Are You Listening?

By Abner Littel

Salespeople often think of themselves as being good talkers instead of good listeners. The common misconception is that selling is telling or telling is selling. The truth is that more than 50 percent of selling is listening. 

Many salespeople are never adequately trained to listen. In addition, most people view listening as the passive side of the conversation; being in control means being the speaker.

Of the many ways to increase your sales performance, however, one of the most significant is listening. Learn to listen to your client. Take a break from being the speaker. The following eight steps will start you on your way to becoming a better listener in a sales situation. The better your listening skills, the more closing opportunities you will hear.

1. A good listener will repeat and clarify information. A great deal of information is lost through one-way communication. This is common in sales and results in frequent misunderstandings. Two-way communication is much better. Work with your client in trying to put the most information to use in the best possible way.

A deeper facet of communication, congruency, is also important. Congruency provides two-way communication through interaction between the speaker and the listener, because the listener learns to listen to the emotions to reach a point of trust with the speaker. Many salespeople deal with the same types of people day in and day out. In order to achieve congruency, repeat and clarify information and also summarize points for your client. This lets your client know that you are paying attention and have reached the same level of understanding in the conversation. 

2. A good listener listens to a client at the optimal tension level. Stress is usually measured on a bell-shaped curve of 0 to 100, with 0 as a very relaxed state and 100 as an anxiety state at which some people may experience difficulty in thinking logically. The optimal listening tension is in the 30 to 40 range, where enthusiasm thrives. You feel good when there is just enough stress to cause you to produce and achieve.

A good way to keep yourself attentive, gain more information, and be a better listener is to keep alert. Grip the edge of your chair or stand up if possible. Studies show that the more attentive and alert you are, the more information you will retain.

3.  A good listener exchanges information. Good salespeople know that you can’t sell unless you find a need, and to find a need you must know how to ask questions. A good listener doesn’t ask too many questions, however. Give prospects the reasons why you want to know something. Simply give them past experiences. Your chances of getting the right information will be greatly enhanced. You will also develop trust and empathy with your client.

4.  A good listener adjusts to emotion-laden words. You have a holding tank of words that trigger emotions. These are words that cause you to stop listening and focus on a bad or good experience, such as inflation, bills, vacation, interest rates, etc. These words all conjure up intense feelings. They also distract you from your client’s needs. A good way to avoid falling into the emotions that these words evoke is to empathize with the client as to the reason he or she is using the word. Listen to the usage of that word from the client’s point of view, instead of reacting to it from your own.

5. A good listener hears the speaker out. We all dislike being interrupted. We all want to be heard and have a desire to say what is on our minds. A lot of clients go through the decision-making process by thinking aloud and may not reach a decision until they finish talking. How many times have you cut in on clients, interrupting them before they have completed their thoughts? Find out what your client is trying to say first. When the time comes for you to respond, let the client catch his or her breath before you speak. This gives your client the idea that you are not only listening but also thinking about your response.

6. A poor listener listens to facts; a good listener listens to emotions. Theoretically, 20 percent of communication is strictly facts and 80 percent is emotion – the emotion that we all have and put into every thought. If you are only listening to the facts, you are only receiving 20 percent of the conversation. Listen for the emotions in your client’s conversation, and you can receive the entire message.

7.  A good listener prepares for a conversation. Have an outline of previous conversations in front of you when you talk. It gives you a good idea of other questions to ask and allows you to put information into a logical and flowing framework for ready referral. Keep eye contact with the speaker. Taking your eyes off your client to take notes is not only discourteous, but it also loses the rapport that you have built up.

8. A good listener adjusts thought speed to speech speed. We speak at approximately 200 words per minute. We think four times as fast. A poor listener drifts off and easily becomes distracted. When you find yourself having a hard time paying attention, try to anticipate what your client is going to say next. Mentally summarize what has been said up to that point. Keep a mental bank of the main ideas that your client has made.

Being a good listener takes work and practice. The end result of listening to your clients’ real needs? You can establish a closer relationship through deeper trust and understanding. This makes the listening effort well worth your while.