Listen Up, Salespeople!
Dr. Mitchell Isert ’91 ’18 Executive DBA examines how important listening is to the long-term success of salespeople.
Years ago, while working in sales at Whirlpool Corporation, Dr. Mitchell Isert noticed something about his colleagues.
“Typically, salespeople are not thinking about listening and trust; they are not thinking about interaction,” said Dr Isert. “Salespeople don’t think that way. They want to close.”
It was an observation that he would carry with him throughout his career as a sales director of the Whirlpool Corporation and then at a cabinet manufacturing company.
A Rollins alumnus in undergrad with a major in communications, Dr. Isert, now living in New Jersey, was sitting on the couch at Christmastime when he was flipping through the Rollins Magazine and saw that Crummer now offered an EDBA program.
“I looked at my wife and said I’m going to go do this. She said ‘You’re not going to do that,’ and I said I am going to go do this,” said Dr. Isert. He felt like he needed something to set himself apart from his peers.
A doctorate would do just that.
“It wasn’t that I was worried about not having a job; it was that I was worried about not having something that separated me,” said Dr. Isert.
True to his word, Dr. Isert did exactly that and flew down to Winter Park for an interview to join the program, with plans to fly down every month from New Jersey for classes.
When the question came up in the interview on what he wanted to focus on in his dissertation, the choice was easy – he wanted to research the effects of listening in sales.
A subject near and dear to his heart, Dr. Isert had reached out to Rollins professor Dr. Bommelje years ago, when he needed help in the turbulent field of sales. He credits Dr. Bommelje for changing his outlook on life, namely how important listening is in the sales process.
Thus, he formulated a study on the correlation between listening, performance, self-efficacy and trust in sales.
The premise of Dr. Isert’s study started out with this broad question:
Are salespeople who are better listeners, better performers?
Springboarding off of a 1997 study about the effects of listening, Dr. Isert added a business-to-business performance aspect to the study to answer his question on whether listening better leads to better performance.
Using a Google forms survey disseminated to thousands of business owners and salespeople, he received enough responses to run the data through various forms of analytics, including equational modeling to get to his answer.
What he found, surprised him.
Dr. Isert says when it comes down to pure performance in numbers, listening better does not specifically lead to more sales.
However, those who are listening better see a strong correlation in trust and future interaction with potential customers. The customers trust them more and feel more comfortable interacting with them.
“If customers believe you are a better listener, they trust you more and through that trust, you will receive repeat opportunities to see them, opportunities that can lead to closing more sales” said Dr. Isert.
He explained, “Let’s say you’re a salesperson and someone calls on you to sell copiers. If the customer believes you are a better listener, they will trust you more and through that trust, you will give them repeat opportunities to come and see you.”
For Dr. Isert, seeing these results from his study was fascinating and reassuring.
“The exciting thing to me, was that listening does work, and the end result was those that salespeople that listen better could perform better,” said Dr. Isert.
“I was surprised by how high the anticipation of future interaction was,” said Dr. Isert.
Dr. Isert says he was guilty himself of not being a good listener in his early years of sales, hence why he says his help from Dr. Bommelje was life-changing.
“If I teach salespeople to listen better, we can close more sales because of it. That’s the key factor, that training on listening builds trust and future interaction for salespeople who listen,” said Dr. Isert.
From a managerial and application aspect, Dr. Isert says a lot of the training in sales is focused on product, not cultivating the relationship to build future sales.
His study concluded that by providing training on listening, it will help build trust and future interactions for salespeople that listen. He says companies that build training programs around teaching listening skills will get incremental follow-up appointments, which will lead to closing more sales.
In his closing statement in the study, Dr. Isert initially wrote, “listening should be the answer.”
Eventually, he changed that to, “listening is the answer.”