How to Get Better at Active Listening

Of the many sales skills you need to succeed in consultative sales, the first ones on the top of any list will be listening skills. The stereotype that salespeople are good at speaking is true and accurate, but the best salespeople have listening skills that exceed even their power with words.

Shows You Care

There are benefits to being a great listener outside of things like “discovering the client’s pain points.” The most important outcome of active listening in sales is that it is proof positive that you care enough about what the other person is saying to give them your full attention and focus, a gift of immeasurable value in a world overrun by the allure of distractions.

The idea that one must be “other-oriented” instead of “self-oriented” is brought to life by this idea. The more your client is speaking and you are listening, the more you prove that what they say matters to you, that you care enough to try to understand their position and their needs, and that you might be someone worth their business and partnership.

Creates a Preference

Even though many factors make up this idea, you can boil winning or losing big deals to a single idea. That idea is “creating a preference.” In the end, after all the meetings and all the back and forth, your dream client either prefers to buy from you or they prefer to buy from one of your competitors.

Being an exceptional listener is an essential strategy for creating a preference to work with you. Your desire to understand what your client needs, why they need it, how a solution might need to be designed to fit them, and their company, offers strong evidence that you are going to be a better partner than the salespeople who made little room for the client to speak.

Prevents You from Dominating the Conversation

The more time you spend listening, the less likely you are to dominate the sales conversation. Dominating the conversation is easy to do when you are excited about what you sell, and when you are confident that your solution will produce better results than your prospect can even imagine.

Uncovers Motivations and Preferences

The more time you spend listening, the more your contacts will talk. The more your contacts talk, and the more certain they are that you are listening, the more they will reveal. Not only will they reveal more to someone who is really listening, but they’ll also often reveal more important things without you even asking for the information they share.

Making space for your client to speak while you listen will better your chances of understanding their motivations and their preferences. Great listeners almost always gain more trust, and that trust is rewarded with more and more important information.

Helps You Learn How to Win

Last year, I bought a new house. When we walked through the house, the real estate agent was talking to someone on the phone. I heard her say, “The owner is afraid they are going to have trouble selling the house because his wife wants their high school senior to graduate at his current high school, and no one is going to be able to let them stay in the house until he graduates.”

I made an offer that was quickly rejected, as twelve people walked through the following day, and the owners knew they could get a better offer. I made a second offer with a move-in date of July 1st, giving the couple selling the house the time they needed to get their high schooler to graduate with his class. You will hear all kinds of interesting things that will be useful later when you listen.

How to Listen

Listening, especially the kind of active listening necessary to critical conversations, isn’t easy. It requires your full focus and concentration; something made difficult for salespeople because we want to create value for the client by sharing our ideas. Not to worry, there will be time for you to share later, and what you share will be made more powerful because you listened to gain an understanding–not to respond.

Here is a recipe for improving your listening skills, which will serve you in B2B sales, and in every other area of your life.

Ask questions that require thought.

Many of the questions salespeople ask are weak questions. Poor questions are ones like, “What’s keeping you up at night?” “What does your existing supplier do that you wished they did differently?” or “What does your supplier do that you like?” These questions don’t provide your client with a good enough prompt to make a conversation useful or interesting.

A question like, “What changes have you made over the last twelve months to improve your results, and what decisions have you made about how you are going to change your approach over the next twelve months?” There is little chance your contact walked into a sales call expecting to be asked about what they have done to improve their results over the last year or what they intend to change in the following year. Providing you with an answer requires them to think first.

Powerful questions help you to assist your contact in discovering something about themselves and their business. Getting questions like these right often causes the response, “That’s a really good question.” Your contact’s answers will be more valuable than the answers they provided your competitors to their weaker questions.

Be patient and concentrate on what is being said.

Active listening is a concept that depends in large part on your ability to focus on what the other person is saying and what it means. Don’t interrupt or interject. Allow your contacts to finish their thought. If you’ve read The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need, you already know to pause before responding, waiting long enough to see if your contact was really done speaking–or if they reveal something more important because you are truly listening.

You might worry that you won’t get a chance to tell your contacts everything you want to tell them. There will be time for you to speak later. You will learn nothing about how you win your client’s business by talking. You will learn what you need to know by listening.

Respond without repeating back everything you heard.

I know you have been told to parrot back everything the client says, confirming your understanding, but it’s exhausting to the other person who just said something. For example, when the contact says, “We really want the solution to do this thing,” responding with, “So if I understand what you are saying correctly, you want the solution to be able to this thing.”

You can always confirm things that need to be verified later in the conversation. There is no need to repeat what your client just said when you could write it down and ask a follow-up question.

Ask for more context.

The more time your client spends talking, the more you are going to learn. To keep them talking as you continue listening, when they tell you something that is important, ask them to share more. Ask them to share why something is important to them now or what experiences they had that resulted in some conclusion they have come to about their business or what they believe to be the right solution to their problem.

You create a competitive advantage when you have a better and deeper understanding. You miss a lot when you assume you understand why your client believes something or wants something when you don’t ask questions that provide context and improve your understanding.

Concentrate on what isn’t being said.

The best listeners hear what isn’t said. For example, when a contact turns to another person on their team and says, “I’m not sure what Tom and Terri are going to think about this,” or “We tried that once.”When humans communicate, what they say is often carrying different information that the the words that make up the sentence.

When you are genuinely and sincerely listening, you will hear more than the words and sentences. You will pick up values, preferences, past experiences, and clues about what your sales conversation needs to include for you to serve your clients.

If you want to win big deals, start by being a better listener.

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