Nathan was the latest to follow the same pattern as the others at Audio SuperStore. He started out with great promise, listening and learning. He quickly became the top salesperson in the store. Then, just like the others, his sales started to slip each month, lower and lower. Then he quit because commissions follow sales, and he wasn’t making much money.

Sally, the head of sales, was reading a report from the consultants hired to determine why sales staff, like Nathan, would start out so good at selling, and quickly become so bad at it. She shook her head after reading the report. The answer to the problem was about listening.

The report identified that new salespeople started out in their new job listening. They listened to other staff members because they were eager to learn. They especially listened to customers to better understand their needs. Based on what they learned, they became good at matching what the customer needed with the best type of speakers for them. The more they listened, the more they sold.

As their tenure continued, they also learned a lot about speakers and ultimately felt they were an “expert.” Once they believed they were an expert, they stopped listening to customers and began telling them what was needed based on very limited information. Customers stopped buying.

The salesperson and customer experienced a clash of two emotions within us, status and autonomy.

Status is about how we see our self-worth compared to others. We all have a need to feel important, valued and needed. Sometimes our job title (formal status) makes us feel important or valued. Another way is when our knowledge and expertise is recognized or needed by others. The salesperson found personal value in their knowledge of speakers and wanted to make certain others recognized them for it.

Autonomy is our need to be in control. We want to make decisions that impact our lives professionally and personally. Most of us don’t like to be told what to do, or what we need. We want to make those decisions ourselves. Customers stopped buying when they thought they were being told what to do by the salesperson, when they didn’t have control over the decision.

Status and autonomy appear all the time, but we don’t realize it. It happens instinctively, without even thinking about it. Have you ever had a new co-worker, who keeps talking about their old job and their successes? They’re doing it to feel valued as a new team member. Or have you ever told one of your children to do something and watched them do the opposite? They wanted  to be in control.

The salesperson’s intent was to be helpful in sharing their knowledge because the buyer didn’t know as much as they knew about speakers.

Offering unsolicited expertise, regardless intent, is not helpful. Even if you’re right, it’ll have the opposite effect. They won’t say “thank you.” Trust me, I’ve made that mistake before.

Your expertise and knowledge will be welcomed, after you build a relationship, which starts with getting to know the other person, what’s important to them, their needs, or what problem they are trying to solve. If you’re good at focusing on them, they will feel valued because you cared. Because you know each other, they’ll be ready to ask for your help. Let them be in control and when you do, your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

Be a good listener before sharing your knowledge.

Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting. Proverbs 18:13 NLT

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