I get asked regularly what the most important skill or attribute is for being a successful sales professional. Most people are expecting my answer to be something along the lines of “being a great closer.” Or perhaps “being the kind of person who can talk to anybody.” Or maybe “being someone who can have tough conversations.” Or even “having amazing negotiation skills.”
But the #1 thing I have found that all top producers possess is good listening skills.
This might come as a surprise to you, but you must realize that perfecting your listening skills goes beyond merely hearing what your customers are saying.
Think about a classic objection like “I just need to think about it.” It usually means so much more, right? If you’re truly listening, you’ll be able to figure out what those words really mean. Whether that’s, “I’m not sure this product will work for me,” or “I’m not sure this will work in my budget,” or even “I’m not sure I like you,” having finely tuned listening skills will help you hear what they’re saying, along with what they’re not saying.
Effective listening is not a skill that we are born with. And for many of us, it isn’t taught or reinforced as we grow up either. But as I’ve improved my listening skills over the years, I’ve learned how much you can gain by truly observing and actively listening.
Listening, in the end, means accepting silence. Silence is okay! It’s not a bad thing or a scary thing. You don’t have to fill every second. In fact, when I’m on a call with one of my coaching clients and they say, “Dew, are you still there?” I take that as a compliment. Because it means I’m focusing so deeply on what they’re saying or taking such deep notes that they think they’ve lost me. And I’ll say, “I’m here! I’m just listening.” Developing that kind of immersive listening skill isn’t as hard as you might think.
I came up with this easy-to-remember acronym to help my clients improve their listening skills. So what are the six steps to becoming a better listener?
L: Lean In
This is all about body language. What is your body language telling the person that you’re talking to? Are you paying attention? Are you distracted? Even over the phone, people can hear your engagement. So make sure that you’re really being a part of the conversation; get in there and be an active participant.
I: Initiate Eye Contact
It’s so vital to give the speaker your full attention. In person, this means establishing and maintaining good eye contact. Now, this is harder on the phone of course, but what I like to say in that case is to just pretend that you’re talking to somebody who is right in front of you.
When I’m doing a lot of my calls, I will look out the window because I’ve found that when I look at my computer, I am tempted to read or pay attention to other things. So instead I try to look at something that will allow me to make “eye contact” with the person I’m actually speaking with.
This is where you give the speaker feedback to make sure that you’re on the same page. This doesn’t constantly mean saying something like, “So what I hear you saying is…” and just repeating their words.
It means that if you’re deep in the conversation and you don’t understand what they’re saying, don’t BS them by just agreeing or nodding. Figure out what they are saying and then summarize that for them to confirm that you understand before moving forward.
T: Think About What the Other Person Is Saying
Instead of listening to respond, you must listen to understand. When someone is talking, let their words paint a picture for you of what they’re speaking about and really dive into that. Instead of being preoccupied with thinking about what you’re going to say next, be in the moment and just listen.
E: Eliminate Distractions
I’ve talked about this many times, but I have a total “squirrel” mentality. If I’m in a large group and holding a conversation with someone, I try to turn my back to the action so I can eliminate any distractions. If you’re going to have a one-on-one with someone and you’re prone to distractions, put your back to the crowd. If you can more easily ignore distractions, then put your participant’s back to the crowd so that they will give you their full attention.
And for the love of all that is holy, please make sure your phone is turned off! Even if it’s on vibrate, people can still HEAR that. I personally have a leather pad that my phone sits on when it’s on my desk so that in case it rings while I’m on a call, the people on the phone with me won’t hear it buzzing. If you simply have to take your phone into a meeting, make sure it’s turned off or in airplane mode and put it face down on the table. Don’t be the person who derails the conversation by saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, let me turn off my phone.”
N: Never Interrupt
This is, hands down, the hardest of all the skills! So many of us grew up in households where we had to fight to speak, so we learned that the person who talks the loudest or insists the most fervently will get the attention of the room. But never interrupting just means really waiting your turn to speak until the other person is done. If you ever find yourself saying to someone in conversation, “I’m sorry, go ahead” that means you’ve interrupted them. Cut it out!
These few easy tweaks will help you take your listening skills to the next level. Starting today to become a more active, engaged listener could pave the way for you to crush your goals this year. So listen up! It matters—a lot.
Until next time—go sell some stuff!