Tune Up Your Listening Skills and Step Up Your Sales

By Giuseppe D’Angelo-

Those with the gift of gab are often drawn to the sales profession, but if they don’t unless listen, how can sales professionals understand the pain their prospects feel and the problems they face, and how they can help them? Here are some tips to hone your listening skills.

Get the Prospect to Talk

The key to getting the prospect to open up is to ask questions that help to lay bare the problem. Consider these examples:

  • “Are you satisfied with the level of service you’re receiving from your supplier?”
  • “What kind of difficulties do you have with…?”
  • “What implications does that issue have for you?”
  • “Are you saying it would help if…?”
  • “Why is this so important for you?”
  • “Are there other ways in which [fill in the blank] could help?”

Three Steps up the Listening-Skills Ladder

You have the prospect talking. Now what? Here’s how to move from beginner to advanced listening levels.

Beginner Listening: Become a Parrot

Take a lesson from parrots: they listen and repeat exactly what you said. Try it.Parroting works because people don’t always speak in complete, logical sentences. There are gaps as a conversation bounces from one subject to the next. When you repeat what may sometimes be a jumble of words, the person with whom you’re talking will automatically want to make sense of it for you. Plus, if you repeat a thought, even if it’s not fully formed, you’re more likely to understand it.

Intermediate Listening: Paraphrase

Paraphrasing is something that parrots haven’t mastered. That’s why it’s the next step up the listening-skills ladder. If you want to paraphrase something, you need to understand your prospect’s side of the conversation. You summarize it, telling him or her what you heard. Paraphrasing makes prospects feel good that you’re engaged and understanding them. It also gives them the opportunity to correct you if you didn’t quite get the nuances of the conversation.

Advanced Listening: Feel It

Now we’re on the top rung of the listening-skills ladder. You still paraphrase the conversation, but you also assess how a prospect feels about an issue. Essentially, you add a dose of empathy.

You might say, for example, “Your business employs some of the top thought leaders in your field, but since you’ve never promoted them, your competition is taking market share. That must be very frustrating.”

Now you’ve got them. Your prospects know you understand on a human level.

Add a Few Notes

Add note taking to the listening skills above, and you’ll be ready to ramp up your sales successes. Think of your notes as a cheat sheet for each prospect or customer. As you’re taking notes, follow-up topics will emerge. Magically, you’re creating the agenda for the call as the prospect talks.

When you’ve finished listening and start to talk, your conversation is customized to your contact’s needs, and that makes it easy for him or her to listen to you. As the prospect engages, you feel the relationship building.

Record, Listen, and Improve

It’s important to record and, on occasion, listen to your calls again. You’ll discover threads of the conversation that you missed when the call was occurring. That makes you aware of where your listening skills stand today and what you need to improve in future calls.