Selling is the most advanced form of communication. It requires the utilization of all of our senses. Although you may feel the greatest barriers to your selling performance may be attributed to having the wrong product, closing techniques, presentation tools or even the wrong 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.
Think about when you were formally trained on how to listen? Chances are you weren't. 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. Now if we know that effective listening makes a dramatic difference, why don't we listen better? Well, probably because it takes concentration, hard work, patience, the ability to interpret other people's ideas and recap them, as well as the ability to identify non verbal communication such as body language. Listening is a very complex process as well as a learned skill which requires conscious effort, our intellect as well as our emotions.
Listening effects the quality of the relationships you have with people, whether they are your clients, friends, co-workers or family members. Ineffective listening can damage relationships as well as deteriorate the level of trust between you and your clients. The price of poor listening is many lost selling opportunities.
It is said that 60% of all problems that exist among people, and within businesses is a result of faulty communication. During the communication process there is always a point where a failure to actively listen can result in mistakes and misunderstanding. Take a look at the following questions and ask yourself if any of them apply to you or how you are listening.
Eight Ways That Limit Our Ability To Fully Listen
- Are you doing something else while the client is talking? Are you thinking about the next call, how much money you will make if you sell, what you will be eating for dinner?
- During your conversation with a client, do you wait for a pause, so you can spit something out?
- How difficult is it for you to stay quiet? Do you say something without thinking first?
- Are you faking your listening to the client just so you can get in your comments?
- Do you practice selective listening? Do you only hear the things you want to hear?
- Are you aware of the message the person is sending other than the words through body language such as facial expressions, eye contact, and vocal intonation?
- Do you allow background noise or your environment to hinder your ability to listen?
- Do you listen through filters? When you listen through a filter, you are listening based on a past experience or belief. When you pass judgment on people by their age, success, 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 that prevents clear and unrestricted communication and understanding of the message being received.
If any of these behaviors seem familiar, you are creating a barrier that limits your ability to fully 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
- 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 you are demonstrating that you have a sincere interest in what they are saying. Although many salespeople find it challenging to stay quiet since it takes a conscious effort, 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 each word shares the exact same letters.
- Never interrupt while the client is speaking. Obviously what we were taught as children still applies. Enough said.
- 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 whether or not your are going to sell. This shows you have a genuine interest in helping them, not just yourself. Otherwise, you run the risk of missing out on subtle nuances or inferences that the client is sending which could make or stall the sale.
- Make the client feel heard. This goes beyond simply becoming a better listener. It makes sure that the person you are listening to actually feels heard. Feeling heard is a level beyond just being listened to and few of us, especially in the selling profession ever cause the other person to feel as if they were truly heard. To make someone feel heard, respond to what the client had said during the conversation by using clarifiers. Rephrase in your own words what they had said to ensure the client that you not only understood but heard them. If you need to extract more information to get more of a background and a fuller picture, a clarifier can sound like, "For my own understanding what you are truly saying is or "To further clarify this ....." or "What I am hearing is..." Other clarifiers can sound like this. "Help me understand....." "Say more ...." "Tell me more..." Asking questions that clarify what the client had said demonstrates your concern or interest in finding a solution for the client's specific situation. Tip From The Coach: Paraphrase listening works on a similar principal. For example, a client says, "I am spending too much time recruiting and training. Unfortunately, I have to do this every few weeks." You can reply, "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."
- Become a solution-oriented listener. Spend more time on listening for a solution than you would on the problem.
- Listen for what is not being said. What is implied is often more important than what is being spoken. If you sense that the client may be 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.
- 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 which can obscure the message we are receiving. And if we are focused on creating a rebuttal, we can't be listening. Remember that you can always rebut later, after you have heard the whole message and had time to think about it.
- Listen For Information. Consider that most of the time we spend listening TO information in the course of a conversation with our clients. Simply, this is when we hear the noise coming out of the client's mouth called 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 you may have never noticed before. 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 certainly don't learn anything from listening to yourself talk. Besides, all people ever want in a conversation is to be listened to and acknowledged. Notice what happens when you give someone the gift of your attention, the gift of your listening. They want to reciprocate. This is a great time to begin giving a gift to others that costs nothing to give.
Keith Rosen is the CEO of Profit Builders. He has taken his years of management, business ownership and coaching experience into the business community where he provides personalized one-on-one and group coaching and corporate training to improve, build and manage your career and your life for optimum success and enjoyment. Keith has been the keynote speaker and executive coach for organizations such as GE, MCI WorldCom and the American Marketing Association. Being a pioneer in the coaching profession, Keith is one of the first to hold the designation of Master Certified Coach and is also a widely published columnist.