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Tell Me Your Name Again. Active Listening and High Performance Sales

Recently I attended a networking event and as people were introducing themselves, I heard the usual disclaimer of people saying "I won't remember your name so please don't quiz me." Why does this happen? Why don't we remember names? Most of the time it is because when we are introduced to someone, particularly in an environment were we are meeting multiple people, we tend to hear their names but we are not really listening.

There is an advertisement that has run for many years about the most interesting man in the world. The message of the ad is that we all want to be the most interesting person in the world, or in the case of sales professionals, in the room. If I were to ask you who you want to be, the most interesting person in a room or, the most interested person in the room what would your answer be? I am sure I would get both answers and the logic behind being the most interesting person in the room is that sales professionals love to talk and know the importance of being interesting and engaging. However, the correct answer, particularly in sales, is that we want to be the most interested person in the room.

Why? Because active listening is one of the most important and valuable skills in sales. If you are a good listener you will dramatically improve your closing ratio, get into new accounts more easily, grow your existing business and improve your customer satisfaction. The problem is, many sales people sell without listening. Throughout my years in sales I have witnessed sales people who sell first and hear later. Notice I did not use the word listen. While they are, at some point in the process, hearing they are not listening. What's the difference? We will get to that in a bit.

As a sales professional, when you fail to actively listen you can not determine a customer's pain point and without a pain point you will not have a problem to solve and no reason for a prospect to buy your product or service. Not actively listening also sends a message to a customer that as a sales professional you lack empathy and are only interested in quickly closing the sale and moving on to the next prospect. Finally, sales people often work from a script and more likely than not, the sales person selling from a script is not well rehearsed. Most of the time they sound like they are reading. During this scripted sales process most sales professionals are thinking about the next line in their script and are not listening to the feedback they are getting from the prospect.

Sales professionals who are active listeners can take in everything that is being said and summarize the points back to the customer. By doing so, the customer will feel heard and valued. A sales professional who is engaged in active listening will gain a better understanding of the customer's pain points and at the same time establishes themself as a trusted advisor.

Active Listening. The Chinese character for listening and what we can learn!

One of the best examples of active listening is the Chinese character for listening. Chinese characters are made up of different variants of strokes and have a deep connection between the word being expressed and and the drawings. In the case of listening we can see the connection, The meaning behind this character is what we need to think about when we work on our active listening skills.

Ears to hear- When it comes to Active Listening, hearing is one of the most important components. When you are hearing with your ears take these step to ensure you are turning hearing into listening.

  • Try not to interrupt. You will have time to talk later. When the prospect is speaking let them speak. This is not the time to discuss features or benefits nor is it a time to come up with a solution. Let the prospect talk and tell you their pain point.

  • Don't just hear the words but listen for the deeper meaning. What are the words being said really about? This is a time to jot down notes.

  • Once the prospect is done talking and you have listened to what they have said it is a good time to rephrase their pain point and ask clarifying questions if necessary.

Eyes to see - The number 1 rule of communications whether it is engaging in a sales presentation, giving a speech, making a presentation or just having a conversation, is making eye contact. Your eyes and where they are focused is a very important aspect of Active listening.

  • Eye contact is a subtle way of letting someone know that you are actively listening and that you are engaged in the conversation.

  • Making eye contact helps build trust. Research shows that we tend to see people who avert their gaze as less sincere, socially anxious and deceptive. Conversely, we're more likely to believe someone who looks at us directly. If your presentation is to more than one person, use your eyes to look at all the customers in your presentation.

  • Eyes to see is part of strategic awareness (a topic that will be discussed in more detail in a future blog post.). Essentially the premise it to really see what's going on around you. Observational skills in sales will allow you to gain insight on customer behavior as well as possibly allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of their pain point and needs. An example would be if you are selling a new copier machine to replace an existing one. Observing how the current one is being used will provide insight as to what features and benefits the customer might need even if they did not fully express it.

Mind to think- Using your mind to think during active listening sounds easy right? In reality this might be one of the hardest skills and may blend a couple of activities. Remember in order to actively listen we want to give our prospect our full attention, focus on what they are saying and be able to restate their problem while asking clarifying questions. Wow that is a lot to do. So how do we actively listen, not lose focus and use our mind to think at the same time?

  • As customers are talking about their needs it is imperative that as you are listening and gaining an understanding of their needs, wants and desires. As you think about what to ask or what they need jot it down quickly and refocus on the conversation at hand. The human brain works quickly and you can think about a question or solution and jot it down, even in a bullet point or short hand and stay engaged in the conversation. It is important not to take too long or lose focus or you will no longer be actively listening.

  • Mind to think is equivalent to concentrating on what someone is saying and trying to repeating their words to yourself as they say them. This will reinforce their message and help you to stay focused.

  • Show that you are listening and thinking about what is being said by nodding, using appropriate facial or body gestures to indicate that you are understanding and make sure that your posture is positive open and interested.

Heart to feel - This component is all about empathy and the importance it plays in the sales process. Remember that empathy is not only about putting yourself in your customers place but putting yourself in your customers problem. Zig Ziglar once said "If people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you they will do business with you." It is very important that a customer feels your empathy because that will lead to trust and that trust will ultimately lead to closing a sale. Empathy helps build a more open and authentic connection and that is critical to building trust.

  • By exercising empathy you will gain a deeper understanding of your prospects fears, desires and needs. (pain).

  • Sales professions that understand how to use empathy are more like to be seen as trusted advisors and in turn build long lasting profitable relationships with customers.

  • Because empathy is all about putting you in your prospects place and problem, being empathetic will drive you to ask more questions, find your prospects problems and challenges and lead you to a solution that will make you a trusted problem solver for your prospect who will soon become your new client.

Undivided attention to focus - This really incorporates all 5 steps of active listening. Remember to be a high performance sales professional and million dollar closer you must engage in active listening. Use the picture above to remind yourself of its importance not just in sales but in life. Here are the 5 steps of Active Listening and the key to providing your undivided attention.

  • Maintain eye contact

  • Quiet your mind and really listen instead of thinking about what you will say next

  • Once your prospect or customer is done talking restate what is important to them and ask clarifying questions.

  • Practice empathy and remember empathy is all about putting yourself in your prospects shoes and your prospects problems.

  • Focus in on non-verbal communication. Pay attention to your eyes, body language and facial expressions.

Engage Active Listening and IGNITE your path to becoming a high performance sales professional and million dollar closer.

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