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The Hidden Cause of Losing to the Status Quo

Two children talking through a cup phone

When you or your team loses a deal to the status quo, do you chalk it up to price? Or to not reaching the decision-maker? Something else?

What if it was none of that? What if it came down to whether or not you listened well?

“Nah, I’m a great listener,” you might say. 

But after countless hours of observing sales teams in discovery, I can tell you with certainty that the failure to truly listen is costing you deals. Buyers are constantly offering glimpses of information that is vital to a deal, but often we miss the queues (myself included). So that information gets lost in the shuffle.

For example: a buyer says something like, “our priority is hitting our targets for the year.” To which we nod and get excited, and go on to talk about how our product will help them achieve that goal.

But what else do you hear behind that statement? How much more would you want to know?

Think of everything that might lie underneath:

  • We might not hit our targets.

  • Last year we didn’t hit our targets.

  • I’m under a lot of pressure.

  • (the list goes on)

And there’s so much more I’d want to know, such as: what exactly are your targets? What will happen if you don’t reach them? What were they last year, and did you reach them? If not, how far were you off? Will they increase next year? 

(Warning! I’m not suggesting you interrogate them!) What I am saying is that if we really listen, we realize there’s so much more to understand and be curious about. But instead we gloss over what the buyer shares, and then we shift into solution-mode before we’ve even understood the problem.

This is why we lose to the status quo. If the buyer hasn’t been heard, and the problem isn’t understood, the status quo is safer because it’s the devil they know.

Two reasons why our listening skills are broken

1.    Humans usually have a healthy amount of curiosity. So when someone shares a story or mentions a problem, we naturally ask follow-up questions. But as soon as we put on our seller’s hat, we forget to be human. We’re focused on selling – because our income depends on the outcome.

2.    In the sales world, lip-service is given to the importance of active listening, but sellers are never guided on how to hone their listening skills.

Three levels of listening - AKA avoid losing to the Status Quo

Before we look at some exercises to hone your listening skills, let’s look at the three different levels of listening:

1. Focusing on yourself (listening only to respond, and probably formulating your response while the other person is still speaking). This is the most common level, unfortunately.

2.  Focusing on the speaker (listening with curiosity; listening to understand). Just bringing it up to this level can be so empowering for sellers. (This is a huge focus of the role plays we do in the Gap Selling trainings.)

3. Focusing on the energy (listening to more than just the words; paying attention to the speaker’s emotions, body language, etc.) This is the deepest level of listening and requires great focus.

The next time you’re in a discovery, or when you review a call recording, ask yourself: what level of listening am I at?

Three exercises to hone your listening skills

1. Review a recording of yourself in discovery. Listen to your buyer at levels 2 and 3. What did you miss the first time around? What hints or glimpses did they give you about their current situation? What other questions could you have asked?

2. The next time your friend or partner is telling you a story, pay attention to the words behind the words. What do they seem to be feeling? What is their body language saying? How engaged are you in listening, vs. formulating your reply, or letting your mind wander?

3. Team up with a fellow salesperson, and do a mock discovery. Have them play the role of one of their customers (who you don’t know much about). Try to find the true problem that is motivating them to learn more about your solution. (Hint: the true problem is not that they lack your product.) Your product is a means to an end. What is the end, and what do you need to understand about it?

Summing it up

Active listening is an art and a science. It takes practice and conscious attention to get better. If you or your team is only listening at level 1 (just listening to respond), you will miss valuable information about their intrinsic motivation to change. 

If you miss that information, you’re missing a critical opportunity to demonstrate how the cost of sticking with the status quo is greater than the cost of changing to you.

"The Hidden Cause of Losing to the Status Quo"



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