My Wife Says I Never Listen To Her, At Least I Think That’s What She Said.
If you’re in sales I know you have heard the saying, “The reason you have two ears and one mouth is so that you can listen twice as much as you talk.” Listening is one of the most important skills you can ever acquire. How well you listen has a major impact on your job effectiveness, and on the quality of your relationships with others. We listen for enjoyment. We listen to understand. We listen to obtain information. We listen to learn.
When I am in an interview with prospective employees the most important trait that I am looking for is their listening skills. If my interviewee can’t wait to talk until I am finished speaking, I know that is exactly the way they will act with the prospect. What that tells me and the potential prospect is what we have to say is less important than what they have to say. More likely than not, I will move on to the next prospect. The potential client will, consciously or sub-consciously, probably do the same thing. Next!
The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. Active listening is the process where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent.
Given all the listening we do, you would think we would be good at it! Fact is we’re not. Research has shown that we remember a dismal 25-50% of what we hear. That means when you are listening to your boss, peers, potential clients, children or spouse for 10 minutes, you have only heard 2½-5 minutes of the conversation.
"Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk." ~Doug Larson
Turn it around and it reveals that when you are giving directions or presenting information, your audience isn’t hearing the entire message either. You can only hope the important parts are captured in your 25- 50%, but what if they’re not?
Selling is an extremely advanced form of communication. It requires the utilization of all our senses. Although you may feel that the greatest barriers to your selling performance may be attributed to having the wrong product, closing techniques, presentation tools, or even prospects, I want you consider the possibility that the foundation of successful selling is based on how well you listen.
The ability to actively listen has been proven to significantly improve the productivity of a professional salesperson. Knowing that, isn’t it ironic that listening is most likely the least developed skill amongst salespeople?
Just think back to your childhood, your time in school, even in your career, were you formally trained to listen? My money is on that your answer is no. Very few of us were formally taught effective listening skills. Most of the time we are listening it is simply the practice of hearing words coming out of our potential prospect’s mouth. So tell me please, if we know that effective listening makes a dramatic difference, why don't we listen better?
To listen actively and comprehensively takes concentration, hard work, patience, the ability to interpret other people's ideas and summarize them, as well as the ability to identify nonverbal communication such as body language. Listening is both a complex process and a learned skill; it requires a conscious intellectual and emotional effort.
Listening with intention improves the quality of the relationships you have with prospects, friends, co-workers, and your family members. Ineffective listening can damage relationships and weaken the trust that you have with those very same people. The price of poor listening is many lost opportunities, professionally and personally. Not taking advantage of a selling opportunity is tragic and can easily be avoided.
It has been noted that more than 60 percent of all problems existing between people and within businesses is a result of faulty communication. A failure to actively listen can result in costly mistakes and misunderstandings. Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will increase your paycheck by improving your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings – all necessary for sales success.
Listening is a learned and practiced skill that will open up new selling opportunities that you may have never noticed. It allows you to receive and process valuable information that might have been missed or neglected otherwise. So, invest the time needed to sharpen your listening skills.
Remember, when speaking with a prospect, you will not learn anything from listening to yourself talk. When selling ideas to a battered nation as the Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill understood the importance of listening. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” The point is that all anyone wants in a conversation is to be heard and acknowledged. Take notice what happens when you give someone your attention by actively listening. They will want to reciprocate. To be successful in the game of sales your potential clients have to hear what you are saying. Listen to them and they will listen to you.
I have found over the years that the training room is simply a microcosm of the sales situation. Salespeople will act exactly in the conference room as they do in an office or home of their potential clients. Armed with that knowledge I use that conference room as both a place to observe and modify certain behaviors in the group, as well as, individuals.
Here are a few tips that will help you help your salespeople improve their active listening skills.
- I find that role playing is often a great help to salespeople. In your next meeting encourage silence to practice active listening. Many salespeople can only wait a split second before they respond to a potential prospect’s comments or questions. Instead, in your meeting, get them in the habit of waiting a minimum of three to four seconds before responding to your questions or comments. Silently count to ensure that enough time has elapsed. This conscious pause will make your salespeople more comfortable with that moment of silence they are used to filling with their own voice. Although many salespeople find the conscious effort to stay quiet challenging, silence creates the space that will motivate their prospect to share additional information. It also gives them enough time to respond thoughtfully and intelligently to their prospect’s specific needs.
- Never interrupt while the prospect is speaking. This is my strongest pet peeve. Not only is it unproductive it is rude, rude, rude. Did I mention it is rude? Make a game of catching salespeople interrupting each other as they vie for your attention or acknowledgment. Most people really don’t know they do this. It is such a part of their everyday personality that it goes totally unnoticed. Pointing it out in a good natured way at least makes them aware of the interruptions. From there they can be more conscious and start to change the behavior. Obviously, what we were taught as children still applies. Enough said.
- Teach them to be present, to listen with an open mind (without filters or judgment), and to focus on what the potential prospect is saying (or trying to say) instead of being concerned with closing a sale. In the middle of a sales meeting I will stop, tell everyone to get out a piece of paper and to write down exactly what it is I just said. The first time I attempted this not a single person in the room could accurately reproduce what I had just said to them. What a learning experience that was for me. I began to do this on a regular basis and lo and behold they began to get better at paying attention. As the reps learned the importance of listening over time they realized that in doing so showed the potential prospect they had a genuine interest in helping them. Without actively listening to their prospects, they run the risk of missing subtle nuances or inferences that could make or stall the sale.
- Resist the temptation to rebut your prospects. As human beings we have a natural tendency to resist new information that conflicts with what we believe. Often, when we hear someone saying something with which we disagree, we immediately begin formulating the rebuttal in our mind and obscure the message that they are giving. If we are focused on creating a rebuttal, we are not listening. Remember that you can always rebut later, after you have heard the whole message and had time to think about it. Just remember that it is essential to NEVER make the potential client feel stupid. When presenting information that is opposed to what they believe, do so in a series of questions that will allow them to move down the path themselves. In the end you are much better served if they believe that they came to the change of mind on their own.
- Make the prospect feel heard. This goes beyond simply becoming a better listener. It involves making certain that the person to whom you are listening actually feels like you’ve been listening. To make someone feel heard, clarify what your potential client has said during the conversation. Rephrase their questions or comments in your own words to ensure that you not only heard but understood them as well. If you need more information for a clearer understanding, use clarifiers like:
''To further clarify this ...''
''For my own understanding what you are saying is ...''
''Help me understand ...''
''Tell me more ...''
Asking questions and using clarifiers demonstrates your concern and interest in finding a solution for the prospect’s specific situation.
I use the same technique in my sales meeting as I mentioned before. I go over something in the meeting and then ask individual reps to rephrase, paraphrase and parrot what I have just said. The more they practiced the better they got.
- Listen for what is not said. What is implied is often more important than what is articulated. If you sense that the prospect is sending conflicting messages, ask a question to explore the meaning behind the words and the message that you think the prospect is trying to communicate. Listen FOR information. Consider that during most conversations, we listen TO information. In other words, all we hear is what they are saying. However, when you listen FOR information, you are looking through the words to discover the implied meaning behind them. This prevents you from incorrectly prejudging or misinterpreting the message that the prospect is communicating to you. There are four main things we listen for when speaking with a prospect:
- Listen for what is missing.
- Listen for concerns the prospect may have or what is important to them.
- Listen for what they value.