In sales it's always said that if you understand your product and solve your customer's problems then you'll do well in the sales environment. But this presupposes one thing ... that you have really listened and understood what the customer is saying. We're talking about the importance of active listening in sales.
What Is Active Listening?
You may have heard this phrase before but what does it really mean? If you are actively listening to your customer then you will be able to tell a third party exactly what was discussed, what the customer's concerns and problems were and what agreement was reached.
Listening intently will help build rapport with your client, give you a much better understanding of the issues and ensures you don't miss opportunities! It's a skill that can be easily learned with a bit of practice.
Before we go into some tips on how to improve your active listening skills, let's look at some of the reasons why we sometimes don't listen as intently as we should.
It's all too easy to get distracted. The noise from outside, the builders working next door, the photocopier chunking away just outside the room, the customer's dress sense! All of these things can drag our mind from the 'here and now'. When we hear or see the first signs of a distraction before we know it our mind has switched off and we have missed an important buying signal from the customer.
Our Inner Voice
This is probably the biggest culprit for our lack of active listening. You have woken up this morning and had a blazing row with your partner. You got into work and discovered a major problem which is going to take up most of the afternoon when you get back into the office. Your inner voice, if not kept in check, can keep your mind occupied for hours leaving you and your customer, wondering what exactly happened in your meeting!
Interruption or No Reaction?
These causes of inactive listening are opposite ends of the scale but just as bad as each other.
Interruption may be your style where you are constantly asking questions. Yes, asking questions, as we shall see later is good, but taking it to the extreme can be damaging. Not only will the customer be annoyed by your steady and relentless interruptions but all your mind is thinking about is the next question! Once you have thought of a suitable question your mind then concentrates on identifying an opportune pause in the conversation. The result is that your mind is doing anything other than really listening to what is being said!
The opposite end of the scale is saying nothing at all. Intently listening but saying nothing will lead to boredom for your mind - it will seek interest by launching into self-talk. The lack of reaction from you means your customer will also very quickly lose interest. If he has no feedback from you as you go along then rapport or a relationship, which are essential ingredients to a successful sale, will simply not develop.
Some Useful Tips
So what can you do to train yourself to be an active listener? Here are a few tips.
1. Train your mind to tune out all the distractions in and outside of the room. Resolve to fully concentrate on the conversation and to understand what is being said. If you find yourself wandering, get yourself back on track by following the next tip
2. Repeat back in your mind what the person has just said to you. To do this you have to intently listen to what is being said. Repeat a few sentences until you are back in the 'real world'
3. Ask 'what' questions to yourself, for example, 'What use can I make of that point', 'What is he really after here?' These internal questions can both keep you on track and at the same time provide extra insight into what the customer is driving at
4. Before going into a meeting, purge your mind of all negative or distracting thoughts. Resolve with yourself to deal with only the matters in hand
5. Never interrupt a customer when he's mid flow - it's distracting for both him and you. Find a natural break in the conversation or store your question away for later
6. Provide feedback in the form of the odd 'umm' or 'OK'. This will keep you interested and also demonstrate to the customer that you are sill with him. In the same way, ask some questions which relate directly to what has just been said. This will keep you focused on what's being said
7. If you find your mind wandering, take notes. Jotting down what is being said needs your listening skills firing on all cylinders! Don't go for a word-for-word summary, that's distracting in itself. Just highlight key points to keep your attention
Active listening in sales is a great and necessary skill. It can be learned but only with practice. Make a commitment to follow these tips so you actively listen. You'll quickly see better results!
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