Article Summary: Your clients always tell you what’s important to them. Sometimes they tell you specifically with words and body language. Sometimes they tell you by changes in patterns, human behavior, time to respond to emails and telephone calls, and the list goes on. If you want to ensure ongoing success, be an active listener. When used effectively, active listening can lead to fewer surprises, higher close ratios, bigger deals, and stronger relationships.
THE ART OF LISTENING – 5 WAYS ACTIVE LISTENING IMPROVES YOUR SALES SUCCESS
Copyright © 2010. The Chief Storyteller®, LLC. and ThinkBusiness Magazine
Ira J. Koretsky
Your clients are speaking to you. Are you listening?
Your clients always tell you what’s important to them. Sometimes they tell you specifically with words and body language. Sometimes they tell you by changes in patterns, human behavior, time to respond to emails and telephone calls, and the list goes on. If you want to ensure ongoing success, be an active listener. When used effectively, active listening can lead to fewer surprises, higher close ratios, and bigger deals.
About eight years ago, I worked for a technology company as the director of product management. David, one of the sales professionals, asked me to accompany him on a call. We just launched a new product and he wanted me on hand to help answer questions. 30 minutes into the presentation, David started sharing the roadmap for our company’s advanced products. His hope was to excite the CEO and her team even further. Elizabeth, the CEO, politely interrupted and said “Thank you, we are not interested in this today. Let’s focus on the basic product.”
Instead of transitioning immediately to the basic product, David insisted on finishing the advanced products review. I watched Elizabeth cringe ever so slightly. It had an expected ending—no contract.
Let’s look at several ways active listening improves success.
1. FOCUS ON THE PERSON WHO IS SPEAKING
Treat the person speaking as the most important person in the room. Focus on her words, body language, cadence, and tone of voice. Avoid the temptation to interrupt. This is especially true when you feel very strongly about something. Keep an open mind.
Treat the person speaking as the most important person in the room.
With David’s story, imagine you were the sales professional. How would you have reacted to Elizabeth’s request?
To improve your listening skills, attend a networking event just for the purpose of listening. After each interaction, make notes. Do you remember his/her elevator pitch? Supporting messages? Likes and dislikes? And so forth. How well do you remember what each person said? Could you repeat it back easily? To make it more challenging, make notes after every second interaction, then every third interaction, until you can master the art of listening such that you can make notes at the end of the evening without any difficulty.
2. ENSURE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEING SAID
Your client may say one thing and really mean another. Whether you are sure or unsure, always ask clarifying questions. For example, “If I were to summarize your two points as A and B, would they be accurate?” or “Could you give me an example or two of what you mean?” Your goal is to vector in on the true issues and problems. Asking open-ended questions is a good way of finding out your client’s true motivations.
3. WITH LITTLE EFFORT COMES BIG IMPACT
Use verbal and body language cues to show you are actively listening. These cues take little effort and have a big impact. For verbal cues, use words of encouragement and understanding like “right,” “I understand,” “interesting, tell me more,” and “sure.” For body language cues, make good eye contact. Nod your head to encourage sharing and to demonstrate understanding. Ensure your arms remain uncrossed. Consciously smile. Your overall goal is to encourage while showing positive reinforcement.
Think back to Elizabeth’s story, how do you suppose she would have reacted if David had stopped talking about the new products and quickly returned to discussing the basic products?
4. Pay Close Attention to How You are Perceived
Start with the belief that perception is reality. If your client perceives you are not actively listening, then you are not—no matter what the reality is. Common reality-changing actions include texting, tweeting, answering the phone, and responding to emails. Devote 100% of your attention to them. Lastly, if you think you are about to interrupt, write down your thought on your notepaper instead.
The next time you meet a friend or acquaintance for lunch, practice by applying these tips. Try making it through the entire lunch without interrupting your conversation with an external pull (e.g., phone calls, texts, emails, and tweets).
5. MASTER THE ART OF ACTIVE LISTENING
James Nathan Miller made an interesting observation some forty years ago—“Conversation in the U.S. is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener” (The Art of Intelligent Listening, Readers Digest, September 1965).
Don’t let Miller’s observation describe your conversations.
Use these suggestions to improve your prospecting and selling success. Show your clients and prospects you understand their business better than anyone else does. Master the art of active listening.
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Updated Content 2012, Updated header photograph 2019
Photography Source: Photos.com