One of my all-time favorite cartoons shows a guy at his desk, talking on the phone as he checks his calendar.

“No, Thursday’s out,” the guy says. “How about never—is never good for you?”

Talk about sending a clear message. The person on the other end of the line – a hapless salesperson, no doubt – knows exactly what this guy is telling him.

It’s easy to imagine the conversation that came before: The prospect wasn’t interested. But he didn’t want to be rude. So he made up some excuse about how busy he was. Which the salesperson interpreted as a scheduling problem, not a lack-of-interest problem. They probably went back and forth for a while until the frustrated prospect made his position clear.

I also wonder what happened next. Did the salesperson get the message? Or think, “Hmm. Let me think – how do I counter the ‘never’ objection?”

The most common complaint against salespeople is that they don’t listen. But it’s a little more complicated than that. They do listen – but some aren’t good at gaining clarity. So the conversation takes place in a kind of hopeful fog, and the salesperson walks away with an imperfect understanding of what the buyer is trying to say.

Great salespeople don’t settle for almost knowing what the customer means. They don’t hear what they want to hear. They don’t guess. They don’t quit until they know for sure.

There’s a four-step method – the FACE method – that you can use to achieve this kind of clarity. You can learn it in just a few minutes – and once you’ve learned it, you can apply it to nearly any kind of sales conversation. The four steps are:

Focus. One of the greatest barriers to understanding is distraction – distracted talkers and distracted listeners. Make sure you’ve cleared away physical distractions – ringing phones, interruptions – as well as mental distractions, so that you can hear what’s being said.

Acknowledge what your buyer is saying. Don’t judge. Don’t argue. Simply express that you heard the buyer, that the comment has merit, and that you appreciate him or her sharing important information with you.

Clarify what the buyer has told you. If there’s anything that you don’t understand, ask more questions before moving on.

Explain. Once you have clarity, you can present your point of view. Unfortunately, most people want to explain their point of view first. That short-circuits true understanding.

Use this process in your conversations with a sales prospect, and you’ll find you and the prospect are on the same page far more frequently than before.

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