The one sales skill you must master as a leader

Leadership is about sales. To lead, you must win over people to a shared vision. You must influence them to consider situations and possible paths forward. Ultimately, you must close the deal and get them to take action, to support the vision and the strategy and to do the work needed to see things through.

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I made thousands of cold calls to learn a crucial sales lesson. But the lesson is valuable beyond sales. It matters for everyone. Especially if you are (or want to be) a better leader.

I’m going to share that crucial lesson with you now.

But first, I need to let you know a little bit more about what I learned along the way.

I learned that when you call someone out of the blue, it’s hard to get their attention. This is true even after you manage to get past the screeners and voicemail boxes and actually get them on the phone.

I learned that once you finally have someone live on the phone, you’ve got just a few precious seconds to earn just a few more seconds of their time. Then you can use those few additional seconds to try and earn the next few. And so on.

I learned that it’s a long road to a sale. You need to make a lot of calls to get into a conversation. You have to have a lot of conversations to land a single meeting. You must hold a lot of meetings to get a chance to make a proposal. And you need to write a lot of proposals before you secure a contract.

To travel successfully down that path to make that sale, you need to be good at communicating.

You’ve got to be clear and concise. You’ve got to be smooth. And it helps to be at least a little bit charming in some way, to establish and build a relationship.

You must to be able to talk a good game.

But that’s not the big lesson. The big lesson is in how you become able to talk a good game.

In order to be able to talk a good game, you must first master the skill of listening.

The big secret

When you listen carefully and intently, people will convey lots of information.

People are happy to talk about themselves, their challenges, and what makes their business work.

If you listen carefully, you can begin to understand how they think and feel about things.

As you talk to more people, you can begin to notice patterns. People who are in similar situations, facing similar challenges, can share a lot in common.

Now when you speak to the next person, you might be able to better anticipate what they are up against. You might start to expect them to use certain words or phrases. You might even be able to predict what sorts of questions they will ask.

After a while, you could get good at this. You might get so good that you start to predict more and more. You might even find ways to articulate things as good (or even better than) they can, because you have put a lot of time into listening and understanding what they are up against.

That is the magic of listening. It allows you to understand the other person’s perspective. And once you understand that, you can talk to them in more relevant and precise terms. You can empathize with them about challenges. You can encourage them to achieve specific goals.

As you get better at listening, you get better at leading. Because you become a better partner to those you lead. You become better at working with them to analyze problems, spot opportunities, and co-create solutions.

Leaders listen

Leadership is about sales too, of course. To lead, you must win over people to a shared vision. You must influence them to consider situations and possible paths forward. Ultimately, you must close the deal and get them to take action, to support the vision and the strategy and to do the work needed to see things through.

People are likely going to be reluctant to do all of that if you are not listening to them. And, without listening to them, you won’t know enough about what to say.

Without listening, you won’t know how to shape a vision that people can see themselves in.

Without listening, you won’t know how to fully appreciate situations or potential paths forward.

Without listening, you won’t know how to best motivate people to take action to do the work that needs to be done.

Knowing what to say is always great. But you can never really know what to say as a leader unless you are listening. And listening carefully, all the time.

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