I like to chat. I get enthused about things and I want to help. That means there are times when I let my mouth run away with me. But no-one likes to be talked at. Few people like to feel like they’ve been sprayed by a high power water jet at the end of a conversation. And, absolutely no prospect wants to feel that the salesperson is all talk. Listening skills are essential to winning more business.
So what’s the answer? The answer is perfecting the art of asking good questions and learning how to listen. Thankfully, I’ve mastered how to punctuate talking with effective questions. I’m also a note-taker so I’ve increasingly been able to reduce my own personal verbal diarrhoea to the definite advantage of gaining more sales opportunities and winning more business. That doesn’t mean I don’t talk. It does mean that I listen more and talk about things that are more interesting for my customers without jumping in too early with stuff that could easily be irrelevant.
How do you make this seismic shift if you aren’t blessed with large ears? The start point, as I mentioned above, is learning how to ask good questions. You also need to get your opening line right in a sales situation. Too long and the prospect will switch off and disengage. Then you’ll be forced to talk more to compensate for the lack of feedback and rapport. But some of this relates to learning proper listening skills and working hard at them.
There are so many distractions nowadays. The noise in the office; emails arriving by the dozen; irritating colleagues waving at you to ask a question as you’re speaking to a customer; Facebook; work deadlines and many more. We live in a world of clutter and communication overload. Check out our web presentation about how lead generation has changed if you don’t believe me.
The fact is that we need to declutter and focus if we are to perfect listening skills that will support sales. How do we do that? Below are 10 tips to improve your listening.
- Prioritise – We all have loads to do and have competing pressures on our time and attention. However, if winning the sale is important, it needs focus. That means removing unnecessary distractions. Ever tried to have a conversation with someone whose focus is elsewhere? Obvious isn’t it. Try to stay focused on what’s in front of you whether that’s on the phone or person to person.
- Take notes – That doesn’t mean being a scribe and losing focus on the person. You could risk missing the emotional cues if all you do is note down what the prospect says. But good notes are important for later on and for summarising what’s said. It also prevents your attention from wandering.
- Use two ears – On the phone, try to use a headset if you can. You will feel more enclosed within the conversation and less prone to outside distractions and external noise.
- Use your body – When you’re face to face, lean in (not too much) so you show that you’re listening. Keep eye contact (again not too much or you’ll come across as weird). Use nods and facial expressions to demonstrate attentiveness. But make sure it’s since. Check out this sketch from the US Office for how NOT to do it. It’s funny.
- Don’t pre-judge – If you join the conversation with pre-determined ideas, there’s a risk that you’ll spend less time actively listening to what the other person says and more time plotting how you’ll convince them to your point of view. Try to enter the conversation with an open mind and you’ll be more inclined to listen so you can understand their point of view.
- Feedback – This can be two ways. First, it’s the acknowledgements such as ‘ok’ or ‘uh huh’ or ‘ah I see’ and expressions such as ‘oh really’ that we all naturally do when we’re engaged in an interesting conversation. It could also be a simple nod of the head, a smile and eye contact as we mentioned above. I’ve heard people interject with ‘oh right that’s interesting’ at a most inopportune time in the conversation that was incongruent with what the prospect was saying. So take care to listen before chucking in acknowledgements.
- Don’t interrupt – This is the worst sin and we’re all guilty. Listening skills are very important. Whatever the reason, try to refrain from speaking over the other participant. It doesn’t bode well. You can do this by following some of the other tips below.
- Breathe & pause – This may seem a strange one. But taking a deep breath and pausing, enables you to gather your thoughts, interrupts the pattern of speech and allows the other person the time to speak. It also slows you down and reduces the likelihood of pummelling the other person with a rat a tat tat of words.
- Summarise – There’s nothing that demonstrates good listening than a good summary of the conversation. Use things like ‘so, if I understand correctly’ and ‘ok so what you mean is….’ It shows you listened and that you are interested. But beware doing this if you weren’t properly engaged.
- Practice – It may sound daft as we listen all the time. But, we all like the sound of our own voice. So, from the next conversation you have, try out the tips above and check out the difference in response. You never know, it may make you more likeable and win you more business!
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