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Four Important Tips to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

By Marlaina Capes

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One of my favorite thought provoking questions to ask a Sales Manager is “What do you think is the single most important selling skill for a salesperson?”

Responses vary: some argue that prospecting skills are the single most important skill – their rationale is that if you don’t have anything in the pipeline, no other sales skill matters. Fair enough. Others argue that closing skills are really what matters the most. They espouse, “Give me a good closer and sales will increase”.

Still others say that questioning skills are the most important skill. Their thinking is that if you can uncover needs, the rest of the sale will follow more easily. While I believe questioning skills are important, I would argue that there is one skill that sets apart top sales people from all others: the skill of listening - really listening, to another person.

Here is why...

Many times, sales people listen only to hear what they want to hear, or they listen long enough to interrupt and correct the speakers ‘wrong’ perception or they listen while focused on their agenda. When a person has the ability to truly listen (actively listen), they are able to hear what’s being said from the other person’s viewpoint and leave their own agenda on hold long enough to understand the other person. And that is precisely why great listening is the single most important skill for a top notch sales person. 

These four tips will help your salesteam improve their active listening skills, but be forewarned: while this sounds simple, it requires a great deal of practice and self-awareness.

#1 Listen with the intent to understand

Active listening starts with listening with the intent to understand. It couldn’t be more basic, but it is really difficult. It means that as seller, I change my focus from pitching my product and shift instead to a mode of truly understanding the other person. It really starts with intention. 

#2 Focus completely on listening

This means no multi-tasking. The word active means that I am so engaged in listening to another that I really can’t send an email, check my smart phone, plan my best response to an objection or anything else. It means that I’m all ears.

#3 Ask questions to understand

As I’m listening, when I hear something that could be interpreted multiple ways, or when I hear something that isn’t clear to me, I inquire to be sure that I’m really understanding their intent. If I’m not asking questions I run the risk of making assumptions that may not tie back to what the buyer intended. It means asking thought provoking questions that take the conversation to a deeper level. Questions like “is that problem effecting other departments?”, “What could this mean to your customer base?” Honing the ability to ask these questions will deepen your understanding significantly.

#4 Summarize what this means to the speaker 

This technique, above all sets a great listener apart from others.  It is one thing to be able to summarize the key points of what was said – and that is important-but to reflect what it means back to the speaker is when the speaker will feel heard and understood at a deeper level. “Wow, it sounds like solving this production problem would take a huge load off and free you up for some of the other projects you’re hoping to get to.” This is different from hearing at a self-serving level.

The beauty of the art of active listening is that it not only serves the individual as a salesperson, it serves them as a people manager, an employee, a spouse, a friend and a parent.

So to me, active listening is, without any doubt, the single most important skill that a salesperson can have. 

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About Marlaina Capes

Marlaina Capes
Marlaina Capes is a Senior Director of Client Services at the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). She has over 20 years of experience helping organizations improve performance in the areas of sales skills and leadership development. At SRG, Marlaina has worked with industry leading clients including Abbott, AdRoll, Alcon, Catalina Marketing, FactSet, Johnson Financial Group, Maritz, RingCentral, Univision, and Valmont Industries.

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