The Sales Skill That Differentiates

What’s the latest purchase you’ve made?  How about a recent product or service you bought from a salesperson?  Was the sales professional successful in influencing your decision?

If so, chances are that he or she did one thing better than the rest.  I’ll bet they did less talking and more listening – which made you feel like you and your needs were more important than what was being sold.

We buy from people we trust.  Plain and simple.  Needless to say, I was intrigued when I came across two research studies pointing to a lack of trust between buyer and salesperson.


A recent research report published by Hubspot, “Buyers Speak Out:  How Sales Needs to Evolve“, calls urgent attention to the need for salespeople to overcome a trust deficit with buyers.

When it comes to the sales experience, HubSpot Research found that buyers are looking for “someone who will listen to their needs, provide relevant information in a timely manner, and are invested in the success of their business.”  In fact, the “number one thing that buyers say a sales person must do to make the experience positive is to listen to my needs.”

Instead, what most buyers are getting from sales people is a heavy-handed, pushy, ‘let-me-tell-you-all-about-me-and-my-product’ approach.  Unfortunately, this style leads to a buyer feeling more like a means to a transaction and less like a person who needs help. And those feelings lead the customer to trust you less.

Here’s where it gets very interesting.

In that same report, we learn of the major disconnect between salespeople and buyers. When simultaneously surveyed, sales thinks they’re listening to buyers and buyers perceive that sales is not listening.

What’s more, a recent McKinsey report, entitled “The Sales Secrets of High Growth Companies“, fast growing companies more than double the performance rating percentage that of slow growers as it related to ‘understanding specific customer needs’.

How are these organizations accomplishing such a high performance rating in this critical sales skill?  McKinsey found that fast growing organizations are “making a substantial investment in teaching these skills to their sales teams.  The result?  A 25 percent improvement in rep productivity within 18 months.”

Therefore, one of the big conclusions made about high sales growth organizations is that they invest in training these critical skills to individual team members.

So, while our tendency as sales performers is to tell the world about us, what the customer really wants is to be understood.  Not until you understand him or her have you earned the permission to tell her about you or your offering.

The ability to craft and ask strong interview questions that uncover your customer’s most pressing needs, and then really listen in an effort to understand is the skill most in demand.  And, it’s most certainly a skill that can be developed through a strong sales training program.

“You can tell if a man is clever by his answers. You can tell if he is wise by his questions.”

The term I love for this rare sales skill is called spotlighting.

Simply stated, it’s the ability or skill to shift the spotlight from you (your service or product) towards your customer.  The challenge for the sales professional is not to be IN the spotlight and, surprisingly, not even to spotlight his / her offering.  Rather, the most successful salespeople have learned to BE the spotlight to their customers.

In essence, they shine the spotlight on the customer and make him / her the center of focus.

Here are four big strategies towards building a sales team that puts the customer in the spotlight:

  • Spend more time developing great questions as opposed to crafting the perfect pitch for your offering;
  • Implement a sales process or methodology that puts emphasis on interviewing and understanding the customer;
  • Invest in training your sales organization on values-based selling;
  • Incorporate the skill of spotlighting into your coaching and leadership system – building this kind of internal culture will support a customer-centric approach externally.

Is this a skills gap that you’re currently experiencing in your organization?  Or, perhaps as an everyday buyer, you’ve experienced it yourself when interacting with sales professionals?

Maybe it’s the world we live in?  When most crave attention, our world is actually making it harder to get and keep attention.

Thus, the salesperson who can make you feel as if you’re the only customer they have is very different.

And most likely someone you’ll keep buying from again and again.


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When it comes to executing strategy, your sales teams are an integral piece of the puzzle.  If this article hit a soft spot for you and your business, and you would like to explore possible training and development initiatives, let’s chat.  You can schedule a 30 minute call with me right here or send me a message here.  

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Founder Todd Garreston

With over 15 years of experience leading market share growth initiatives of top consumer brands in Fortune 500 and privately-held business environments, Todd Garretson advises and helps organizations identify new growth potential, craft strategy that moves people to action and enhance overall performance.

Having a passion for helping people and organizations to unlock dormant growth potential, Todd writes and speaks for audiences in three core areas: business growth strategy, leadership and personal / professional growth.

Residing in Atlanta, GA with his wife, Lauri, and their four children, weekends and free time are spent with family, coaching youth sports, and sharing his passion for fitness and nutrition.