IN THE uncertain environment of the current financial crisis, salesmen in financial services are finding it hard to promote their products and services.

The high-pressure sales tactics of yesteryear no longer work. Rather, a listening-centred sales approach is now more effective.

Customers like to buy from salesmen they like and trust — that is, someone whom they feel comfortable with. Learn to listen to potential customers and help them overcome decision barriers.

Make a connection

When an eager and energetic salesmen feverishly pitches his products, the buyer’s amygdalae — almond-shaped structures located deep within the median temporal lobes of the brain — come into play.

The amygdalae control and inspire emotional response to stimuli (such as a sales pitch). When they sense deception or pressure, they trigger a blocking response.

This interrupts the path of the incoming information, which now does not reach the brain’s prefrontal cortex. The salesman’s sales pitch is not heard or understood.

To get his message across, he needs to build a connection without making a sales pitch, to avoid triggering this blocking response.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science Of Social Relationships said that rapport exists whenever a connection feels pleasant, engaged and smooth.

Build rapport first with effective listening. Then, wheel out the logic and rationale.

A high performance sales guru once said that 80 per cent of our decisions are based on emotions. It is only later that we use logic to justify our decisions.

If you appeal to someone on only a logical basis, your chances of influencing the person will be very slim.

Engage the customer

When I started out as a sales engineer, I was given a sales tool kit and a sales script to follow. We were trained to immediately deliver a consistent message about the features and benefits of the products.

This “immediate sales pitch” approach no longer works today. Often, the customer already knows what he wants, and his final purchase decision boils down to the quality of the salesman.

I recently took an overseas client to a watch boutique to shop for a birthday gift. The salesman showed us some watches. Instead of trying to make an emotional connection with us, he kept gazing at our wrists to see what type of watches we had on.

I was wearing a plastic sports watch, while my associate wore a decent European-made watch. Clearly, we did not impress the salesman. Neither did he get our business, as we found his behaviour extremely rude.

Many salesmen in the luxury retail sector commonly treat customers whom they feel look out of place in a high-end store with indifference. Such indifference can sabotage the sales effort even before it gets started.

However, a friendly approach is only a beginning. Salesmen need to remember that customers tend to make purchase decisions based on their own reasons and needs, rather than on those presented by the salesman or manufacturer.

Therefore, while sales communication may start out as a monologue, it must turn into a dialogue, and then a conversation, if it wants to be successful.

Effective listening creates conversation, conversation creates communication, and communication creates connection.

Think dialogue and not monologue. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you push, the customer will push back. If you listen, the customer will speak.

Ask questions

Effective sales management requires the salesman to ask questions to build relationships and uncover actual needs.

Yet many salesmen fail to do this effectively.

Many studies have shown that a salesman who asks 60 per cent more questions is more likely to make the sale.

The salesman who “fails” could be overly dependent on e-mail, voice mail or computerised answering machines — instead of face-to-face contact or even talking to a real person on the telephone.

In addition, when a salesman is overconfident, he may end up talking 80 per cent of the time and ironically reduce his chance of making a sale.

You can’t get people to give you an order before they are ready. If you force the close, you will instil mistrust or even resentment for your brand or company.

Instead, dig deeper, listen to uncover needs, make an emotional connection with the customer and only then roll out the sales options.

Establish trust

If you apply these rules but still cannot close the sale because of technical or budget constraints, you will have at least established trust. This will give you a head start in the race for future sales and referrals.

The days of customers accepting advice from salesmen at face value are vanishing. If you listen well and understand both their spoken and unspoken needs, you can help them learn enough to reach a decision that makes emotional and rational sense and is in your favour.