Active listening is one of the most important skills in the salesperson’s toolbelt. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked and undervalued in the sales process. The result? Sales that should be easy instead become difficult. Sales efforts that can only lead to frustration – for the salesperson and the prospect – continue toward inevitable dead ends. And even when sales are made, the “solutions” sold might be off target, causing customer dissatisfaction and a damaged reputation for the selling organization.
By using active listening techniques, however, sales that might have been difficult become easier, dead-end prospects get weeded out early, and closed deals truly solve customer problems and ensure customer satisfaction and loyalty.
So, let’s dig deeper into why active listening matters and how to use listening techniques to overcome objections, provide true solutions, and sell more!
The Problems of Selling Without Listening
Too often, salespeople launch into a standard sales pitch first and listen later – when it’s already too late. This is a classic case of selling instead of solving, of pressuring and pigeonholing a prospect into a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t fit at all and doesn’t solve their real need.
When a salesperson doesn’t listen first (and listen actively), it sends these unfortunate messages to the potential customer:
- Solving their true needs or curing their real “pain” don’t really matter
- Their needs are not unique and therefore their account won’t be managed based on its individual merits
- The salesperson wants to make the sale as quickly as possible and move on to the next “conquest”
- The salesperson’s needs exceed the prospective customer’s needs
This customer perception is very likely the reality. And it creates tension between salesperson and prospect, leading to wasted time and effort for both parties. If the inevitable protracted selling process does somehow result in a sale, chances are good that the solution sold doesn’t truly address what the customer needs. And that is the biggest problem of all because it frustrates the customer and damages the relationship with the selling organization.
The Benefits of Active Listening
On the other hand, when a salesperson utilizes active listening techniques, both parties benefit in several ways:
- The prospect feels heard, respected and valued
- The prospect may offer fewer and softer objections if the emphasis is on their need to solve a problem rather than the salesperson’s need to make a sale
- The prospect has greater confidence that the solution bought will truly address their needs
- The salesperson saves time and frustration by being able to understand if there is a true “fit” between the solution offered and what the prospect really needs
- The salesperson gains a reputation as a trustworthy solution provider
- The salesperson makes more sales in less time due to being able to quickly channel sales efforts to more qualified targets
How to Use Active Listening in Your Selling Process
So, with the benefits of active listening clear for both buyer and seller, how can the smart salesperson use active listening to overcome objections and sell more (and more efficiently)? Here are some basic active listening techniques:
- Listen with your eyes. Maintain eye contact to establish and keep a better communication connection with the prospect.
- Be aware of body language. Adopt an “open” listening posture. Lean in as you listen. Nod to express understanding. Smile. Don’t cross your arms or legs in a defensive, “closed up” manner.
- Avoid the temptation to interrupt. Don’t interject features and benefits of your product or service while the prospect is explaining their need. There will be time to describe your solution later – if it really is the solution the prospect needs.
- Don’t just hear the words, but truly listen for their underlying meaning.
- Take notes. This tells the prospect that you want to get the details right.
- Repeat for understanding. Periodically during the conversation, say, “Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying,” and then repeat a key point the prospect has just expressed. Validating understanding shows a high level of concern and care.
- Ask questions when necessary for clarification. Although frequent interruptions should be avoided, if you are truly unclear about something the prospect has said, ask for clarification. Just avoid the temptation to piggyback that clarification with a premature sales pitch.
The Bottom Line:
Zig Ziglar once said, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” To help prospects get what they want, you must understand their needs. To gain this understanding, use active listening. This technique can strengthen the bond between salesperson and customer. It can ensure that solutions address real needs and lead to greater customer satisfaction. And above all, it can boost sales in two ways: 1) it qualifies prospects earlier in the sales process, and 2) it leads to more efficient selling with less time wasted overcoming objections. Ultimately, active listening benefits both the buyer and the seller – especially when used to discover alignment between the buyer’s needs and how your product or service solutions address those needs.
If you’re not sure your sales team members are fully skilled in active listening, one of Sales Xceleration’s outsourced sales management consulting Advisors can help. We can assess your team’s active listening skills, along with analyzing your entire sales organization, all to sell more with less effort.
Want to learn more about sales consulting and sales strategy? Read about various sales topics in our sales consulting blog.