Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

Listen, listen, listen. 

That’s the most important word in marketing, and in sales. All of your marketing, if it’s being done right, is about your customer, what they want, what they need and how you can help them succeed. The only way to learn any of that is by listening very carefully and very actively to everything they’re telling you in every way.

In my wallet, I carry a laminated slip of paper that was given to me in 1986 by sales coach Bob Leonard. There are only two words on the paper: “I listen.”

It may sound silly, but it’s advice many salespeople should—but don’t—heed.  They sit down with a new prospect and immediately launch into a presentation about how great their solution is. However, the big question is, solution to what? The customer hasn’t yet told them what the problem is, so how can they possibly have a solution?

Or the salesperson will launch into every wonderful thing about their company, many of which the customer couldn’t care less about. Listening to a customer will tell you, if nothing else, what they need to know about you and your company.

Perhaps, they have budget concerns, or their last IT firm didn’t manage the project well. Perhaps, they’re heavily invested in a particular technology. Wouldn’t it be better to know all that before you start telling them that you recommend a competing technology?

Channel Strategy: Active Listening

While many salespeople forget they’re in a conversation and just keep talking, others forget they’re in a conversation and just sit there listening. Sometimes this is a good strategy, as customers often feel the need to fill the silence and keep telling more about themselves, their company, their challenges, sports scores, whatever they can come up with.

Active listening acknowledges that you’re in a conversation. First and foremost, take notes. The moment you take out your notebook, tablet or other medium to record notes, the customer’s perception that you’re interested in what they have to say increases. You may also find the notes useful later on when you craft a solution for this prospect.

Ask questions and then listen carefully to the answer, the entire answer. Don’t keep interrupting them with more questions or comments, unless there’s an important clarification you need from them to keep your notes complete. Let the customer answer completely and then ask your next question.

Let the answers drive more questions, showing the prospect that you’re listening and also comprehending what they’re saying. Confirm key concepts but not every concept. That can get annoying.

Once you feel you have a complete understanding of what they’re telling you, ask if you can restate their concerns back to confirm them. Confirming your understanding also reinforces your customer’s perception that you are paying attention.

Don’t let your concentration wander elsewhere to other sales or other customers or other concerns of any kind.  Just don’t do it. If you find it difficult to stay focused, do a search on “mindfulness” and learn meditation, and how to bring yourself back to the present moment. 

What your prospect is saying to you is not just the most important thing. It’s the only thing going on until the conversation is over. Nothing else in the world is happening.

Channel Marketing: Know Thy Customer

The most important advice any marketer or salesperson can have is “know thy customer.”

The only way to accomplish this is to listen to your customer and record as much as you can of what they say to you. Refresh yourself on these notes every time you’re meeting with that customer, and you will impress them with your concern and interest in them beyond their belief.

It isn’t difficult, and you’ve seen others do it. Usually, those others are very high-level executives. There’s a reason they became so elevated in their careers.

They listen.

Howard Cohen has spent 30-plus years as an executive and community leader inside the IT channel. He now writes and presents about it in Channel Insider, Redmond Channel Partner, Insight Technically, Channel Partner and more.