Today’s business environment is intrinsically tied together by ongoing information exchanges between two people. This personal communication is most often facilitated by the spoken word. Understanding this information, as it flows within a dialogue between two people is fundamental to improving one’s selling effectiveness.
One of the most significant business information exchanges is between a company’s front line sales representatives and either it’s existing or potential customers. Information processed between these parties will have a significant affect on many other employees within both party’s respective companies as purchase commitments are made.
Maximizing the effectiveness of aural business communication between sales personnel and customers hinges on two fundamental communication process components, talking and listening. It makes sense that no matter how well you articulate a message to a customer, if it is not effectively absorbed by your target audience the probability of sales success is greatly reduced.
Why Do Salespeople Tend to NOT Listen Well?
It is known that humans think faster than they listen. While a sales prospect is talking at an average rate of 125 words a minute, the average salesperson is thinking at a much more rapid rate. The act of listening, the differential between the salesperson’s thinking rate and the prospect’s speaking rate means the salesperson’s brain can and does work with hundreds of other words, in addition to the ones being heard. Often the salesperson is thinking about what they should or will say at the expense of what the prospect is actually telling them.
The challenge at hand for all sales personnel is to learn how NOT to construct their ideas and responses during the most critical stages of their selling process. This is not easy to do given the sales prospect is also subjecting themselves to the same listening distractions. It is no wonder so many sales calls “fall apart” after the salesperson missed a key point made by the prospect and consequently lost or never got the order.
Many business professionals, especially those who make their living selling, depend greatly on their communication skills to enhance their overall job performance and maximize their income. Few salespeople have yet to even scratch the surface of developing their optimum listening skill potential. Many sales professionals have never had the opportunity to learn how to listen most effectively.
Can A Salesperson Learn to Listen Better?
A comprehensive study completed at the University of Minnesota examined the listening ability of several thousand students and hundreds of business professionals. One of the primary conclusions of this study was that immediately after the average person had listened to someone talk, they remembered only about half of what was actually said – no matter how intensely they attempted to absorb all the information communicated.
Our basic inability as humans to listen effectively requires us to utilize continuous educational reinforcement to truly master listening skills not only in a business environment but on a personal level as well. This means for a salesperson to be most effective in any selling situation a systematic effort must be made to consciously attempt to concentrate more on what is said to them, than what they will say in response … this simple priority of aural information exchange elements will provide a significant selling advantage in almost every possible selling scenario.
Prioritizing listening over talking in a sales situation is easier said than done. It takes training and ongoing integration into any selling technique process.
Listening Skill Development Should be in All Sales Training
Any training, especially sales training, should improve listening skills development. Like any skill set, practice in a controlled setting can not only build self awareness of listening deficiencies, but it can reinforce required skills to leverage other, associated selling tactics integrated in the sales process. As Vince Lombardi once said, “It’s not practice makes perfect, its PERFECT practice makes perfect!”
Six Steps to Improving Selling Listening Skills
Again, with practice and conscious resolve, a salesperson can acquire the mental agility to become a better listener by mastering these six “mental listening exercises”:
- Learn to “listen ahead”:
By “listening ahead”, trying to anticipate where a discussion is leading to, during the dialogue, determining the conclusion in advance of your required response allows you to relax and improve information absorption
- Learn to periodically validate communicated information:
By mentally striving to validate the accuracy and completeness of information points made by the prospect, especially during pauses in the dialogue, (which can be achieved with note taking), you can allow yourself to absorb more information easier, especially information forthcoming in the continued dialogue
- Utilize “Active Listening” techniques:
By periodically, mentally summarizing the major points communicated by the prospect and voicing, reaffirming your interpretation of the points made back to the prospect you add a tremendous amount of clarity to the information exchanged thus far
- Strive to understand versus “Judging”:
By working to consciously understand what the prospect is saying versus the natural tendency of judging – approving or disapproving what is said will allow you to absorb what is actually said more than any other listening development technique
- Use your eyes to “get the rest of the story”
By listening with your eyes, paying attention to the prospect’s body language, their nonverbal facial and body movements or hand gestures you can see what the whole body is trying to tell you, not just the mouth!
- Maintain a mental repertoire of common responses:
By mentally developing and rehearsing how you are going to strategically respond to common sales prospect purchase objections, for example, in advance of a sales call, allows you to listen more effectively. A comprehensive mental inventory of common responses will also give you more confidence in any selling situation.
Today’s successful salesperson is ultimately an effective problem solver. Whether it is an existing or potential customer, the most successful sales people continuously strive to hone their listening skills to accurately define their customer’s business intentions. If properly trained, and with constant practice, a salesperson will quickly realize that how they talk or present their product or service is relatively unimportant when compared to how and what they listen to, when guided by well honed listening skills.
Applying the selling skills developed from these listening exercises can give extraordinary power, not only to the spoken word, but the words listened to, and may be, in practice, provide the only margin of victory in any given sales situation.