Listening is a valuable skill. It helps you learn more about your environment and the person you are talking to. So, it’s unsurprising that it is also a must in sales.
However, note that listening is more than just hearing in passing; active listening is important. You must understand what you heard and apply it to your strategies.
What Is Active Listening?
Active listening is not just using your ears. You are listening with the primary goal of understanding. You genuinely want to understand your client.
There are benefits to doing this correctly. One, you get to learn more about the client. Two, your client will see how genuine your focus and interest are, and they will be likelier to listen to your pitch. Reciprocation and proper communication help.
When you listen closely, you can follow up with appropriate questions. So, you can take the appointment to a whole new level.
Why Is Active Listening Important in Sales?
When selling, you are appealing to your prospective clients’ needs. So, you must know what they want and listen to what they are saying.
Active listening is a learned skill. However, it also has a natural component. You must be genuinely engaged and interested in what your prospective client says and then build upon this interest.
You can also think of it as part of your research process. When you actively listen, you are not pausing to think of what you should say next. While you may have something to guide you, relying on a rigid script is not the answer here.
Why? Imagine if you are in your own head, planning the rest of your speech. You will then miss some verbal and non-verbal cues your potential client inadvertently sends.
When this happens, you may miss some details that can help you provide your client with the needed assistance. Clients will only take on your product or service if they think you can improve what they currently have.
What Should You Listen For?
Active listening is a skill. You get better at it as you practice it with more people. However, you need to know what you should be listening for. This way, you can quickly get to the meat of things.
You shouldn’t just focus on information alone, either. Sometimes, you have to “listen” for more than just words.
Here are some things you should also focus on:
1. Drama or Dramatic Language
Listen for dramatic language and delivery. Do you think it’s part of the prospect’s personality to be dramatic, or is there more to their delivery? Listen closely to understand if the person is apprehensive about an aspect of how their business is being run or if there is some truth to what they are saying.
They may want you to understand where they are coming from. You can provide sympathy without bowing out of the deal or giving them too much. It might be a strategy on their end, too.
Listen for sentences that begin with “I’m frustrated by….” While listening to someone’s problem may be awkward, with you focusing on their evident discontent, it is part of your job to identify that annoyance. You should recognize the irritation. Often, it is directed at the situation they are in and not at you.
Your prospective client is describing a problem. You may be able to respond by highlighting a feature of your product or service that can solve their problem.
You can provide clarity when your client expresses confusion. They may have admitted some confusion over tasks, work arrangements, and other aspects of how their company is run.
Again, confusion can reveal just where you can step in to assist them. Yes, you are listening to an issue you would not typically want to hear about, but here, you do. If your potential client has everything going well 100% for them, they may not need you.
Of course, hopefully, the irritation and confusion they are expressing can be resolved by what you can offer.
4. Display of Excitement
The above focal points may be telling you to listen to some negative feelings. However, it does not mean to say that you should not also consider the positive things your clients are saying.
So, when they express excitement, you should listen as well. This way, you will know about the kinds of things that they get excited about. Do you think you can provide them with something else that will have them reacting the same way? Yes, perhaps you can make that connection if you listen closely enough.
Now that you know what you should listen to. You should also figure out how to improve your active listening skills. This way, you can detect both verbal and non-verbal communication.
You should check the potential clients’ actions and tone as you listen to the words. For example, they said they are interested, but you need to know why. You will know better if you know what topics make them frustrated or excited.
Tips for Active Listening in Sales
As established, active listening is important in sales. Below are some tips to improve your active listening skills.
1. Don’t Interrupt Your Potential Client
As a salesperson, you may be used to talking instead of listening. You may be itching to give your sales pitch from beginning to end.
But here’s the thing. A sale is all about your potential client’s mindset. Do they feel comfortable with you? Do they trust your product or service?
If they are talking to you about their thoughts and feelings over what you are trying to sell, don’t interrupt. Let them say what they want to say. They will be more amenable to listening to what you have to say when they feel heard.
Interrupting someone is inherently rude, even if you are not in a sales situation. When you interrupt another person, there is a high possibility that you may be shutting down the conversation for good.
Once you put the brakes on the conversation, you don’t know how the potential client will react. They may be more hesitant to say anything. They will also feel as if you don’t care about what they have to say.
Interrupting can also hinge on an assumption. Assumptions may be correct, but they will still block the proper progression of the conversation.
On the other hand, letting the person speak freely will provide you with more information about them and their company. You get more context to work with because clients love being specifically catered to.
If you still need more discipline, mute the microphone while on subsequent prospecting or sales calls. Only disable the mute function when the other person is done speaking. Later, you will have formed a habit and do not need to be muted to listen without interrupting.
2. Find Something in Common with the Other Person
You don’t have to be extremely charming, although that will help. You just need to find a way to build a rapport with your prospect.
When you listen closely, you will find out if your client just needs someone to listen to them. You need to be able to show them that you know what they are feeling and that you understand.
Without interrupting, you can share an example of a similar situation you have been in to assure them that you understand. However, the meeting is not about you. So, don’t elaborate so much to make it a chat about your personal life.
You can, perhaps, begin with a quick story of something that happened to you. Briefly discuss your feelings about the situation. Then, connect that emotion to the other person by asking if they felt the same way.
By asking more questions about their experience, you continue the conversation. At the same time, you make it all about them. They will be glad for the opportunity to have them vent about something they want to be changed.
3. Summarize or Reiterate What the Client Says
Some people pretend to listen. They simply nod at the person talking. They may look like they are intensely listening, but their eyes are glazed upon close inspection. They are no longer there.
Some try to go to the next level. They will occasionally say things like, “I hear you,” “You got that right,” or something to that effect. It may sound good at first. But more of the same will alert the prospect that you haven’t been genuinely listening.
Wrapping up the conversation by summarizing what they said will make the prospect feel heard. They will know that you have been there the whole time. You just might be the answer to their prayer.
Even cashiers summarize to confirm a client’s order. Of course, you’re not going to do it in the exact same way. You will have to reiterate some points and connect them to what you offer them. Quoting them and connecting their words to what you have to say will strengthen the rapport you may have somehow built at the beginning of the meeting.
4. Make Eye Contact
You've probably heard this a million times. Make eye contact when presenting in front of a class as a student. It helps you make connections. With sales, it’s the same thing. If you don’t meet your potential client’s eyes, they may think you’re hiding something. So, connect with them by making eye contact. You should show how invested you are in the product and service that you are selling.
They say that the eyes are the windows to your soul. So, your prospects will definitely want to take a peek. They want to know the person who is pitching something to them.
If you are in a video meeting, focus your eyes on the camera. This way, it will look like you are looking at the person on the other side. It may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be tempting to just watch the person’s video.
It will be awkward initially because you want to see what the other person is doing. However, you should also “expose” yourself or a piece of your soul by putting the focus on your eyes.
Remember that you should also continue listening while making this little maneuver with your eyes on the camera and knowing what the other person is doing. Active listening, after all, is a skill. Through practice, you will be able to master it.
5. Send Encouraging Body Cues
If you want to keep the conversation going, you may want to give encouraging body cues. Of course, you are listening well and reiterating if needed, but you should also give off a generally positive stance.
You can nod when you agree with what they are saying at the right moments. You can confirm that nod with a brief statement, too. An open stance—no crossed arms!—will also help.
6. Clarify Information
Your prospect will appreciate your interest and initiative when you ask questions at the end. The questions should connect with what they have said. They should serve to clarify things, thus showing that you have been listening and are interested enough to be sure about what was said.
Active listening in sales will win you not just a sale but clients for life. Clients who feel appreciated will likely be loyal and stick around for good.
There is certainly something great about knowing people are listening to you. Everyone wants to feel heard. Your clients want to be sure that you care about the end result and how it will affect them. When you listen closely, you give off that vibe.
Genuine interest can help you achieve genuine interest back. It is a matter of getting what you give. Of course, don’t forget that it is ultimately strategic. When you listen, you learn more about the client. It is part of your research.
For more information about using active listening and other sales strategies, go to Verde Strategies.