Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. It has powerful benefits: if both parties to a conflict, engage in active listening, the chances of being able to find a solution to a mutual problem dramatically increases.

WHY ACTIVE LISTENING MATTERS

Sales professionals don’t have the sway of pre-internet days when potential customers were more inclined to respect them as said authority on the produit du jour. Today’s customers are far more sophisticated and come, typically armed, with some hand-held web-browsing device to instantly gather as much information as the sales professional.

Sales professionals have no choice but to become active listeners. They must get inside the speaker (customer), that they grasp, from the speaker’s point of view, exactly what he/she is communicating. But much more still needs to be done. They must convey, to the speaker, that they are seeing things from his/her point of view.

INCESSANTLY TALKING AT THE CUSTOMER

Sales professionals, more often than not, are too busy trying to close to bother listening. Potential customers have come to expect that the sales rep is solely looking to sell. But skilled sales people listen differently. They listen deeply. They carefully observe the prospect’s facial expressions, tone of voice, language and overall body language.

Only by listening deeply can the sales person truly begin to understand the predicament of the prospect and empathize by putting himself in his position. Deeper listening will make the difference as prospects benefit from unexpected empowerment and really open up because of the higher level of trust achieved by the knowledgeable sales pro.

SEEMS LIKE COMMON SENSE, RIGHT?

Chances are that you don’t listen as effectively as you’d like to believe. There was a study of over 8,000 people employed in business, hospitals, universities, the military and various government agencies in which nearly all of the respondents believed that they communicate as effectively-or more effectively-than their co-workers.

However, research has consistently demonstrated that the average person listens at only about 25 percent efficiency. Though most people tend to agree that listening effectively is very important to professional success, the vast majority of people do not believe that they need to improve their own listening skill level. The most skilled communicators match their responses to the situation. They are able to successfully do this because they tend to follow a few simple steps:

  1. Repeat what you heard verbatim: the sales prospect will hear precisely what they just said and will, therefore, either confirm their meaning or offer clarification.
  2. Paraphrase what you heard: Simply condense what they said into something more concise. When done properly, your sales prospect knows that you listened because you internalized their speech enough to summarize what they said.
  3. What you just heard in your own words: By doing this you’re showing the prospect that you possess a framework for understanding situations like theirs and can empathize with their predicament. Just remember to keep the language as simple as possible so as not to lose or confuse the prospect.  
  4. Ask a relevant follow up question: Resist the urge to ask closed-ended questions; prospects aren’t fools. They’ll rightfully suspect that you’re only trying to close the sale. Instead opt for an open-ended question that will, ultimately, get the prospect to open up and share current goals, challenges and plans. Open questions allow people to express what they think in their own words, which offers more in-depth answers that will prove invaluable in the long term.

With active listening, sales pros can engage in more meaningful conversations, meet challenges, accomplish sales goals, overcome objections and ultimately, close far more effectively. Just remember, when in doubt, don’t shout or pout, open your ears and the close will soon appear.