4 Ideas to Become a Better Active Listener
In a sales setting, active listening involves giving a prospect your complete and undivided attention. That's often a challenge in today's frenetic world, where attention spans have become increasingly short. But customers are more likely to pull the trigger on a sale if they feel heard, understood, and appreciated.
Listening is a skill that can be improved (but rarely given the focus). Below are 4 ideas:
1. Don’t Interrupt
When a customer speaks, that's your cue to focus outward and to concentrate fully on the message. Don't interrupt by completing the speaker's thought, and avoid interjecting with your own opinions, sentiments, or counter-arguments. Feel free to make small, non-distracting comments, such as "Got it," or "Aha," that will encourage the speaker to elaborate. When it's your turn to speak, pause briefly (count to 3 in your mind) before responding, so it's clear you have processed and fully appreciate the customer's message.
2. Remove External Distractions
If you're meeting by Zoom or on the phone, do everything necessary to maintain focus on the speaker. Get rid of potential distractions. Close the door to your office, alert co-workers that you'll be unavailable for the next hour, turn off text notifications, and close any windows that are open on your screen. If you'll be tempted to check your watch, put it in a drawer. Set up your environment so you’re better at giving total attention, and the customer knows you're listening.
3. Review, Reflect and Restate
As the conversation progresses, periodically summarize what you've heard. The customer will appreciate the validation and the opportunity to clarify, if necessary. Jot down notes during your meeting, so you can keep track of the customer's observations and concerns. When it's your turn to speak, restate what you think you've heard, using statements like, "It sounds like you're saying..." Then, ask any relevant follow-up questions.
4. Enhance your Body-Language Skills
Allan and Barbara Pease, in "The Definitive Book of Body Language," examined thousands of recorded sales negotiations over a two-decade period. They demonstrated that body language has a greater impact on negotiations than verbal communication does. So, be aware of non-verbal cues that might influence the direction of the conversation and ultimately impact the sale. Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., a professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont-McKenna College, recommends the following:
Sitting up straight
Facing the other person directly
Looking fresh, alert and interested
Maintaining strong eye-contact
Nodding occasionally to convey interest and understanding
Other non-verbal cues, both positive and negative, to be aware of include the following:
Tone of voice
Facial expressions, including smiling, grimacing, arching your eyebrows
Physical gestures, such as tilting the head, shrugging the shoulders, opening or crossing arms, crossing legs
Speed of speech
All of these behaviors have the power to communicate vital information about what the speaker and listener are thinking and feeling. Learn to recognize and control your own non-verbal cues and to read your customer's. Remember, as important as the verbal message is, it may be more important to determine the feeling or attitude that underlies that message.
In any sales meeting, assume your prospect will be turned off if you appear distracted, unsympathetic, or overly anxious to throw in your two cents. Make it your business to master the art of active listening and take deliberate steps towards that goal that will differentiate you from others in your industry.