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Active Listening Is an Essential Sales Tool

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By Keith Rosen, MCC
The Executive Sales Coach TM

Selling is the most advanced form of communication. It requires the utilization of all our senses. Although you may feel that the greatest barriers to your selling performance may be attributed to having the wrong product, closing techniques, presentation tools, or even prospects, consider that the foundation of successful selling is based on how well you listen.

The ability to actively listen has been proven to dramatically improve the capabilities of a professional salesperson. Ironically, listening is the least developed skill amongst salespeople.

Were you formally trained to listen? Chances are your answer is no. Very few of us were formally taught effective listening skills. Most of the time we believe listening is simply hearing the words coming out of the client's mouth. However, if we know that effective listening makes a dramatic difference, why don't we listen better?

To listen actively and thoroughly takes concentration, hard work, patience, the ability to interpret other people's ideas and summarize them, as well as the ability to identify nonverbal communication such as body language. Listening is a both complex process and a learned skill; it requires a conscious intellectual and emotional effort.

The Price of Poor Listening

Listening well improves the quality of the relationships you have with clients, friends, co-workers, or family members. Ineffective listening can damage relationships and deteriorate the trust that you have with your clients. The price of poor listening is many lost selling opportunities.

It's said that more than 60 percent of all problems existing between people and within businesses is a result of faulty communication. A failure to actively listen can result in mistakes and misunderstandings. Read the following questions and ask yourself if any of them apply to you or to how you listen.

Eight Ways to Limit Our Ability to Fully Listen

  1. Are you doing something else while the client is talking? Are you thinking about the next call, how much money will be made if you make the sale, or personal concerns?
  2. During your conversation with a client, do you wait for a pause so that you can spit something out?
  3. How difficult is it for you to stay quiet? Do you talk without thinking beforehand?
  4. Do you fake listening to the client just so you can get in your comments?
  5. Do you practice selective listening? Do you only hear the things you want to hear?
  6. Are you aware of the message that the person is sending apart from their words? Are you attentive to their body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and vocal intonation?
  7. Do you allow background noise or your environment to hinder your ability to listen?
  8. Do you listen through filters? When you listen through a filter, your understanding of what you have heard is based on past experiences or beliefs. When you pass judgment on people because of their age, success, or how they look; when you invalidate people based on what you see or based on a similar situation with another client, you build the wall between yourself and the other person and block clear and open communication and understanding.

If any of these behaviors seem familiar, you are creating a barrier that limits your ability to fully and actively listen. As a result, you're probably not maximizing your sales effort -- or your income. Here are a few tips to become a more effective listener:

Eight Ways to Become the Most Effective Listener

  1. Encourage silence to show you are actively listening. Many salespeople only wait a split second to respond to a client's comments or questions. Instead, get in the habit of waiting a minimum of three to four seconds before responding. Even count to yourself to ensure that enough time has elapsed. This conscious pause will make the person feel heard and comfortable enough to talk more, since your pause demonstrates that you have a sincere interest in what they are saying. Although many salespeople find the conscious effort to stay quiet challenging, silence creates the space that will motivate your client to share additional information. It also gives you enough time to respond thoughtfully and intelligently to your client's specific needs. Besides, look at the words: SILENT and LISTEN. Notice that each word shares the exact same letters.
  2. Never interrupt while the client is speaking. Obviously, what we were taught as children still applies. Enough said.
  3. Be present. Listen with an open mind (without filters or judgment). Focus on what the client is saying (or trying to say) instead of being concerned with closing a sale. This shows that you have a genuine interest in helping them, not just yourself. Otherwise, you run the risk of missing subtle nuances or inferences that could make or stall the sale.
  4. Make the client feel heard. This goes beyond simply becoming a better listener. It involves ensuring that the person to whom you are listening actually feels heard. To make someone feel heard, clarify what the client has said during the conversation. Rephrase their comments or questions in your own words in order to ensure that you not only heard but understood them. If you need more information for a greater context and fuller picture, a clarifier can sound like:
    • ''For my own understanding what you are truly saying is ...''
    • ''To further clarify this ...''
    • ''What I am hearing is ...''
    • ''Help me understand ...''
    • ''Tell me more ...''

    Asking questions and using clarifiers demonstrates your concern and interest in finding a solution for the client's specific situation.

    Tip from the Coach: Paraphrase listening works on a similar principal. For example, if a client laments spending too much time recruiting and training, you can summarize: ''Yes, trying to find the right employees to help the long-term growth of your business can be very challenging as well as time consuming.''

  5. Become a solution-oriented listener. Spend more time listening for a solution than you would on the problem.
  6. Listen for what is not said. What is implied is often more important than what is articulated. If you sense that the client is sending conflicting messages, ask a question to explore the meaning behind the words and the message that you think the client is trying to communicate.
  7. Resist the temptation to rebut. As human beings we have a natural tendency to resist any new information that conflicts with what we believe. Often enough, when we hear someone saying something with which we might disagree, we immediately begin formulating a rebuttal in our mind to obscure the message that we are receiving. And if we are focused on creating a rebuttal, we are not listening. Remember that you can always rebut later, after you have heard the whole message and had time to think about it.
  8. Listen for information. Consider that during most conversations with clients, we listen to information. In other words, we only hear their words. However, when you listen for information, you are looking under the words to explore the implied meaning behind them. This prevents you from wrongly prejudging or misinterpreting the message that the client is communicating to you. There are four main things we listen for when speaking with a client:
    • Listen for what is missing.
    • Listen for concerns the client may have or what is important to them.
    • Listen for what they value.
    • Listen for what they want and need in order to fill in the gap between what they have now and what they want.

Listening is a learned and practiced skill that will open up new selling opportunities that you may have never noticed. It allows you to receive and process valuable information that might have been missed or neglected otherwise. So, invest the time needed to sharpen your listening skills.

Remember, when speaking with a client, you will not learn anything from listening to yourself talk. Moreover, all anyone wants in a conversation is to be heard and acknowledged. Notice what happens when you give someone the gift of your attention and listening. They will want to reciprocate. It's always a great time to begin giving a gift to others that costs nothing to give.


About Keith Rosen, MCC — The Executive Sales Coach
Keith Rosen is the executive sales coach that top corporations, executives, and sales professionals call first. As an engaging speaker, Master Coach, and well-known author of many books and articles, Keith is one of the foremost authorities on coaching people to achieve positive change in their attitude, behavior, and results. For his work as a pioneer and leader in the coaching profession, Inc. magazine and Fast Company named Keith one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country.

If you're ready for better results quickly, contact Keith about personal or team coaching and training at 1-888-262-2450 or e-mail info@profitbuilders.com. Visit Keith Rosen online at Profit Builders and be sure to sign up for his free newsletter The Winners Path.

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