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Listening: The Heart of Successful Sales
It Begins with Opened Ears and an Engaged Mind.
It is the province of knowledge to speak. And, it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Yes, you know who I am talking it about. It’s that guy, the one who rambles on at lightning speed about god knows what and is at sentence number 25 while you are still trying to figure out what he meant when he said word number 3 in sentence number 1. Or maybe you have never known anyone like this who talks at a rate that gives your ears carpet burn if you listen for more than 2 minutes.
60-second television and radio commercials are based on the principles of fast-talking, giving as much information as possible in a very short amount of time so that the listener has heard everything before they can lose interest, tune out or turn off.
A “fast-talking salesman” is the kind of person who uses fast-talking to baffle and cajole someone into buying or believing something. It is a way to tell someone a lot and nothing at the same time.
The one redeeming quality of fast-talking is that it can be entertaining. Someone who can do it well and intelligibly appears to have a lot of knowledge and exudes a lot of energy.
Done poorly, a person engaged in fast-talking can come across as if they are having a one-way conversation – as they rarely stop and check to see if the other person is actually listening or took in anything that they said. The reason why they appear is if they are having a one-way conversation is because they usually are.
For a sales person, it can be tempting to stick to a script and ensure that every point is covered before the customer has any questions. Also, you don’t want to take up too much of the customers’ time (or waste too much of yours) as this will cause them to lose interest if they are not immediately grabbed by what you are selling.
However, contrary to what may appear the logical thing to do, good selling does not involve telling the customer everything there is to know about the product or service in the shortest amount of time possible.
It is more about asking strategic questions, then listening and absorbing the answers to create a productive and authentic conversation. The more you know about the customers’ needs and preferences, the more you can present the information about the products or services in alignment with their interests.
Establishing a true connection with the customer is the root of good salesmanship and what "fulfilling a need" is all about. It is based on establishing an authentic rapport and engendering trust. Genuine listening is the key to establishing rapport.
Hearing Versus Listening
Listening is often confused with hearing. They are not the same. Hearing usually happens whether we want it to or not. We hear the ambient noises around us. Even if we have mastered the art of “tuning out”, the background noises still penetrate our ears.
In an interpersonal interaction, we can hear the sound of the speaker’s voice. But, it is only when we actively listen that we apply meaning to the words and the tone in which they are spoken.
Unless hearing impaired, hearing is an involuntary action which demands very little of our true attention and conscious efforts. Listening is a voluntary action which, to do it effectively, requires focus and concentration.
What Causes Communication Breakdowns?
It is important to understand what causes communication breakdown in both directions: listening and receiving. A variety of factors and influences can cause people to develop habits that lead to ineffective communication. These can be related to personality, environmental causes, cultural influences, family life, etc. Active listening is a true skill that does not come naturally.
What are some of the barriers to effective listening?
The receiver believes they already know what the speaker is going to say so they stop listening.
The speaker is too focused on “telling” the receiver what is best for them rather than listening to what the other person needs and wants.
Planning What to Say Next:
The receiver is busy planning what they are going to say next rather than listening.
The speaker says something the receiver finds offensive and the receiver stops listening due to concentrating on the part that was offensive.
This is when speaker gives the receiver too much information too fast and the listener is overwhelmed.
The receiver is hearing what they want to hear or they are busy translating the meaning of what is being said in their minds.
How to evaluate your own listening skills
One way to evaluate your own listening skills is to ask your friends and work colleagues to help you. Using some key identifiers, they can help you find out where your skills are strong and which elements you need to pay more attention to and practice.
This should be constructive criticism which is intended to benefit you, not bring you down and make you feel bad or incompetent. When you ask someone to help you with this, explain that you need their honest feedback in order to enhance your communication skills in your job.
First evaluate and score yourself. Then, save this information and ask your friends to score you using the same point system for the same statements.
Evaluate yourself in terms of the following five statements and give yourself a score between 1-5:
Score 1 point - if the statement describes something you do ALL of the time.
Score 2 points - if the statement describes something you do MOST of the time.
Score 3 points - if the statement describes something you do about HALF of the time.
Score 4 points - if the statement describes something you rarely do.
Score 5 points - if the statement describes something you NEVER do.
I become easily distracted when talking with someone.
When talking with someone, I interrupt and finish their sentences for them.
I don’t acknowledge when someone has told me something they think is important.
I am not good at maintaining eye contact when speaking with someone
I listen only for the words and not necessarily the speaker’s emotions when someone is speaking to me.
20-25: You are an excellent and empathic listener! Applying these skills to your sales presentations will work to your advantage. As there is always room for improvement, look at any statement where you scored below 3 to identify weak points that you can work on and build your skills even stronger.
15-19: Overall, your listening skills are very strong but you have a couple of areas that need some attention and practice.
11-14: You may have trouble really tuning into others when they are speaking or may find that you are impatient and/or get bored easily such as wanting to finish sentences for others. Mastering these skills requires work but it will be worth in the long run as you find that not only your sales skills will improve but it will also help improve your social skills as well.
5-10: Your listening skills are almost non-existent. One way to look at this is to think about really productive interactions you have had and what made them productive. Communication is a give and take. Without listening, you are missing an important element of connecting both socially and professionally. No matter what you have to offer, if you are not a good listener, people will not take you seriously. Being a good listener makes you a better person and improves the perception that others have of you.
After you have completed and scored this evaluation on yourself, ask your friends to evaluate you on the same statements using the same scoring system. Then, compare both the individual statement scores and overall scores of your own evaluation with those of your friends’ evaluations of you. Another key to evaluating your listening skills is how much self-awareness you bring to your interactions. If your evaluation of yourself and friends' evaluation of you are close, then you know that you are tuned into how well others perceive your listening skills. If not, then, self-awareness may be an area where you also need to practice.
Good listening requires you to make an effort to not just hear but to understand what the speaker is saying. You can work towards this by doing the following:
Engage with what is being said instead of planning what you are going to say next.
Acknowledge the speaker by using nods, smiles and body language (such as leaning forward) and short verbal cues that indicate you have taken in the information such as “I know what you mean,” and “of course,”. But, be careful that you are truly responding to what the speaker is saying rather than being a parrot.
Be responsive when the customer baits you for questions. For example, if the customer tells you they just got back from their holiday. They may be baiting you to ask about this, where they went, etc. The customer wants to believe that you are not just interested in the sale but also in connecting with them personally.
Check your comprehension through paraphrasing, summarising, and/or repetition of the customers’ points. This serves two purposes. It shows that you are interested and helps to avoid misunderstandings.
Never assume that what you heard is exactly what the customer meant. Don't be afraid to ask for clarity and additional information. The extra effort on your part to ensure that you understand the customer will show them that you are really interested and will pay off in the long run.
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