Active Listening


As a salesperson, your job is to sell, right? Okay, yes…fundamentally, it comes down to sales. But only half of your job is producing the numbers that justify your position. The other half of your job is being a consultant to your clients – being an expert in your field, to whom they can come when they have questions or pain points. Your product may be the answer, but it may not be. Instead of being a salesperson, you become a trusted expert who puts their needs above your own.

Getting to this point isn’t easy. We’ve recently discussed quite a few things that have to go into building trusting relationships that are based on mutual benefit and not on sales. Emotional decision making, overcoming cognitive biases and personalized outreach can all help in clearing all kinds of sales hurdles. 

Listening is a key factor in sales and often something we don’t practice enough. Our parents brought us up to listen and react and we’ve been doing it since we could understand the words, “Listen to me!” We’ve had practice all day, every day of our lives. How much more could we need?

But there’s far more to listening than just soundwaves and reactions or waiting for your turn to talk. Engaging in active listening can bring a greater level of understanding and trust to you and your client. Considering practicing the following steps in order to better connect with the person across the desk from you.

Reading Body Language
Active listening requires more than just hearing someone. To truly engage with your prospect, you need to read what they are saying with their bodies. Are they displaying closed-off language (arms crossed, bodies turned away), are they distracted by things around them? If you’re getting the impression that you’re being ignored, you probably are. Conversely, if your client is engaged, he or she will be facing you, nodding along with what you say, interjecting things like “Mmmm hmmm,” and “I see,” while you speak.

If you find yourself confronted with negative body language, don’t be afraid to stop the conversation and say, “I don’t feel like I am connecting very well with you. How could I present this in a way that speaks to your business?” 

Let your client know that you’re listening to what they said and confirm with them that you understand it correctly by paraphrasing back to them what you heard.  This not only helps the conversation be two-sided but builds trust that your client is being heard and understood. And who doesn’t love to be understood?

Think on Your Toes
Active listening means that you adjust the conversation based on the answers you get. Going into a sales call with a list of pre-determined questions isn’t going to cut it. Be prepared to start the conversation with some basic questions, of course, but adjust your inquiries as you go, depending on your prospect’s previous answers.

Don’t Multi-Task
This is a hard one. We all know we should focus on what someone else is saying, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the trappings of the world around us…but we’ve all done it at one time or another. Multi-tasking is the exact opposite of active listening. You can’t be listening 100% if you’re planning your response. You can’t be listening 100% if you are looking at your phone. You can’t be listening 100% if you’re distracted by the window washers outside. Do your best to block out the world around you and focus on what the client is saying, with the sole intent of understanding him.

Active listening takes practice. Exercise it as often as you can – at work, at home, with friends. Pretty soon, it will become second nature and you’ll be building relationships based on trust and respect.

In the comments below, tell us about a time when active listening worked for you.

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