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What It Means When a Salesperson Doesn’t Listen

It is a commonly accepted idea that salespeople are supposed to be exceptionally gifted speakers and presenters. They are supposed to be able to think on their feet, and they are supposed to be able to engage in the verbal jousting that often accompanies a tricky sales call or a boardroom presentation. There is a kernel of truth here.

But the more important skill set, and the one that will do the most to win a potential opportunity isn’t the ability to deliver a presentation or to speak well. It’s listening.

An inability to listen is dangerous and a damning indictment of a salesperson. The inability to listen sends your dream client a message. It tells them all they need to know.

You Don’t Care

An inability to listen indicates that you don’t care about the person that is speaking. If you cared about them, you would be able to set aside your desire to speak and allow them the space and time to speak.

You have questions. You want to understand your client’s pain. You want to advance the opportunity. Sometimes, your dream client just needs to be heard. They need someone to listen to them.

The salesperson who can set aside their own agenda, set aside their desire to pitch, and set aside the need to try to maneuver a future commitment long enough to listen can prove that they actually care.

You Don’t Believe Their Ideas Are Important

You have no doubt heard some of the issues and challenges from clients in the past. You have solved some of these problems. This is old hat for you. So you move forward past the topic your dream client wants to talk through.

What you have indicated is not that you are a subject matter expert with the business acumen to help solve problems and generate a better outcome. You have instead proven that you don’t care what your dream client thinks, and that you believe that what you think is far more important.

Your dream client imagines a future working with you. They have an idea. They try to share it. You interrupt them before they can finish their thought and interject your own ideas. They don’t like what they imagine, and they imagine interviewing some other potential partners.

This Is About You

An inability to listen means you believe that this is about you. It means that you believe the sales call is about you. It means that the potential opportunity is about you. It means that you are putting you first and your dream client second. The rub?

Your dream client is looking for a partner who will do just the opposite and put their needs above the salesperson’s own needs.

When it’s all about you, then you have demonstrated that you are selfish. You have demonstrated a lack of maturity. You have undoubtedly undone any opportunity you may have had.


What does it mean when a person struggles to listen?

What does it mean when someone has the ability to truly listen?

How do you make certain that someone knows you value their ideas?

How does listening prove that you care?

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  • Harvey Gardner

    The champion salesperson is the champion listener, not the champion talker.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Harvey. Good to connect with you here and on Twitter!

  • Todd Ortman

    Once again, you are right on the money. If you want to differentiate yourself, bag the sales pitch and be a great listener!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      It is truly a differentiator, but it shouldn’t be. It should be table stakes, shouldn’t it!

  • Larry Johnson

    Very well-written article.  The conversation is about the client’s needs and not the salesperson’s need to put on a show or dominate the conversation.  Confirm and verify what is being conveyed to you in any verbal exchange and the other party will realize you are listening and  possess trustworthy qualities.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I have always said listening is an act of love. I’ll easily buy listening as a trust building activity, Larry!

  • Jim Carriglio

    This is related to the difference between telling and selling.  The salesperson can indeed be a subject matter expert, but the prospect has to be receptive to what (s)he is hearing.  When prospects feel they’ve been sufficiently listened to and understood, then they accept the information coming from the salesperson.  Otherwise, there’s a sense of prescription without diagnosis.  

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I agree, Jim. I love the point that you make that your prospective client isn’t likely to be receptive unless and until they have been heard. That adds a lot to this post! Thanks!

  • Daniel

    I once read “the prospect does not care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Your article underscores this point very well.