By Jeff Beals
Ask any sales professional about the key to success in the sales business, and there’s a good chance they’ll say, “You have to listen to your client.”
As a sales strategist, speaker and author, I interview many successful sales reps, managers and executives. I always ask them about the secret to successful selling. The answers tend to be similar. One time, after yet another of them mentioned the importance of listening, I responded with a slight tone of frustration in my voice:
“Everyone says that listening to the client is the most important skill a salesperson can have,” I said, “yet few salespeople actually bother to listen! It’s a cliché. Yes, you have to listen to your clients, but most salespeople do a lousy job of it.”
The sales leader responded, “You are right. The key is to listen and TRULY HEAR.”
Salespeople think they are listening but they are really just pretending to listen. They’re going through the motions and not really comprehending what the client or prospective client is trying to communicate.
The more I pondered this, the more it reminded me of an experience I had back when I was in graduate school and working for the university as a graduate assistant.
An Ear-Opening Experience
Each month, we grad assistants were required to attend professional development sessions. The topic during one of those sessions was “active listening.” The presenter was some sort of “active listening guru.”
What she said made sense…Stand or sit with an open stance – arms not folded and legs not crossed – and lean slightly toward the person who is talking. Nod your head and show interest with your eyes and facial expressions. Make reaffirming noises to assure the speaker that you are actually listening. And finally, paraphrase back the last few words of each spoken paragraph.
If you do those things, the presenter said, you will be engaged in the conversation and will make the speaker feel understood and appreciated.
At one point, the presenter said it was time for all of us to role-play what we had just learned. She told us to pair up with another audience member and move our chairs so we were staring at one another. The presenter informed us that we would each take turns speaking and actively listening.
I was paired with a fellow grad student named Sandy. We agreed that Sandy would talk first and I would actively listen first. The facilitator blew a whistle to indicate it was time to start. As Sandy spoke, I monitored my posture and all my non-verbal messages. I nodded. I showed interest with my facial expressions. I paraphrased back certain words. I made sure my arms were not folded for even one second. All in all, I was pretty good at this active listening stuff.
Or so I thought.
As soon as the facilitator blew her whistle indicating it was time to switch roles, it suddenly occurred to me: I hadn’t the foggiest clue what the hell Sandy had just told me!
How You Can Truly Hear
I was so focused on the mechanics of good listening that I never really HEARD what she had to say.
This happens to so many professionals on an almost daily basis. People intend to listen to their clients, but in the end, they don’t truly hear.
How can you fight this tendency and not fall into the fake-listening trap?
It’s not easy, but here is what works for me.
When I begin a conversation with a prospect, current client, colleague or some other professional who might refer business my way, I set my brain to “listening mode.” I tell myself that the person in front of me is going to say something that will have a direct impact on my success. It’s my job to find it. I try to approach the conversation like a detective who has to keep digging until he finds the right information.
That may or may not work for you, but it helps me a great deal.
Whatever technique, you use, the sales experts are right: you DO have to listen and truly hear. Showing interest in a client helps build a trusting relationship. Discovering what the prospect values makes it possible for you to do business with them.
The key is to “listen with results,” not just going through the motions making it look like you are listening.
Jeff Beals is a professional speaker and award-winning author, who helps professionals enjoy greater success through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. He delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 637-9300.