So as we talked about listening well in last week’s post, and the importance of doing so (it increases a client’s trust in you and allows you to surprise and delight them), this week I wanted to cover, well, the same thing. Now why aren’t we just moving on with how you can improve your listening skills instead of talking even more about why to listen well? Well, because it’s important to realize just how influential great listening skills are – to your client experience, to a project’s results, and to your firm’s overall success.
3. Like It or Not, We’re All Salespeople
First, let’s talk about something that we all hate to do (well, almost all), but are all forced to do, sell. That’s right, sell. As you’ve repeatedly heard, like it or not, you’re an interior designer/salesperson. You’re constantly in the position to sell to your clients. Whether it be selling the idea to hire you as a designer, or to sell them on the idea that they should invest in millwork, or to literally sell them a product, you’re selling. But, what’s the basis for selling, and selling well? Listening.
Yup. Now that may not be something that you’ve heard very often, that the basis of a great sell is listening, but it is. Most of the time we focus on what we say when we’re trying to sell and although that is important, the role of listening is just as crucial. I’ll explain.
When you’re trying to sell someone on the idea of hiring you as their designer, and you talk to them about what they’re looking to do in their space, they’re giving you clues and hints on how to sell to them. They’re telling you what they want. They’re telling you what they need from you. They’re telling you what they need to hear from you, in order to feel comfortable moving ahead with you.
Let’s say your potential client wants to lighten her living room. No one spends anytime in there and she thinks part of the reason is that it’s just too dark. She’s tried a few things to brighten the space like bringing in lamps and purchasing some light colored pieces, but she’s still frustrated and stressed with how it looks and feels. There’s a large tree right outside of the window blocking the light and they have a large covered porch. So there’s very little natural light coming in. She also tells you that they’re planning on staying in this home for at least another 15 years.
Then she stops and lets you have a turn to speak. What do you say? Maybe you talk about the fact that you’re able to help her with that, or maybe you talk to her about the design process that she would go through if you were to work together? Or maybe you talk to her about clients who’ve had the same problem? Sure at some point. But what you need to talk about first, is what she talked about.
See when you’re listening to her talk, you want to listen to understand what’s important to her. You want to listen for what she wants from the design, and from a designer. Then, once you do, and once it’s your turn to talk, you connect what she wants, to what you do.
If she’s telling you she’s frustrated and stressed as she doesn’t know what else to do. Then you acknowledge the fact that designing a room can be very frustrating and stressful to spend time and money on, especially when you’re still not achieving the results you want. Then you start talking about resolving the problem. You start talking about how you can lessen the stress and frustration. You start talking about how you can take this on, and what that process would look like. You want to “relate, then resolve.” But you can’t relate and resolve, until you’ve already listened, and listened well.
If you had tried to sell to her without a connection between what she said and what you do, and made more of a “generic sell” of what you do and how you do it, the sales part of your talk falls flat. It wouldn’t have connected with her the way you needed it to. It wouldn’t ring true for her the way you needed it to. It also wouldn’t feel genuine the way you wanted it to, as your words didn’t connect with hers.
And the only way to move away from the “generic sell” and into a very tailored sell, is by listening first. By truly listening and understanding what’s important to clients, so that you can relate what they want, with what you have. Listen first. Sell second. No one wants to be generic. No one wants to feel the same as everyone else. And so, when they’re sold to, they don’t want to feel that way either. They want to see and hear, that what you’re providing, is specific to what they need.
4. When You Talk, People Listen
And now you want yet ANOTHER reason to listen well? Ok, fine. Here you go. This is a good one! When you talk less, people listen to you more. I’ll say it again in case it’s confusing at first. When you talk less, people listen to you more.
Here’s what I mean. Last week we talked about the sleazy salesperson who just talked and talked and talked without any interest in what you had to say. Then even when you did get a word in edgewise, they just used your words as a jumping off point to get back to their own agenda. Now what’s your natural reaction to this? You check out completely. You nod and say “mm hmm” and start searching for a way to leave the conversation and situation. They’re not being considerate in their talking, so understandably, you lose your consideration of listening well.
Now, let’s move to a sales person who listens well, and isn’t a big talker. Now that doesn’t mean that they’re awkwardly quiet and don’t ever have anything to say. It just means someone who talks with intention. It means someone who puts a lot of thought behind their words and someone who really engages when they speak. They’re not just looking for a target that will listen to them. No, they’re looking to engage with you, specifically. So what do you do when that person talks?
Well, you listen. You listen because they’ve done the same for you, and because you know that they’re pointed and purposeful with their words. You know that what they’re about to say is important, is relevant to you, and is related to what’s at hand. You know they’re really in the moment with you, and therefore, you’re ready, willing, and even eager to listen. They have something to tell you, and you want to make sure you hear it.
It’s the difference between hearing someone talk and hoping that the room is quiet enough so you can hear them. And hearing someone talk and hoping that the room is loud enough so you can pretend that you didn’t.
5. Amp Up Your Likability Factor
Now, what’s the last and final (well not really final, but final for this series) reason to listen really well? Well, it’s to amp up your likability factor to clients, especially at the beginning. See during those first few interactions that you have, clients are on high alert. They’re trying to look for clues and red flags on whether or not you’re someone they want to work with, just like you’re doing with them.
However from their end, there’s an inherent problem with this. They actually have very little information to go off of. You, you actually have tons – budget, careers, how long they’ve lived here and how long they’ll stay, lifestyle, project wants and desires, past experience with a designer, where they live, etc., etc. But them? They have almost nothing. So they use what they know and can easily see.
They have your website which they’ve scanned to see if they like your portfolio and what you said. They do, so then they move ahead. Then they contact you in some way to talk about next steps. If you respond in a friendly and timely manner, they again move ahead. Then they talk to you on the phone for the screening call. If you seem friendly, responsive, and professional and your initial consultation cost seems reasonable, they again move ahead. Then they meet you in the initial consultation and if you seem consistent with what you were like on the phone and on your site, and you’ve shown up on time, are organized, listen well and respond with solutions that they like, and they’re able to pay your fees, then again, they move ahead.
See, if you notice, at the beginning, the judgements that clients are making at each stage to move ahead, are very, very simple. They don’t have sophisticated information to judge you by. They don’t know how to judge how great of a project manager you’re going to be. They don’t know if what you’re saying is true about the other projects you’ve done. They don’t know if they’ll like the designs you come up with.
So instead they use what they do know – were you on time, did you bring the materials necessary, were you organized, were you friendly, did you look and act professionally, do you seem to know what you’re doing and maybe most important of all, did you listen. That’s it. That’s really it. They’re deciding if they like you and want to spend many months with you in their home, and whether or not they should give you thousands and thousands of dollars, based on just the simplest of things, one of which is listening.
The Proof is in the Praise, Or Lack Thereof
So now that we’ve gone through the five different reasons to make listening a top priority, you’re hopefully pretty convinced that listening well, or at least trying to develop the skill to do so, is one of those non-negotiables. It’s one of those things that if you want to be a great designer AND you want to deliver an exceptional experience, it needs to be a top priority for you. But before we wrap this whole thing up, let’s do a quick review of everything that can be achieved through great listening.
If you listen well, you’ll have clients who are more willing to trust you, you’ll have more opportunities to surprise and delight clients, you’ll be a better salesperson, you’ll have clients listen to you more often when it’s your turn to speak, and you’ll have clients like you more, from the very beginning. Not a bad list to say the least.
If I still haven’t convinced you though, let clients be the ones who do so. Let me tell you a little story. So periodically when talking to people about what I do, I’ll ask them if they’ve ever worked with a designer before. If they say yes, I ask them how their experience was, and if they wished anything had been different. And you know what the number one complaint is? “I feel like she didn’t really listen to me and what I wanted.” That’s right, listening is the number one complaint.
Then when I work with designers through my live courses and coaching I also ask them, what’s the most frequent positive feedback you hear from your clients? And you want to know what the answer is most often? That their clients say that they listen well. So that means that listening well is either a client’s biggest complaint, or their highest praise. Pretty incredible, huh?
So as I’m sure you can see by now, listening well is just not something that can be put on the “nice to have” list of desired skill sets. It’s something that needs focus. It’s something that needs work. It’s something that needs discipline, and it’s something that’s crucial. And if you want your clients to be the ones praising your listening rather than condemning it, meet me back here next week where we’re finally going to be talking about how to improve those essential listening skills. And in the mean time, well, do your best to listen well, my friends, listen well. As it really, really is, just that important.
Let me know in the comments below, how has listening well positively influenced your projects and your relationships with clients? I would love to know!
And if you’re ready to learn even more about how to effectively communicate with your clients throughout the entire project, you can learn how to do just that here!