If You Listen to Your Customers, You Might Actually Hear What They Want

February 10, 2020

Take a minute to think about the best conversation you’ve ever had. Now, remember how it made you feel. Pretty good, huh? It’s likely the other person was attentive, made eye contact with you, didn’t interrupt you, respected you. It may have been the love of your life, or a random connection where things just clicked. Whether you knew it or not, I’m guessing, you gave the same in return. That’s how effective communication works.

When we listen, we learn. We learn to see the world the way others see it

My Grandpa, also named Jack Perry, was a plaid sport-coat-wearing used car salesman at Tony Betten Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Long before he sold cars, he sold tires at McLain Firestone in Detroit. Gramps was the greatest salesman in the history of the world. His listening skills were second-to-none.

When I was ten, he’d take me fishing. We’d sit in his rusty green rowboat on the Thornapple River in Middleville, Michigan for hours on end. I guess I didn’t realize it until just now, as I write this, that I grew to love my grandpa so fiercely because he listened to me.  And, when he talked to me, I hung on his every word. I wanted to travel through time and be his best friend when he was ten.   

For kicks, sit back sometime and observe a great salesperson at work. Watch them listen

On those hot, sticky, midsummer nights, when it seemed the sun would never set, grandpa would take me back to Betten Ford for his evening shift. Even at ten or eleven years old, I couldn’t help but notice people would come in and ask for “Jack”, my grandpa. Amazingly, he always remembered their names.

For the most part his customers were couples or families. Often, they were returning customers. First, grandpa would sit down and “hear them out” as to what their needs were. Then, he’d say, “Jackie, let’s take the Harris family around the lot.” Always keen to help make a sale, I took the lead, holding the door for our customers. Surprisingly, we never spent much time on the lot. Gramps had already figured out the car for them, and when we got to it, he’d toss them the keys and say, “Take her for a spin. Jackie and I will wait for you in the office.”

Listening is sometimes hard, but in business you must learn to excel at it

By the time our customers were back from their test drive, Gramps and I were standing by the window. Gramps hands were in his pockets holding his jacket back, unlit pipe in his mouth. My Grandpa watched them get out and walk around the car. “Jackie, wait,” he said when I instinctively moved towards the door to greet them. I guess he knew the customer was mentally taking ownership of the car. No need to interrupt that.

By the time the customer came in, Gramps already knew if he was going to sell the car. Everything about him was in listening mode, the buyers so comfortable they were unaware there was even a big ugly Formica desk between them and Grandpa. Instead of leaning in, Grandpa leaned back as if to say, “Talk to me.” And talk to him they did. They always went home with a new car.  

Your customers need you. If you listen, they will tell you what they want

Vision gets you started. Purpose gets you focused. People execute your plan. Listening builds trust.