I have a friend who’s attentive, asks great questions, and always makes me feel important. She’s an amazing listener. I think about her often when I find myself intentionally trying to be a better listener. A little voice says, “What would Leah do?” in the back of my mind.
That may sound strange since (as a coach) I listen to people for a living. But like most salespeople, I love talking! For most of us, listening takes a lot of practice.
That’s why I’ve created a whole set of rules and guidelines for myself so that I’m always working to become a better listener.
Don’t Listen to Respond—Listen to Understand
I’ve seen some terrible sales presentations, and they generally contain one or more of these elements (often all 3):
- They don’t listen to understand the needs before the presentation
- They don’t listen to the prospect’s reaction during and after the presentation
- They assumptive jump into solving a problem that never existed
There are two different types of listening: passive and active listening. Passive listening is like when you’re listening to the radio or TV in the background with very little engagement. You don’t want your client to feel like you are passively listening to them. Active listening is when you’re listening with a purpose. You’re genuinely engaged, and your client can tell.
The Magnificent 7 Steps to Better Listening
Here are some of the techniques I practice and rules I’ve set for myself to become a better listener. You can use these to boost your listening skills, too. In honor of some pretty cool western movies (past and present), I’m going to call these The Magnificent 7:
1. Give Them 100% (of Your Attention)
No multitasking! I never look at my email when I’m on the phone with someone. We’ve all heard the awkward phone silence when the other person isn’t paying attention. They “ah” and “um” twenty times to get out a simple sentence. Don’t let this happen; when you’re listening—just listen.
2. Turn Off Reminders and Notifications
I’ve never been clinically diagnosed with ADD, but as Shane says, I have the “squirrel syndrome“. When a shiny object appears, I look. So I have to actively block distractions. My computer doesn’t have a single notification turned on. I don’t know when I get a new email message—it’s not important right now (I check email when I choose). And my phone only notifies me of calls or texts—I’ve turned off notifications for every other app. And don’t get me started on those red message bubbles—turn them off!
3. Get Engaged
For face-to-face meetings, make sure you’re visibly engaged. Lean in, look them in the eyes, and smile and nod regularly. Be verbally engaged, too. You can do this by just giving quick commentary that fits the situation. Say upbeat words like, “yes,” “uh-huh,” or “cool” during positive statements. Chime in with, “no way!”, “bummer,” or “ooooh” when they describe lousy news. This is especially important during phone calls. They want to know you’re listening.
When You Get Busted
If you didn’t hear what someone said, ask them to repeat it—don’t fake it! I know someone who’s a chronic multi-tasker. This person routinely responds to bad news with, “that’s so awesome!”
Not cool, dude. Don’t be that guy.
4. Get the Whole Story
They’ve got a story to tell, so let them tell it. Don’t interrupt or jump into your sales pitch. I use the phrase, “tell me more about that” regularly to gain additional understanding. If you let them, prospects will sometimes bring out their own pain. Clients can sometimes solve their problems themselves, just by having someone just listen. And when a prospect solves their own problem (by explaining exactly what they need), they just sold themselves!
5. Put It On Repeat
When your prospect makes a key point, repeat it back to them in your own words. Not only does this make 100% sure you’re on the same page, but it also proves that you’re listening and, more importantly, that you get them.
6. Dig Deep
In business, people tend to hide or downplay emotions. That’s good if you’re angry with your boss or co-worker, but hidden emotions make it tough to make a connection with your prospect. Look for hidden emotion in their body language or tone of voice. When you identify a strong emotion, call it out by name in your “repeat.” For example, your client may say (in an agitated voice), “Sometimes the system gets really slow when we’re on a call with a customer.” They didn’t say they were frustrated, but it’s there. Don’t let them downplay it! You might say, “It must be pretty frustrating when the system slows down in the middle of your important customer calls.”
When you do this right, the prospect will get animated and reply with an enthusiastic “It is!”. If you’re a little off, your prospect will generally correct you with more details, “I wouldn’t say we’re frustrated, but it slows down the process of helping customers, which costs money/time/etc.”
Either way, this conversation is moving closer to the real problem. Which means you’re close to solving it.
7. Make Their Wildest Dreams Come True
Encourage their wildest dreams. When you’re solving a problem with a client or prospect, don’t be afraid to ask them, “in a perfect world, what could we do to make you happy?” We’re often afraid of the answer, but you shouldn’t be. The answer is typically not what you expected. Sometimes they just wanted someone to listen. This doesn’t mean you promise to make their dreams come true (like this famous politician), you’re just exploring their wants and desires. Another take on this: “If you had a magic wand and this would work exactly as you wanted—what would that look like?”
Be a Better Listener and Make More Sales
Good salespeople are good speakers, but great salespeople are great listeners. The good news is, with a little practice and a few good active listening habits, anyone can become a better listener.
Until next time—go sell some stuff!