» The Art of Listening

This article was written by Kylie Carlson, CEO of the International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning.

It is widely accepted wisdom in the business world that the best salespeople are adept at one vital skill: listening. While visions of fast-talking used car salesmen may make you think otherwise, it’s the truth. Those who can perfect the art of listening can sell just about anything to almost anyone. The odds are even more in your favor when what you’re selling is completely awesome.

I know there are those of you saying, “I’m a wedding planner” (or designer, baker, or entertainer) and insisting that you are not a salesperson. I assure you, though, that you are, in fact, in sales. No matter what your specialty is, if you have to secure paying clients to sustain your business, you are a salesperson.

The initial consultation

As a salesperson, one of the most important moments in your process is the initial consultation. Successfully converting a prospective client into a contracted one hinges on your ability at reading him or her and adjusting your pitch accordingly. The secret to this can be found in the Art of Listening.

Too many wedding professionals misunderstand the purpose of an initial consultation. They seize the opportunity to dominate the conversation by sharing every detail of their lives and careers. But the prospect simply doesn’t care. The only thing that is important to an engaged couple is their upcoming wedding.

Practice the 70/30 rule

An initial consultation is not a job interview. It is the chance for you to learn what makes a couple tick and leverage that information to secure their business. Use the “70/30 Rule” to help you strike the right balance. Listen for a full 70% of the time and talk only 30%. Some people are shy and don’t know how to express themselves well. When meeting with this type of prospective client, you need to ask open-ended questions.

Avoid dead end questions

The beauty of open-ended questions is that they yield the most valuable information about your couple. The key is to avoid those that can be answered with yes, no or a single word or phrase. Examples of open-ended questions include:

  • How did you meet?
  • What was your proposal like?
  • What kind of hobbies do you enjoy together?
  • Where do you like to go on vacation?
  • If you could shop anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Open-ended questions break the ice and demonstrate that you have a real interest in your prospective clients. They require you to listen, which makes your prospective clients feel valued and important.

Some questions make people uncomfortable and should be avoided. Asking “why?” puts people on the defensive, for example. Instead of “why do you want to get married at that venue,” you could ask, “what do you love most about the venue,” or “what appeals to you about that site?”

Practice makes perfect, so don’t give up if you find it hard to strike the right balance and ask the right questions at first. Just make note of what does and doesn’t work and remember that your primary goal is to listen more and talk less. You will soon see how it transforms the conversation and yields the sales success you desire.

Kylie Carlson is the CEO of the International Academy of Wedding and Event Planning. With six locations globally, the academy boasts an internationally recognized accreditation program that brings professional training to wedding planners, designers and stylists.