Salespeople aren’t shy. We like people. We like to talk. But while we can keep the conversation rolling, how skilled are we when it comes to actually listening to our customers? As any sales expert can tell you, being an active listener is fundamental to being an effective sales rep. Asking questions and listening to the answers creates a dialogue with the customer. Through that conversation, you arrive together at what the customer needs.
Now that we’ve got that figured out, we need a reality check: Part of being human, it seems, is being a poor listener; sales folks aren’t immune to that. Yet the only way to get at the meat of what your prospects and customers need is to actively listen to what they’re saying. You can ask questions till your jaw gets stuck open, but if your ears are closed, you will only have wasted your breath.
Here’s the short list of reasons we sometimes, despite trying, end up turning a deaf ear:
Ever notice that strange habit some people have of finishing your sentences or mouthing your words before you even have them all the way out? Those folks are not really listening to what you’re saying; they’re just impatiently awaiting their turn to speak and eagerly anticipating what the next steps are. But guess what? You can’t know the next steps unless you’re really listening to what the other person is saying.
Been There, Heard That
You may think you’ve heard it all before and that no customer situation is new. Based on that assumption, you miss the nuances of your client’s words and fail to properly grasp what it is they need and want.
They say you only hear what you want to hear. What we might be hearing is, “You’re the best! I only want you to sell me goods and services,” when what is really being said is, “I don’t want to work with you—you’re not even listening to me!” Once again, the culprit is the belief that there’s nothing new to hear. Be careful: Jumping to the conclusion that you know exactly where the convo is headed takes you right out of the listening circle and into a zone in your mind where deals are not taking place.
Droning on and Spacing Off
When a client has a monotone voice, a nasal delivery, or a speaking style well suited to putting babies to sleep, that can lead us to space off against our will, only to randomly snap out of it and realize we didn’t hear a thing the customer said. Ut oh.
One Thing at a Time
This being the Distracted Age, you’re likely doing two things at any given time. On sales calls, you could be scrolling through data on your computer screen, taking a selfie so you can update your profile picture, or sending an “important” tweet about the game last night. Make no mistake, in this day and age, multitasking is code for ADHD, which we all have—because there are things to “like” on Facebook and if you’re not online for half an hour, your whole world will come crashing in. Dude. No, it won’t. It was hard enough getting the client on the phone to begin with. Don’t squander that opportunity. Step away from the social networking site and be with the one you’re with.
Having only one ear in the conversation, you miss not only the words being uttered, but also vocal cues such as tone of voice, nonverbal indicators, and revealed emotion. The point is we’re not born listeners, and the noisy world around us and inside our heads only makes the job of listening harder. For the first few years of our lives, it’s all about us. After that, we have to fight against an innate tendency to be self-focused. You can’t really blame people—for our entire lives we’ve never for a millisecond been anywhere but in our own bodies.
It takes skill and practice to become an active listener. You need to keep working on it to keep it strong. The best way we know to do this is to anticipate the danger of spacing off is by preparing beforehand. Previous to getting on that next call or going to that next in-person client meeting, take the following steps:
Go Away, Gadget
Turn off and stow your electronic devices. It might hurt a little bit, but you’ll be OK if your phone’s turned off. Put your computer in sleep mode and take notes with pen and paper. You’ll hear more if you only have the one thing to do.
Be Fully Present
Embrace the moment by really honing in on every nuance of the conversation—not just the words being spoken, but how they’re being delivered. You’ll hear more than the words, and come away from the meeting with a clear sense of what your client needs and exactly how you will dovetail your solution with those needs.
Polish your listening skills by recapping what the client is saying. Summarize the problems they’re experiencing. If they hear their dilemma recapped in your words, they’ll be more confident in your ability to help them.
Being a good listener isn’t easy. That’s the reason so many people seem to miss what you’re saying—even the important stuff. Anyone who is in a relationship with a significant other knows that not listening closely can land you in an argument. As a salesperson, there is power in really perking up your ears for your client—they’ll appreciate the attention, you’ll know what they need, they’ll know you know what they need, and you’ll feel better stepping into the zone where you’re all ears.