February 2, 2010

Twelve Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills

By Selling Power Editors

Sometimes salespeople become so involved in what they have to say about their product, that they inadvertently monopolize the limited time they have with a prospect. The best way to make that time count is to listen attentively to a prospect’s needs and concerns and then address each one. In selling, keener listening maximizes results. The 12 tips below can help you to become a skilled listener.

1. Think before you speak. Many salespeople are in such a hurry to make sales points that they pitch the product before they hear the prospect out. Let your prospect finish his or her thought before blurting out what’s on your mind. Only after your prospect has completely finished speaking and you have allowed a few seconds for a possible afterthought can you feel sure that you have heard the prospect’s point of view.

2. Silence is a sales ally. Use silence as a tool to control the flow of conversation and to draw out the prospect. Most salespeople feel uncomfortable during moments of silence. They may feel embarrassed or awkward and they have been trained to talk. Instead of talking, nod your head and count to five, before you respond.

3. Interruptions discourage listening. If you interrupt your prospect while he or she is talking, what incentive do you give for listening when it is your turn to speak? If you think of something while you are listening to your prospect, jot it down for future reference when the whole story has unfolded. Before you make judgements, rebuttals or comparisons, be sure you have heard the point your prospect is trying to make.

4. Concentrate on the topic under discussion. Since your mind is capable of jumping from one thought to another, it is imperative that you maintain your concentration while listening to your prospect. Listening speed is faster than speaking speed. Therefore, place all your conscious energy on the prospect -on his words as well as the nonverbal message he is sending while he speaks.

5. Don’t be distracted. When you are making a presentation to more than one person, it can be difficult to listen to everything that is happening. Talking among others in the room can distract from the process of listening. To insure that you hear what is important, physically turn to the person who has the floor at the moment, show that you are listening by using his or her name, and then turn to the next person. This will let everyone in the room know that each will get your full attention.

6. Ask for details. Active listening implies responding to what you hear – even if it is not something you automatically understand. If your prospect’s message seems too technical or unfamiliar, listen until he or she is finished, then ask for definitions and explanations of anything you don’t understand. Repeat it all back to be sure you are both in agreement before proceeding.

7. Listen for subtleties. Do you jump to conclusions before the whole story is told? The arrogant negotiator may feel he has heard it before, or say that it is like something else he has heard which was false, a party line or the like, and thus leap to a conclusion. Listening means tuning yourself in for fine differences in the other side’s story. Watch for the tiny shades of difference which indicate some bending in your direction.

8. Take notes. Do you try to remember too much and get lost? Your prospect may be giving you a complicated and lengthy story. Take notes. If you get lost, call for a halt, ask him or her to repeat, then restate back what you understand has been said, ask for confirmation, then urge your prospect to go on. Don’t leap blind across barriers of understanding.

9. Listen with your whole being – feel what the prospect is telling you. Sometimes your own feelings are a good barometer for what you are hearing. A prospect may not want to tell you everything that’s on his mind. Your listening skills, as well as your innate sense of what’s going on, may prove invaluable. Focus on delivery, tone of voice, breathing patterns and speed of speech, as well as the content of the words being used. The message is important but sometimes the way it’s conveyed is the message itself.

10. Concentrate on listening to one topic at a time. Some salespeople simply can’t concentrate on a single topic for very long. Cultivate the ability to stick with a topic. Don’t let your involvement in the sale break your listening concentration. Jumping all over the map confuses you and the prospect.

11. Listen to everything – even the details you may not want to hear. Skilled listeners don’t discard information they don’t like; they respond to what they hear no matter how unpleasant it may be. Irate customers are not ever calmed by being ignored. Listen to the problem and then restate the issue in your own words to be sure you and the prospect are communicating. Then you can go on to deal with the issue.

12. Be patient. Pencil-tapping, foot-swinging and finger-drumming are all clues that you are not listening to what the prospect is saying. If you are nervous, calm yourself with deep breathing or positive self-talk before you enter the prospect’s office. A nervous mind can’t listen.

Use this list to check the areas where you might improve your listening skills. If you refer to it regularly, you should find a marked improvement in your relationships with prospects and customers. Improving your listening attitude along with your listening skill can improve your overall sales results.