Every salesperson has faced the “happy ears” syndrome at some point in their career.
As a sales leader, your team won’t be immune to it either. It’s important to coach your reps to identify it and not let it affect their deal execution and forecasts.
What’s the “happy ears” syndrome? Let’s dive in.
You have an important sales call coming up with a “qualified” prospect. You ask the sales rep leading the deal about any potential blockers that still need to be addressed.
He tells you that there are none. The deal is on track to close with a 90% probability in the next week.
You join the call. As the conversation goes on, you observe that the decision-maker (DM) has closed-off body language and barely seems excited, even though he says all the right things.
10 minutes in, he says, “this is great. We are looking forward to implementing this.”
You jump in and ask the DM directly, “Typically, when people say that, they mean that they are ready to integrate our product into their stack, fulfill the first year invoice and start the data migration process. Is that what you mean?”
And you observe him opening his arms, leaning in, and responding with “not quite. I need to talk to my CEO because she has expressed concerns about…”
The salesperson wasn’t lying to you before the call - he genuinely believed that the deal might close with a high probability. He had “happy ears” - selectively focusing on the positive signs in a deal while ignoring or not noticing the moments of hesitation or any red flags.
This is common (you must have faced it too!) and avoiding the “happy ears” syndrome is a coachable skill. Let’s dive into it.
Why do salespeople have happy ears?
Salespeople are an overwhelmingly optimistic bunch.
If you can’t take rejections >80% of the time, you aren’t fit to be in sales.
And this self-selects for optimistic people. A downside of being optimistic, especially early on in a sales career, is that one tends to overvalue the positives in every interaction with a prospect and undervalue the meh’s or the negatives.
And this is exactly what leads to having happy ears in sales calls. Often, the prospect's negative signs or the so-called “minor” objections don’t even make it to the CRM.
This is a problem for you and your team.
Why the happy ears syndrome is a big problem
If the salesperson doesn’t actively suss out the objections and perceived blockers from her prospect, she is charting troubled waters. If an objection has been voiced, it can probably be resolved.
But it won’t just fade away if it hasn’t been voiced. It will come back to bite her later in the sales cycle when it might just be too late to resolve it.
Thus, the happy ears syndrome leads to:
- Longer sales cycles
- Lower win rates
- Wasting precious time on deals that should have been disqualified way earlier
- Poor forecasting
- Loss of an opportunity to learn about the buyer’s problems.
As a sales leader or manager, you need to coach for this and improve your team’s forecasts and performance.
How to avoid the happy ears syndrome
This is one of the more coachable skills, and thus, time and energy spent on learning how to avoid happy ears would actually reap benefits. Here’s how to coach your team to prevent happy ears in customer conversations:
- Every sales rep should ask, “Does this seem too good to be true?” If your product typically faces lots of objections around compliance, and a prospect doesn’t even ask a single question about compliance - it probably is too good to be true. This means that the rep needs to dig deeper and ask direct questions about compliance to understand the prospect’s point of view.
A healthy skepticism around the prospect’s perceived commitment to buy your product can help your reps surface objections and handle them proactively.
- Prepare a set of specific qualification criteria for any opportunity. Get your reps not to consider an opportunity as qualified until each of them has been met. Popular frameworks like BANT or MEDDPICC might be a good place to start to set these criteria, and you can customize them for your product and go-to-market motion.
- Like the example earlier, sit in on calls with your reps and observe the prospect’s body language. Often, non-verbal reactions are more truthful than polite words of agreement. Closed off or disinterested body language should give you and your reps a hint that something is off, and you need to dig deeper.
You can save time and resources by getting an emotionally aware video call partner for your sales teams like Sybill. It captures the non-verbal cues of your prospects (body language, expressions and gaze signals), and provides insights into potential warning signs by putting them in context of the conversation topics. If Jane is an end-user and is zoned out from the conversation when your rep discusses your product’s core feature set, there’s definitely a problem, and Sybill would point that out.
- Instill a habit of speaking less (especially during discovery). If the rep asks questions and lets the prospects do most of the talking, they are more likely to uncover objections than if they just kept on speaking about their product.
- Focus on data - how many whitepapers, ebooks, or other resources has the prospect downloaded? How much has their team used your product during the free trial? Chances are that if they haven’t interacted with your free resources, they probably aren’t serious about buying from you either.
Conclusion: avoiding happy ears for better outcomes
The happy ears syndrome is an unavoidable part of sales due to the nature of optimistic sales professionals.
It shouldn’t lead to lost deals or poor projections though, so it’s best to check it as much as possible, especially in these trying times.