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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Salespeople, Lend Me Your Ears

3 ways to be better at listening to increase sales

Throughout my career, I’ve attended dozens of classes and seminars, all aimed at helping me grow sales. Regardless of industry, the overarching theme is always some variation of the importance of asking questions. But unfortunately, these teachings usually miss that salespeople have a deeply woven instinct to tell prospects how they can solve their problems the moment the opportunity arises.

Asking questions – the right questions – makes an average salesperson good. However, genuinely listening to the answers makes a good salesperson great. Far too often, average salespeople don’t take the time to understand the prospect’s needs before trying to close at the earliest possible moment. The only way to do this is by focusing on listening to the prospect and being genuinely interested in uncovering the core issue(s).

It’s not exactly a groundbreaking sales strategy to suggest that asking the right questions and listening to the answers will increase revenue. So why are so many salespeople horrible listeners?

  1. Preoccupied with Other Thoughts – Whether it’s wondering what to say next, anticipating the prospect’s answer, hoping the meeting will end soon because they have another one in 10 minutes, or how an objection can be addressed, these thoughts cloud the mind and make it impossible to truly listen.

  2. Impatience – Speed doesn’t always equate to efficiency. Often, speed leads to inefficiency as fixing errors due to speed takes more time than if the conversation had been conducted properly in the first place. This is especially true in sales as there is no way to accurately or efficiently speed up listening.

  3. Exhaustion – Sales isn’t easy and takes a lot of physical and mental energy to be “on.” Lack of focus can’t be cured with an iced caramel macchiato from Starbucks. Being exhausted impedes the ability to listen as concentration dwindles, memory wanes, and patience evaporates.

  4. Distraction – Just about every salesperson is on the go and able to instantly communicate with prospects, clients, or customer service in mere seconds thanks to the smartphone. However, the smartphone can also be a distraction with every little vibration. Nothing conveys “I’m not listening” like checking a phone during a client meeting.

  5. Ego – I know this will come as a surprise, but it’s far too common for salespeople to feel what they have to say is far more critical than what the prospect is saying. And, just like a dog that can sense fear in humans, prospects can feel when salespeople aren’t genuinely listening.

If you’re a salesperson – and have the courage to be honest with yourself – you’ll likely recall specific situations where you have fallen victim to one or more of the above, and it’s come at the cost of a sale. So with the goal of winning more sales in mind, here are three ways to be better at listening:

  1. Clear Your Mind – Before every sales call, take a few minutes to clear your mind of all other distractions – personal and professional. This single-minded focus will enable you to engage with your client in ways the vast majority of your competition is either unwilling or unable to do.

  2. Common Goal – To truly listen at an elevated level, a salesperson must first seek the same result as the prospect. In other words, the primary objective of both the prospect and the salesperson must be to solve the potential client’s problem. True collaboration and partnership can only occur when there is a common goal.

  3. Be an Active Participant – Active listening means that the salesperson concentrates on what is being said rather than passively ‘hearing’ the prospect’s message. As well as giving full attention to the prospect, it is critical to be “seen” listening. This means using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, taking notes, or simply saying “go on” to encourage them to continue.

In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey shares a wealth of knowledge on achieving more. Habit 5 is a personal favorite and relates directly to being better at listening: seek first to understand, then to be understood. It’s a simple concept, yet one that is difficult to master.

Don’t listen to build rapport, don’t listen to be polite, don’t listen as a persuasive tactic, and, most of all, don’t listen with the intent to respond as so many salespeople do. Instead, listen with the purpose of understanding the needs of your prospect, and you will elevate both your communication skills and your conversion rates.

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