Everyone says that listening to the client is the most important skill a salesperson can have yet few salespeople actually bother to listen. For too many people, listening is just a cliché. Yes, you have to listen to your clients, but most salespeople do a lousy job of it.
That’s why we must 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.
Allow me to share an experience I had back when I was in graduate school and working for the university as a graduate assistant.
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!
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’s something you can try.
When you begin a conversation with a prospect, current client, colleague or some other professional who might refer business my way, set your brain to “listening mode.” Tell yourself that the person in front of you is going to say something that will have a direct impact on your success. It’s your job to find it. Try to approach the conversation like a detective who has to keep digging until he finds the right information. Your ears should constantly search for cues and clues.
Whatever listening technique you use, 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 “listening with intention,” not just going through the motions making it look like you are listening.