The HIMSS18 show floor is about to open and you’re psyching yourself up with Alec Baldwin’s line from Glengarry Glen Ross, “always be closing!” But I’m going to suggest that you adjust your approach this year: instead, challenge yourself to always be listening.

Yes, many sales techniques encourage you to start with questions, but these are mostly for qualifying a prospect, not for truly engaging with them. To engage, you must listen actively, stitching together a potentially circuitous thread of answers on the fly to construct a narrative. This unique narrative is what will ultimately help you close – albeit several conversations later, however.

Active questioning and listening is your direct pathway to a prospect’s heart and mind. It’s a way to connect your story to theirs in a meaningful way. But it must start with them and their unique challenges. And, according to researchers, asking many follow-up questions, assuming they are not gratuitous, can actually increase your likeability.

Over the past few HIMSS conferences, I’ve closely studied interactions taking place in booths, the food courts, cocktail receptions and common areas. I’ve played the prospect, worked the booth and done my own prospecting with potential clients. Although my observations are far from scientific, without exception the longest and most animated exchanges were those where the obvious “vendor” was asking and nodding more than presenting. Likewise, my best conversations were certainly asymmetrical: Let’s call it 70/30 in favor of them.

So, what does this mean for you at HIMSS? I’d suggest at least a 60/40 split in favor of listening. And, to prepare for active listening, consider these skills we teach our “brand journalists” as they prepare to engage with patients, physicians, practice managers, hospital executives, payer executives and others across healthcare to build stories for our clients:

  • Know your industry well, especially any breaking news that could be on the mind of the person to whom you’re speaking (subscribe to a few news feeds on your phone and consult them during breakfast – consider Modern Healthcare, Politico eHealth and FierceHealthcare).
  • Develop a set of starter questions to get the ball rolling for each new conversation – begin more personally (what’s your role? what are you learning here?) and then move into their unique challenges and existing workarounds.
  • Resist the temptation to insert your messaging and phrasing into their narrative – you want to understand their challenges and how they describe them, not simply deliver your messages (at least not yet). Don’t finish their sentences or give them words – it’s okay if they pause.
  • Don’t rush them, even if it’s clear they’re not a buyer – what they can teach you through listening now can be a valuable asset for future conversations with legitimate prospects.
  • Write down notes after each conversation, perhaps in the notes app on your phone – even a few keywords can help you discern patterns that will inform subsequent conversations during and after HIMSS.

Much is written today about brand storytelling – after all, it’s the foundation for our business, but this “skillset” isn’t always part of booth training or sales training overall. Some are born with it. Others must work to develop it. If you’re in the latter camp, I’d suggest starting with active listening as described above. And, if you’ll be going to HIMSS18, why not start that listening this year.

If you’d like to learn more about active listening, brand storytelling or brand journalism, drop me a line or, better yet, let’s set up some time to listen to one another at HIMSS18 in Vegas.