We’ve often highlighted the importance of active listening. But that naturally raises the question – how can you become a better listener? What are the drills, the techniques, you can practice in order to listen to hear and understand? It’s an excellent question – one we’re here to answer today.
Treat every sales conversation as something completely new.
Remember that old cliché, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”? In sales and other walks of life, the proverb transforms itself into “Familiarity breeds assumptions.” Yes, that very knowledge and experience can unexpectedly induce a negative – when a customer’s conversation and situation sounds similar to what we’ve encountered numerous times before, automation kicks in. And in doing so, we lapse into the familiar, the past success.
But similar is not the same as the same. There can be fine details, little distinctions that render our expected solution the incorrect one for the customer’s problem – or at the very least, a less optimal solution than might otherwise exist.
The best way to avoid falling into that familiarity trap is to treat each sales discussion as wholly new. Come with no expectations or assumptions, and listen as if you don’t have the years of knowledge you’ve accumulated. Only once you’ve fully and completely surmised and understood the buyer’s situation should you turn to your reservoir of experience and think of the correct solutions to propose.
Hone your concentration skills.
Have a client who speaks in a monotone or is otherwise vocally sleep-inducing? For many people, that can create a lulling state of inattention and wandering – only to eventually come to and realize you’ve missed half of what was said.
The way to overcome that instinct is to work on developing your concentration. There’s the time-honored trick of staring into a lit candle, but a more practical idea is to read up on and engage in mindful living practices, with their emphasis on living in the present and paying attention to the specific sensory details all around you. (Not to mention, it also comes with the added side-benefit of stress reduction).
Give the buyer your undivided attention.
The advent of smartphones has created an epidemic of shorter attention spans, multitasking, and just generally being distracted. While this is related to the point directly above, undivided attention is distinct.
In other words, that means putting away the phone, quit thinking about other things, and pay attention to the client and what they’re saying. You’re also much more likely to pick up on the nonverbal cues that reveal more than their surface words that way. Otherwise, distracted, we might see those clues in passing, but they may not register because it’s a brief flash that doesn’t stick in our brain. If your attention is focused, then those signs don’t escape notice and, more importantly, you realize what the cues are saying.
Repeat back what the client has said, in their own words.
Yes, it’s another reminder to verbally mirror what the client has said. It demonstrates you’ve actively listened and are paying attention – as well as prevents numerous potential misunderstandings. Correctly mirroring also enhances your credibility – you’re demonstrating your attention to detail and not just getting the general idea of what your buyer is saying, as can happen if you try to just summarize or present it in your own words.
Watch media with subtitles.
This might sound out of left field, but it works. When people are first exposed to subtitles, they often have trouble both listening and reading the text at the bottom of the screen. Eventually, however, they adjust and are able to both read and listen with synchronicity and accuracy (and many never want to go back to caption-less multimedia consumption ever again once that’s been accomplished).
How does that help you as a sales rep? You’ll naturally listen more carefully and be able to comprehend more. Numerous researchers and studies have demonstrated that using subtitles does in fact improve listening comprehension.
Active listening can be a hard skill to develop, particularly in our distracted, multitasking world that’s filled with sensory overload. But by utilizing the tactics we’ve outlined here, you’ll have sharper, focused, concentrated listening that ensures you’ll stay in the moment of the conversation and really pay attention to what your customers are saying.