Would you consider yourself to be a good listener? How would your customers, business associates, friends, and family members rate your listening ability? Their feedback just might surprise you, because most people believe they're much better listeners than they truly are.
Some would argue that the earning potential for a salesperson is directly linked to the quality of their active listening skills. To listen closely and reply well is one of the highest perfections we are able to attain in the art of selling. An ancient Chinese proverb reminds us; "To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well." While everyone can benefit from this sage advice, these words of wisdom are particularly appropriate for professional salespeople. No sales rep has ever listened himself out of a sale.
Poor listeners frequently confuse the physical act of hearing with the emotional art of listening. While hearing is a function of biology, active listening skills must be acquired and developed. In the selling process, when you talk you merely provide information, but when you genuinely listen you show respect, create trust, and develop rapport. Unfortunately, modern educational systems place great emphasis on speaking and writing, but not on the important skill of active listening. For example, there are many learned individuals who have obtained high educational honours, speaking multiple languages fluently, but who can't listen worth a hoot. The good news is that it is never too late to begin working on improving your active listening skills, from the kitchen table to the sales table.
Active listening is making a conscious effort to hear your customer's words as well as to try and understand the total message being sent, both verbally and nonverbally. It requires you to listen not only with your ears, but also with your eyes. It's important to monitor your customer's body language gestures and look for congruency between his or her words, posture, movement, and tone of voice.
Are you able to stay focused on your customer or does your mind wander? By giving your customer your full and undivided attention, you're not only showing respect, but you’re also laying a foundation of trust and building rapport. Discipline your mind and put aside distracting thoughts. Each time you catch your mind starting to wander, 'grab it' and immediately refocus your attention back to your customer.
The best salespeople have a tendency to listen like a homicide detective and ask great probing questions to gain understanding and promote conversation. They don't make assumptions, they summarise and seek clarity. An occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicates that you understand the message. Until this is done, your customer will resist your input.
If you would like to improve your sales effectiveness, consider incorporating the following active listening tips into your sales presentation.
- Face your customer and give them your complete and undivided attention.
- Show your attentiveness through your body language by sitting up straight, maintaining good eye contact, uncrossing your legs, unfolding your arms, and leaning forward slightly.
- Minimise distractions by turning off your cell phone.
- Respond appropriately to show that you understand by nodding your head in agreement.
- Encourage your customer to give you more information by using open-ended questions such as "How did you feel when that happened?"
- Keep an open mind and don't jump to any conclusion or make assumptions. Wait until your customer has finished speaking before deciding that you disagree.
- Don't interrupt your customer when they are speaking.
- Ask questions for clarification and periodically summarise comments. Paraphrase your customer's key statements to make sure you didn't misunderstand their point of view. Start with: "So if I’m hearing you correctly, you're saying…"
Where communication is poor, mistakes increase, relationships breakdown, and opportunities to make the sale are missed! If you want to enhance your professional image, strengthen relationships, and dramatically improve your sales effectiveness, I encourage you to listen while you work.