A few years ago, I was teaching sales reps the importance of listening to customers. We were discussing how focusing on someone else’s need and problems, before our own, builds loyal customer advocates and referrals. Then we turned to home and friendships and the culture around us and a young woman raised her hand.

I asked her to turn and stand and face the group. She took a moment, gathered herself and said,

“We suck at relationships here!”

I work ten hour days and no one knows me or cares to ask me, with any degree of sincerity, a simple, “How are you doing?”

She continued, “I lost my mom last week and my daughter is very sick and I wish I had strong relationships here. I know this isn’t a church or a counseling organization. I get that. I just wish someone knew me well enough to ask about me if I’m not having a strong sales month. I just think people are more important than sales and if we change our habits and pay attention to the questions we ask customers maybe what we learn will pay off in the long term and extend into the workplace and into our homes.”

Every culture is different and the leaders in this one appreciated what she had to say. They agreed. They realized that the push for profit had created a self-focused environment that had even affected their families. Wow, what a moment!

It’s easy for this to happen in business with the pressures for quota or goal achievement. But at home – with our kids or spouses? We experience a real financial impact and strained and broken partnerships. Tensions rise and boil over at the point of sale and across the dinner table.

But this doesn’t have to happen. As sales or business leaders, we can begin a revolution. We can start getting to know people before coaching them. We can ask customers what they want or need before offering solutions. We can do that with them and we can do that with our spouses and children. We can stop learning 50 ways to close, and instead learn 50 ways to listen, and then as Thoreau once said, “attend to what people say.”

I want to finish with a positive story. Training room – 50 people. The same situation and a woman stands and says, “When I was being hired here and going through interviews with Alec, I received a call that my daughter was in the hospital because of an automobile accident. In the weeks ahead, none of her 1500 Facebook friends showed up at the hospital. They just said they ‘would wait for an update.’ And, do you know who did show up. Alec and his wife Jessica.”

“They did not know me. I was just interviewing for a job. It was clear to me by their attitudes and their presence that all they wanted was to find out how my daughter and I were doing. Needless to say I later accepted the position even though I had other offers that were a better financial fit and I’m so glad I did.”

Out of 25 markets in the company, the one that Alec runs is in the top 2 for the highest net promoter score for customer satisfaction. His sales force enjoys repeat business and a high level of referrals. Turnover among employees is low and profits continue to increase.

Relationships through better listening skills bring a high return both on and off on the sales floor. I’ve seen this in sales organizations, sports teams and with my family. Get started today leading this cultural changing effort.

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