No one calls and asks me for help to improve their listening skills. I’m often asked to help with approaching people or phrasing sales messages, but not how to improve their listening. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because most people consider listening as passive and talking is active, which leads us to believe there is not much to improve with our listening. Would it be okay with you if you said less and sold more? You can do it, if you become a more active listener.
You can improve your sales winning percentage by improving your listening skills. Before making any improvement you’ll need to acknowledge that hearing is not listening. Hearing is passive and listening is active. Hearing is usually a part of listening, but it’s not all of it. If you can agree with me on this, the following process to listening improvement will make sense and can lead you to more sales.
Step 1 – Become Aware of Poor Listening Habits (know your weakness)
Think back to some of your recent conversations. While others were talking can you identify with one of the following scenarios?
We were preparing our next response as soon as the other party started talking. When we had our response ready, we were like a racehorse waiting for the gate to open so we could start running. We didn’t care about what the other person was droning on about, we just wanted our turn. We knew what we wanted to say and the only thing that kept us from speaking was the other person talking.
We were judging and evaluating what was being said. We were judging it good, bad, interesting or boring. We might have been distracted by their tone, approach or gestures, so we stopped listening. It might have seemed like this to us, “Boy, they’re rude, or I hate when they say that.” Our evaluating caused us to start listening to our self instead of the other person.
We have checked out and started thinking about other things. This practice can lead to embarrassment if we miss some of what someone is saying. As we reengage we realize we’re lost. I believe this might be happening more and more with how much we multi-task. We like being on a conference call while handling emails and responding to text messages. We are only really listening for snippets we want to hear about.
We jump to conclusions rather than continue to listen. There is a point while the other person is talking that we make a conclusion and STOP listening. We end up at the first point of waiting to respond. A common conclusion for sales people is when you conclude how a feature or benefit of your product or service will help your buyer. You can’t wait for them to stop talking so you can impress them with your goodies.
You will take more time listening when selling becomes less about your need to convince someone to buy and more about truly understanding what problem they want to solve. In each of those scenarios listed above we stopped listening while someone was giving us a chance to learn more. Don’t feel you need to be in a rush. All your conclusions, judgments and so on can wait until someone has finished sharing. Until then, put your full focus on learning by listening.
Step 2 – Give yourself an order to LISTEN! (set the goal)
That’s right, you need to start being tough on yourself.
The first time I gave myself an order to LISTEN was when I was leading training workshops and planning sessions with 10-20 people all counting on me to be the “objective” listener. I was being paid to be the best listener in the room and I needed to get my mind in line. Yep, that mind of ours can either be a great talker or a great listener. To get your mind to stop talking will take many reminders. No one knew in the middle of those sessions that I was telling myself to “listen”, “just listen” and I began to train myself to stop talking internally and to simply listen.
Step 3 – Let Others Help You Improve (monitoring and measuring)
Allow the person you’re listening to help you monitor how well you’re doing. You do this by summarizing what you understand the other party has said and then politely ask them to confirm or correct you. You must do this humbly and hope for correction as much as confirmation. Remember, listening is more than hearing. It is about learning and understanding.
It might sound something like this, “What I hear you saying, Rene, is I can get in my own way of listening to others when I’m listening to my mind more than listening to the person in front of me. And, if I want to stop, I should start literally ordering myself to listen to the person in front of me. Did I get that right?”
When you begin to listen more to your buyers and confirm your understanding, your solutions and proposals will be better suited for their needs and the buyer will have a more pleasant buying experience. These two factors resulting from improved listening will help you improve your winning percentage.