. But, there’s a circuitous path to get there and there is the direct path. I think the challenger books really talk about the direct path. “No, you’re wrong.” I was listening to a podcast the other day where they were discussing the challenger customer. He even said the words, “You’re wrong,” to the client. I could never do that. That’s not in my DNA to do that. Nigel: “I don’t know if this service is actually saving us money.” The rep might respond, “Of course it is, look at last month’s report that we sent you.” That’s being combative even though you’re trying to help them make a more informed decision. A more appropriate response to that would be, when they say, “I don’t know if the service is actually saving us money.” You affirm them by saying, “You aren’t sure the service is living up to your expectations, is that right?” That is more appropriate. What it does is let them know that I heard what you said. I heard you say that you’re unsure about it and I’m not going to pick a fight with you. Ultimately, you have to be right for this to work, let’s just go with it. There are just a few more stroking. When we approve or praise a customer, we’re just stroking their ego. We shouldn’t do this. That again may seem against the grain but especially when we agree and we actually don’t. A lot of times, we just want to get to business so we’re saying yes, we don’t mean that and it damages our credibility later down the road. And then there’s counselling, reassuring, consoling and sympathizing. It doesn’t help the customer buy. It’s not helpful at all. A client might say, “It hasn’t been a very good year for our division, sales are down 30% compared to last year.” A more appropriate response to that might be, “Division sales are down, do you want to talk about it?” What most reps would say is, “Well, don’t worry, most of my customers are experiencing decrease sales too. You’ll be fine next quarter.” That’s not helpful and we’re not listening to them when we say that. They’re giving us an opportunity to engage at a different level and we’re just counseling them. The last one is distracting. I see this from a lot of new reps. I’d be interested to hear your feedback on it. Humoring, changing the subject, leading statements are always to get the customer off track. One way we do that is, client says, “I noticed our spend went up 58% this month. What was that about?” “Yeah, but did you see where your overall spend went down 3%, isn’t that what’s important?” Just a distraction. A better response to that might be, “Correct. It was up this month. Would you like to look at it a little bit deeper?” Marylou: Yup. Nigel: Those are really some of the eight things that we want to teach. I think if reps will focus on what are the customers are saying and try to eliminate and really manage our own behavior in these meetings and eliminate these eight signs that we’re not listening, I think ultimately you’ll sell more. I’ve seen it play out with reps that focus on what they hear and not what they say. Marylou: It’s interesting because I heard you help us, and thank you for that. Giving us what not to do but also suggesting what to do. A lot of times, we’re faced with learning mode. Don’t do these emails, it’s notorious. This is a bad email. Okay well, give me the contrast. Give me the good email from the bad email so that I can learn. I do appreciate you mapping for us what not to do with a suggestion of how to overcome that and what to do to make the conversation better and with more empathy. Nigel: There are three more things that I want to share, this is what you should do. The number one thing you should do is you should give your customer affirmation even when it’s bad news. When they say something, when they assert, one way to let people know that you’re really listening is to affirm them. Even if it’s just as simple as, “I hear you. I appreciate you.” The number two thing is a reflective statement. This makes a guess about what the customer is meeting. It tries to say it in a different way. Articulate it with your own words to show that you’re trying to deepen the understanding by clarifying whether or not our guess is accurate. This also allows the customer to hear again the feelings they are expressing. If we use different words, it also forces the customer to ponder. They have to continue to sit with the pain that’s in their business. Good reflective statements keep the customer talking, exploring and considering. The third thing is summary. I don’t think we’ve close enough of our sales-calls with good summaries. We’re very quick to distribute the action items, who’s going to do what and who’s appropriate for that. We’re not summarizing, “Here’s what the essence of what you felt and how I’m responding to the feelings you shared with me.” I think if we do those three things, we will come off as more real and more genuine speakers, guides and providers for our customers. Marylou: Getting back to the amazing growth that you shared at the top of this podcast. From a process standpoint, how were you able to get those skills to a point where it became second nature for the team to not do the eight and instead do the three things that would allow us to have more meaningful conversation with our clients, which probably reduce the lag in the pipeline because you were able to take their hand and guide them gently pulling them through from a cold conversation to a qualified op. Did you come up with a training schedule or role playing schedule? How did this actually come from assembly to activation and then optimization of listening? Nigel: Very good question. Every training program you can think of, part of the graduation or at least part of the completion process includes the rep having to stand up in front of a room and give a pitch. We just flip that upside down. We observe through film, we observe and then have them watch it. We spend more time on listening than we do on talking during sales training. There’s a five day week. Instead of spending all five days on learning the competitive landscape, talking about pitches and product positioning and going over sales and marketing material, we’re just going to roleplay actual meetings. This is for the sales managers. If you start incorporating this into your training, what you’ll find is you need a different type of rep to be successful in today’s marketplace. So much of industry experience and what they did before they got to your organization, that won’t matter as much. It’s can they engage at a more effective level. If you can train on listening, the ramp up time? Fast. It’s so much more fast than if you put a rep out there, they run around telling, distracting, scaring customers. What I’ve seen, you talk about the top of the funnel, we started having a greater acceptance rate of qualified leads to the account executive who were a properly trained on listening. So much of the reason before that we were rejecting leads is we just weren’t listening to the customer, we wanted to put them in a box. When we started listening better, we noticed that there was a far greater increase to the number of qualified leads that got pointed over from our development team to the account executives. Marylou: And the acceptance rate remained high. Nigel: Remained very high. Marylou: That’s an important metric for us. One of the first places I look in a pipeline that’s cranky is to see, especially if we separated the roles that you were mentioning, there are people doing business development. Once the lead is qualified, it’s handed to a quota carrying rep to take it the rest of the way. In your situation, there’s a hand off, passing the baton as we used to call it in Predictable Revenue and that point is one of the metrics that I really look at when I go in and start analyzing the health of the pipeline. I’m happy to hear that, not only that you get more people to go from an SQL to as ASL status, qualified lead to accepted, but the quality of those leads remained high, which is great. Nigel: Here’s the other thing that affects the bottom of the funnel, Marylou, and that is retention. There’s this old adage, it’s so much easier to sell something new to a customer you already have than it is to go get a new customer. A lot of companies are experiencing churn where they got to bring on 31 clients because they’re going to lose 29 in the month. Listening unlocks an ability to keep customers happy, upsell them, cross sell them to ancillary products or services that they may not already be buying, charge more money for the same thing. What we also found is that’s a real key to growth. It’s not always about how do you get all these new customers, it’s how do you keep the ones you have happy, engaged and willing to write you a check. Listening unlocks a lots of them for you. Marylou: Indeed. Nigel, it’s been great having you on the show. I very much appreciate you coming on. One of the questions I’m sure that’s bubbling up to the top in the audience is, “This sounds like something I want to get my arms around. I heard him strategically tell me the pros and cons. Now I want to implement some type of tactical.” How do we get to that next step? How do we get ahold of you? What resources do you recommend that we look at? Nigel: I’m really easy to find. You can go to nigelgreen.me or you can send me an email. I check all of my messages. It’s just nigel@nigelgreen.me and I’m open to having a conversation and talking more about the value of listening. Some great resources that are out there on listening, there’s a book called Ask, it’s by Ryan Levesque. There’s another book, it’s a clinical book. It’s called Motivational Interviewing and it’s a clinical technique that are used by clinicians to engage a patient that may be unwilling to change. A lot of what you learned about listening, you can take from commissions. They do a great job of helping convince people with their own motivation to do the right thing. Those are a couple of resources that I would check out for sure. Marylou: I just want to say one more thing about Nigel’s background is primarily healthcare. What’s really interesting, I use this forever, is that in my teaching on the skill side, we talk about diagnosing the problem as a doctor would be coming in and trying to figure out where are you hurt. Part of the questioning process is to really dig deep, we call it the root analysis, we called it the five whys, whatever it’s called. It’s an analogy to us going into the doctor’s office and really not knowing what’s wrong with us and trying to drill down to the root of the problem. I would look to the healthcare industry for a lot of the questioning and listening techniques because of the fact that it’s dealing a lot with human behavior for sure. Nigel: We often make a dangerous assumption that we have to compete to win business and if they don’t do business with us, our competitor is going to get the business. Why studying health care is so important is because doctors don’t lose patients to another doctor. Doctors lose patients who choose to take no action, to do nothing. I think that when you start studying what doctors do and how they engage patients to change, you’ll learn that you might actually be losing more business to customers who do nothing than choose to do business with your competitor. Marylou: Exactly. This whole status quo. We used to call it in house. They just would want to keep it in house. They didn’t want to do anything about it. There wasn’t enough of a motivation or any sense of urgency to get them to realize, “Wow. This is something that’s really going to transform me, my company, my department. Active listening gets us to that place a lot faster so that we can reduce that lag in the pipeline going from initial conversation to close. Nigel: Absolutely. Marylou: Thank you so much, Nigel, for your time. I very much appreciate it as I said and I will put all those notes out there for you guys to take this power of one and just take one of those three listening techniques that Nigel recommended and start mastering it. That’s what we do here. Power of one. Thanks everyone and have a great week!