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How Being an Active Listener Makes for A Better Salesperson

Many salespeople are outgoing and like to talk, so it might be a surprise that the art of listening is one of the most essential skills of a good salesperson.

Those who have mastered listening and focus on offering a value-added solution selling will be the most successful. After all, you need to be able to truly hear your customer’s needs, problems and desires to solve for those said needs. Sounds simple right? Listening might not be as easy as it sounds — especially active listening.

How Most People Listen

Most people can listen to their customers and prospects, but few are great active listeners. The majority of salespeople will do the following when listening:

  • Think about what they are going to say next
  • Interrupt the conversation to make another point
  • Plot out the next Netflix show to watch after work
  • Check their phones or social media (please don’t do this on zoom or in person!)
  • Stare intently at the customer’s face and pretend to hear every word

Even if all the points above are avoided, you need to hear to discover the underlying message of what the customer is saying, beyond just the words. For most salespeople, there is an urgency to make the sale — make their quota — and move on to the next deal. However, many problems can be associated with not being an active listener, which can hinder even the most effective salesperson.

The Problems of Selling Without Being an Active Listener

There is the famous quote, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” (Andrew Grant). Too often, salespeople launch into their pitch first and then listen later — which might already be too late. It’s important to treat each prospect as a fresh, new sale and not to pigeonhole them into one solution that might not even help the customer. When the salesperson is not an active listener, it sends a bad message that:

  • The salesperson’s need exceeds the customer’s need
  • Finding a solution to the customer’s problem is not the main priority
  • That customer’s needs are not seen as unique, and therefore a customized solution will not be offered
  • There is a lack of respect for the prospect

The poor message of the prospect not being heard can create problems even if the sale is made. The chances are good that if the customer’s need wasn’t heard, the proposed solution will not fit their needs and solve their problems. Repeat customers, referrals, and happy customers are crucial to sales.

How To Be an Active Listener

Think of active listening as just one step better than listening — or adding just a bit more concentration to what your prospect is saying. Like anything, practice makes perfect, so the more you rehearse active listening, the better you will be at it. Here are some tips on how to be an active listener:

Do your homework.

Before the meeting, research the company so you are proficient in their business and knowledgeable about the person you are meeting.

Maintain eye contact.

This will create a better communication connection.

  • Create open body language. Communication is verbal and non-verbal, so positioning yourself in an “open” manner will invite better communication flow.
  • Take Notes. Not only does this show the prospect that the conversation is important to you, but it will also help you focus and not forget any critical points of the conversation.
  • Let them talk. You can learn much by letting the prospect do the talking. Most people love to talk, so let them give you clues!
  • Ask questions. It’s okay to ask questions for clarification. Still, please be careful not to interrupt the conversation and resist the urge to plug your service or product into a premature sales pitch.
  • Don’t just hear the words. Hint: This one is key! Listen to understand the prospect’s underlying needs and challenges.
  • Repeat back. At the end of the conversation, reiterate the highlights of the conversation, their challenges, and the next steps.
  • Practice this skill. Exercise this skill with your colleagues, friends, and family to perfect it.

Barriers to Actively Listening

To ensure the best chance of success, try and remove all barriers to actively listening:

  • Mental fatigue. Daily selling over the phone and multiple live sales calls can be mentally taxing. Set designated breaks or use meditation tools to calm the mind.
  • Environmental diversions. Our tech-heavy world is set up for distractions and instant gratification. Concentrate on refocusing when your mind wanders. Put your phone in silence mode during any live or phone meeting.
  • Impatience. The more people talk, the more you will learn, and the more likely it will be that you genuinely understand their needs and address them with your company’s solution. Let them talk, and your opportunity to offer value-add and on-point solutions will come.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that active listening means that you are hearing and absorbing the challenge of your prospect.

Your clients and prospects will appreciate it when someone gives them their undivided attention for an extended time. In addition, there are so few good listeners these days that those who do listen well actively will stand out in your customers’ minds.

This article was originally published in Connected Fall 2022, which you can view by clicking here.

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