Written by Ari Greenbaum, co-founder of conXpros
There is no better place to begin the journey to success in selling than the skill of listening. You cannot become a top sales pro without the ability to listen. A long time ago I was taught something that quantifies this important skill, and is especially important in the world of selling where people are often referred to as having the “gift of gab”:
Through listening you will be given every tool or “gem” necessary to understand your prospect and move them to a “yes” answer. But if you are not listening, the opposite is true. You will lead them directly to a “no”. When you are “tuned in” to your prospect, you will learn what their needs, wants, and pain points are. Once understood, you will use this knowledge to present solutions which are unique to who you are speaking with. It is impossible to understand the “why” your prospect is saying “no” without this skill. Human nature is that we like feeling listened to and more importantly understood. This is a feeling that bodes well for you in your building rapport, trust and confidence with your potential customer. People desire to be cared about and feel important. How will your prospect feel confidence that you will meet their needs if they are not confident that you understand them first?
There are two types of listening one must understand in order to be able to use the skill of effective listening to your advantage in sales. The first type is what most sales people do; listening to respond. This type of listening is not focused on the needs of the prospect, rather on your own needs to know what to rebut or combat through your response. As a result, there is little to no connection made with the prospect. Reliance is placed solely on the logic of your words or emotional buttons your response may push. I have witnessed this type of listening and the damaging effects to the sales process too many times to feel differently. This form of listening can be better described as “selfish listening” as it is only focused around you as the seller and meeting your needs to make a sale or commission. When potential customers get this feeling, unless they have no other options to meet their need (typically not the case), they will continue attempting to exit the sales process as quickly and swiftly as possible.
The second and prescribed type of listening is listening to understand. Stephen Covey refers to this as empathetic listening in his well-known and timeless book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Understanding and empathy go hand in hand. So, whichever name you prefer does not matter, rather acquisition of this critical skill does. In order to successfully listen to understand, you must take the “I” out of the equation and focus exclusively on the other party. Your focus must be fueled by a desire to help the person you are speaking with, not to sell to them. When you are using empathetic listening, you will begin to gain the understanding of what is motivating the person to speak the words they are speaking (the “why”), and better connect to them as human, not a dollar sign. Empathetic listening builds trust, reduces tensions, and creates an environment that is conducive to problem solving. Other positive impacts of this type of listening include showing the prospect that they are important and that you are not judging them.
In addition to the correct mindset, you can also show that you are an empathetic listener and want to understand through the responses you give to what they are saying. For example, simple empathetic statements or questions like “tell me about that”, “I’d like to hear about that”, or other similar open-ended questions. The powerful connection that is made between yourself and the potential customer is invaluable to the selling process. Who would you be more inclined to share your needs and problems with, someone who is looking for the “in” to hook you, or the person showing they value you and want to help? There is a wealth of knowledge and information written about empathetic listening, and I suggest you continue to learn how to become more effective and not simply rely on this blog post alone. This is a skill that will have a massively positive impact on your results.
Learning how to listen is the foundation of being a top producing sales pro. Everyone sends messages to the people they are engaged with which can be interpreted in different ways. You have already learned of the mindset and mental connections necessary, but there are other important actions which add to your effectiveness as an empathetic listener and help show the person that you are listening. I am sure that you will easily relate to what I am about to share when engaged in conversations with my spouse. I am choosing this example because it helps to understand the way a person’s thoughts and feelings are affected by the way they interpret if they are being listened to. I can recall many times where I was asked “are you listening to me?” when my wife was discussing something of importance to her. I can assure you that I was listening, but like anyone, I did not always show my 100% focus, thus the question. Many times, I would be able to repeat verbatim what she said, but the damage was already done and the follow up comment of “I guess it is not that important to you…” not far behind. The issue was that she did not feel like I was listening, and as a result worked to disengage from someone, even though she knows I care deeply for her and her feelings. Imagine the feeling that a prospect has when they do not feel like they are being “heard” or listened to!
You successfully get “tuned in” and connected to your prospect by not only the physical act of listening, but also by the messages you send through your physical presence and words. When you are in front of a customer, they are taking in all you have to offer in their attempt to get a read on you. There are physical indicators that you are or are not connected to the person you are speaking with. Eye contact is the most obvious of the physical signs. If your eyes are not focused, the other person will find it difficult to “trust” that you are really listening to them. There is the saying that “your eyes are the gateway to your soul”.The customer is trying to see if your “soul” is connecting to them or just your paycheck. Clearly, maintaining eye contact is a very positive way to show that you are listening. Your body language and expressions also play a critical role in the messages you are sending. The opposite is also true, where you may be reactionless or stoic, when what was just said to you would leave it impossible for a human to have no reaction. The key here is for you to become more aware of the messages you are giving off through your body language. Frustration and anger are the most common emotions that come out in facial expressions, but you are also sending messages in every movement you make. It is impossible to be perfect in this area, but through continued and increased awareness of your body language and expressions will benefit you with every prospect.
What comes out of your mouth equally impacts your prospect and adds to the “evidence” they are using to judge whether you are listening to them or not. I am aware that many people teach techniques that I am about to openly contest, but I will also justify my opinion based on my own experiences. It is commonly taught that one should reiterate part or all of what they just said to you as an effort to make sure you heard correctly and they know it. It is very similar to a visit to a psychiatrist, where after everything you share, they follow it up with the same thing you just said, but add a word or two to make it into a question. For example, you will say “I felt abandoned by my father” and the therapist will respond with “you felt abandoned by your father, why do you feel that way?”. Perhaps I have a negative image of the psych profession from years of therapy as a child, but the fact remains that normal people do not talk like this. Ask yourself, when was the last time you were having a conversation with someone where they repeated what you said to them back to you? Unless your only conversations are on the couch next to a box of tissues, I am confident that your answer is NEVER. If this is not how human beings speak, then why would anyone teach you to sound “weird”? The last thing that anyone wants is to do business with an individual that is not human or weird, correct? I will come back to answer this question after clarifying for you the technique proper approach, which will not only have you sounding human, but also show them that you are tuned in at the highest level.
Your prospective customer will share either a question, concern, or objection with you. The response to any of them is very similar with minor variation. This process is what I call AA: Acknowledge and Answer. When you are being presented with an objection or concern, you must respond with an acknowledgement which is based in empathy. There are many options, but here are a few examples that are highly effective:
“I understand what you are saying…”
“I can appreciate your concern…”
“I value how you feel…”
“I hear where you are coming from…
Once you begin with empathy, you then follow it with directly addressing the objection or concern. Your response will indicate to the prospect if in fact you were truly listening or had your mind focused on something else.
The approach to being asked a question is very similar except for the Acknowledgement, where instead of empathy, you will use a statement such as:
“That is a great question”
“You are asking important questions”
“I am glad you asked that question”
“That is a good question & I can see that question is important to you”
Remember, these are some effective suggestions but you should not limit yourself to only what is written here, use what sounds natural for you. Just like when you address objections or concerns, your answer will make clear to the prospect if you were listening or not. If you prefer to say other words that acknowledge the individual asking a question, you are on the right track. You must however focus on making them aware that the action they took to ask you a question was a great choice. There is a subconscious programming taking place when you suggest to someone, they are asking good questions; they are encouraged to ask more questions and feel that they are doing the correct thing in the buying process. These are invaluable thoughts and feelings, that without this simple acknowledgement will be missed opportunities. Prospects feeling good and asking questions is exactly what every sales prosmile about. These simple and effective methods of Acknowledge and Answer, are the perfect tools to SHOW the person that you were listening and also make a positive connection in the process.
I made you a commitment that I would revisit the question of why would anyone teach you to sound “weird”? The answer is very simple; top producing sales pros are excellent listeners;however, salespeople are often horrible at this critical skill. As a result, most people that are managing or teaching sales skills, are catering to their audience, salespeople. It is better to teach someone that is a poor listener to sound a bit weird and repeat what a prospect is saying, confirm they did hear them, and answer the question or concern, than to stick your foot in your mouth by responding with a clear indicator that you have poor listening skills. I ONLY believe in teaching the traits, skill, and qualities that are essential to becoming a sales pro, not sales person.
The skills of effective listening and asking of questions go hand in hand. This is part one of a 2-part series. Stay tuned for the continuation where I will offer insights to effective question asking in the sales process……