An ancient Chinese proverb reminds us: “To listen well is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well.” While everyone can benefit from this sage advice, these words of wisdom are particularly appropriate for professional salespeople. Would you consider yourself a good listener? Perhaps a more important question might be, how would your customers, business associates, friends and family members rate your listening ability? Their feedback just might surprise you because most people believe they’re much better listeners than they truly are.
Poor listeners frequently confuse the physical act of hearing with the emotional art of listening. While hearing is a function of biology, active listening skills must be acquired and developed. In the selling process, when you talk you merely provide information, but when you genuinely listen you show respect, create trust and develop rapport. Unfortunately, our educational system places emphasis on speaking and writing, but not on listening. For example, I have a good friend with a Ph.D. who speaks three languages fluently but can’t listen worth a hoot. The only way to become a better listener is to mindfully practice “active listening” in all of your daily encounters from the kitchen table to the sales table.
Active listening is making a conscious effort to hear your customer’s words as well as to try and understand the total message being sent, both verbally and nonverbally. It requires you to listen not only with your ears but also with your eyes. It’s important to monitor your customer’s body language gestures and look for congruency between words, posture, movement and tone of voice.
Are you able to stay focused on your customer or does your mind wander? By giving your customer your full and undivided attention, you’re laying a foundation of trust and building rapport. Discipline your mind and put aside distracting thoughts. Each time you catch your mind starting to wander, “grab it” and immediately refocus your attention back to your customer. Show that you’re listening by using your body language gestures to convey your attention. A simple smile or nod of the head conveys that you’re listening without interrupting your customer’s flow of thought.
The best salespeople have a tendency to listen like a homicide detective and ask great probing questions. They don’t make assumptions; they summarize and seek clarity. An occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicates that you understand the message. Until this is done, your customer will resist your input.
Where communication is poor, mistakes increase, relationships break down and opportunities to make the sale are missed! If you want to enhance your professional image, strengthen relationships and dramatically improve your sales effectiveness, I encourage you to listen while you work.