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Don’t JUST Listen!

Posted by: In: Uncategorized 22 Dec 2009 Comments: 0
By Jack Cullen

Take the advice of a good friend of mine, a Long Islander named Don. “Think about your BEST friend. Picture that person in your mind’s eye. Now, with that person in mind, think about WHY you regard them as your best friend.” Specifically, what is it about them that lead you to feel the way about them that you do? Go ahead and take a minute or two.

There is a very good chance that among the many things you value in your very best friend is that they really do listen to you. Or, simply put, he or she is a good listener. Someone who you can go to and tell about your problems, dilemmas, opportunities, challenges—things that are important, maybe even critical, to you. Further, it’s very likely this person isn’t quick to pass judgment on you either. They actual listen to all you have to say. They may serve as a solid sounding board that you feel comfortable with looking for advice or just given you the chance to unload your thoughts on. Either way, no matter what they do after first listening, you’re glad they were there for you. You trust them. You’re emotionally safe with them knowing what you are thinking.

Not only do they really listen to you but also, you know they are really listening to you.

And that is also critical in earning a prospective customer’s trust so they provide the valuable information you need to be of service or assistance to them. Just because a sales person asks good questions, doesn’t guarantee the answers are going to be meaningful. We must be certain the prospect knows we will listen to their answers. We have to earn their trust. They have to feel strongly about our credibility. To be able to do that can put you in a different class of sales people; those who have customers for life.

There once was a brilliant fellow with the ability to effectively carry out several activities simultaneously. He had no difficulty listening to someone while also reading, writing or even drawing! How productive he was! That strength when over used became a weakness though.

Imagine how a client felt giving a presentation about their organization’s future business direction to a small group of people from this fellow’s company. Sharing the most confidential of plans and watching this guy “doodle” or read the Wall Street Journal. No matter how skilled at listening he was the client, in their mind, felt they were being ignored. It’s not enough to JUST, listen they have to know they are being listened to and understood.

A good number of salespeople have heard people say, “You should go into sales; you’re a really good talker. You have a real gift of gab.”

Once in the profession, wise salespeople realize the key to success is in their ability to be an effective active listener. The ability to interpret and respond to verbal messages and other cues, like body language, in ways that are appropriate.

Unfortunately it is estimated that people filter out or change the intended meaning of what they hear in 70% of all communications.

Top salespeople don’t fall into that category. A case could be made that the best of the best are far more concerned and interested in the ideas, thoughts and feelings of others. They are very comfortable listening to their prospects and customers. Lesser skilled salespeople tend to dominate the discussion by doing most of the talking. When people are asked their opinion of salespeople this is often the first image that comes to mind.

When given the choice, most of us would prefer to buy from and do business with people that we like. When a salesperson is genuinely interested in what prospects and customers have to say they make those people comfortable in their presence.

Listening will help you establish credibility and build trust. That is the reason why it is so critical for salespeople to invest the majority of their time in an initial meeting with a prospect listening to them. These prospective customers will like a salesperson that listens intently in that situation rather than one who is just running off at the mouth.

The reason is simply that your listening to someone builds his or her self-esteem up. Of course you can probably think of a few people whose self-esteem is off the charts! You think they could care less about given the chance to express themselves. Guess what? Wrong! It doesn’t matter what self-image one has. Your active listening in a sincere way that is genuinely caring will make people feel good about themselves.

That salesperson that is too talkative and is a poor listener is on the fast track to annoying, irritating and alienating both prospects and customers. You see, in prospects and customer’s minds if you’re not listening you’re ignoring. The message is that you don’t value what they think. Now some salespeople are do make an effort to uncover a prospect’s thoughts, problems, opinions, etc. by asking good questions. However, people will be put off if their answers aren’t really being listened to. Worse yet they’ll be angry or hurt if they feel they aren’t being heard and understood.

We’ve seen far too many instances where salespeople have committed a major mistake by interrupting others in the middle of their sentences or thoughts. Resist the temptation to jump in even if you have some wonderful pearls of wisdom to share and enlighten them with. They’ll be offended you cut them off with “I know what you mean…” and your words will only fall on deaf ears anyway.

If people usually do make emotional buying decisions and then support them with logic, how well they perceive a salesperson listens will affect their decision to buy or not. Go back and take a few minutes to look through the last few paragraphs. We’ve been addressing things that involve emotions. Avoid the pitfalls the average sales person falls into.

So in selling your self, sound advice is to first listen to a prospective customer. Let their initial emotional feelings about the process be positive toward you. Nothing will get their emotions involved faster, one way or the other, than how well the prospect perceives you’re listening to what they have to say.

To be an outstanding listener, a sales person must most definitely possess strong self- discipline. Why is this so? The average individual only speaks at a rate of one hundred and twenty five to one hundred and fifty words per minute. On the average we can listen at a rate that’s up to four times faster than that: five hundred to six hundred words per minute! The bottom line is that you have two thirds of your listening time free or available to you to let your mind wander to think about other things. Sales professionals have to consistently be on their guard to concentrate on the prospect or customer so they stay focused. The sender of the verbal message draws conclusions as to whether or not you’ve drifted off on other things. We have to have the strength of character to maintain our focus when listening.

You can be quite confident that if you follow this advice you’ll find the prospective customer will provide you the information you need to be of greatest service to them. If you’ve invested the majority of the time initially trying to understand the thoughts, problems, opportunities, goals, issues and needs of the prospect you’ll see a return on that investment. That person will be more receptive to your ideas and solutions that will help them get what they want.

When they compare your presentation to another sales person they may well be evaluating both but emotionally they’ll be empathizing with you. They’ll be more receptive and appreciative of your proposals because of first having made an emotional decision to “buy you”. They know you understand the situation and believe you genuinely care more about assisting them then other sales people who just talk too much.

And, by the way, they’re probably right.

If this is all too complicated then AVOID:
  • Being too judgmental.
  • Explaining too early or too often.
  • Interrupting.
  • Sounding or appearing challenging, hostile or insincere.


Jack Cullen is a co-founder of CRKInteractive, a US-based provider of cutting-edge performance development programs for over 20 years. Northbound Learning has an exclusive Canadian partnership with CRK.

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