Have you ever been in a conversation with a prospect and found you’ve missed key information because you were too busy thinking about your next question or rebuttal to what they said earlier?
We’ve all been there, and while it’s common, it can be hazardous to your bottom line as a salesperson or negotiator.
The importance of listening skills in sales cannot be understated. Failure to listen can cause misunderstandings, miscommunication, and a host of unsolved problems.
Active listening isn’t a skill we’re born with. It must be learned and practiced to be effective. In this guide, we share how.
Is Listening or Talking More Important in Sales?
When it comes to sales and negotiation, listening is far more important than talking. Talking too much may even ruin your chances of making a sale. No one likes a smooth-talking salesperson anymore.
When you focus on listening, you can gather vital information to help you identify a prospect’s motivations and desires.
Why Is Listening So Important in Sales?
Listening allows salespeople and negotiators to reach a mutually beneficial solution sooner and prevents conflict or miscommunication. When you practice active listening, you’re more likely to build trust and face fewer objections.
Ultimately, listening ensures that the customer feels heard and respected and is more likely to feel confident in their decision to purchase.
Builds Rapport and Trust
Rapport naturally leads to trust. When you take the time to listen to what your prospect has to say, you show them that you care about what they’re saying.
When a potential client feels heard, they’re more likely to continue to open up. Building a connection is one of the most important steps in sales in negotiation.
Without that rapport — or connection — your client is less likely to believe in what you’re offering because you’re more likely to offer what isn’t being asked for.
Helps Sellers Craft Their Message
When you take the time to truly listen to the wants and needs of potential clients it opens up the opportunity to shape your sales pitch to meet their desires.
There’s absolutely no point in listing a hundred benefits to your product or service if none of them match what your client is looking for.
Listen first, then pitch.
Promotes Fewer Objections
Listening first allows you to ask your potential client clarifying questions. When you do this, you’re confirming exactly what the other party has relayed to you and building confidence in them that you hear what they want and can offer it.
Customers are less likely to object when you’re repeating what they’ve already said back to them.
Saves Time and Frustration
Let’s circle back to that list of a hundred benefits — none of which are of value to your prospect.
Listening to your clients saves both you and them the frustration of not having their needs met.
A lot of time is wasted by salespeople who speak first and listen later.
Buyer Has More Confidence in Their Purchase
Buyer’s remorse is real, and it hurts. No one wants to walk away from a deal feeling like they got the short end of the stick.
Actively listening to your potential customers ensures that you deliver what they want — not what you think they need.
When a customer is satisfied and confident in their purchase, they’re more likely to make referrals or return as a repeat client.
Salesperson Gains a Positive Reputation
As a negotiator or salesperson, the last thing you want is to be seen as sneaky or underhanded. Making a dishonest or pushy sale will not instill confidence in your customers, and at the end of the day, your reputation suffers.
Word of mouth spreads much faster in the digital age, where social media and Google make for easy platforms to share your positive or negative comments.
Bad online reviews will catch up with you quickly, and soon you’ll find you have fewer customers than ever.
But, if you are actively listening to and engaging with your customers with an honest intention, you’ll most certainly reap the rewards over time.
In sales, reputation is everything.
Sometimes listening to your customer means that you sell less than you would have liked — or you don’t make a sale at all. That’s okay.
It’s better to have listened and redirected your customer to what will satisfy them in the end than to push a sale and have an unhappy customer.
Repeat business makes up for 25 to 50% of your total sales, so if you’re not getting repeat customers, you’re potentially cutting your paycheque in half.
Listen, and ye shall receive!
How Communication Methods Affect Our Ability To Listen in Sales
The method by which you choose to communicate with your clients can affect your ability to listen. At The Maker Group, we call these the “near and far” communication methods.
For example, an in-person conversation is the closest you will get to the customer in terms of listening. This is a “near” communication method.
Email, on the other hand, is about as far away from your customer as you can get because you’re not even guaranteed a response. This is a “far” communication method.
Whenever possible, try to communicate using a “near” or close to “near” method. If you can’t meet in person, you might suggest a video call so that you can still be face to face. If video isn’t possible, you’d want to aim to speak over the phone.
A major factor in listening is not just hearing what the other party has said, but understanding how body language and tone of voice may affect that message.
Email and text messaging leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation and miscommunication.
How Can Active Listening Be Improved in Sales?
Research suggests that most people listen at only 25% efficiency, yet it’s the single most important skill a negotiator or salesperson must have.
To improve listening skills, salespeople must attend to the speaker without thinking about their own response, practice non-verbal attending, and ask open-ended questions.
Ask yourself, “Are you truly listening or just waiting to speak?”
It’s easy to get caught up in our heads, and we worry about formulating our next question, statement, or rebuttal, that we don’t really listen to what the other party is saying.
When we practice active listening, we are doing so with the express purpose of understanding the full message from the other party. Many people listen to confirm their assumptions and end up hearing what they want to hear.
These are the three key elements necessary for active listening:
Non-verbal attending means remaining relaxed, but attentive. Try sitting and leaning forward a little bit, rather than slouching back.
Maintain eye contact, but don’t pretend you’re in a staring contest, this can get uncomfortable for the other party.
Use simple gestures to communicate that you’re listening and encourage the other party to continue speaking.
Finally, stay silent. You can’t truly listen if you’re too busy speaking.
To reflect is to rephrase key content or meaning from the other party. When you reflect, you communicate that you have heard what the other party said and that you care.
Reflecting will likely feel more awkward for you than it is for the person hearing it. But, generally speaking, people like having their thoughts and feelings reflected on them.
The entire purpose of reflection is to ensure the other party feels heard and to make sure you understand what you’ve heard. It’s more important to be present than to be right at that moment.
While listening to another person speak, it’s common to have questions that you want answers to pop into your head. While it may seem appealing to get answers, your questions have the potential to interrupt the other person’s train of thought. This can derail the focus of the conversation and interfere with the connection being made.
Before asking your questions, remember that attending and reflecting first will help you understand the other party and help them feel understood. This builds a strong foundation.
If you haven’t communicated that you’ve heard what the other party is saying, they may not feel inclined to answer your questions.
How to Ask Open-Ended Questions
When you ask a question, you should do so with the intention of opening a dialogue. Asking “yes” or “no” questions is ineffective when trying to gather information.
Keep your questions simple and resist the urge to make an impression on or guide the other person.
One of the most effective and concise ways to ask questions is to repeat back a keyword with an upward intonation. For example, if the other party says, “I just feel like the world is so dangerous,” you can say, “Dangerous?”
When using upward intonation, the word becomes a question that encourages the other party to clarify that particular part of their original statement.
One thing to keep in mind about attending, reflecting, and open-ended questions is that these are tools that are specifically intended to promote understanding and foster a deeper connection.
Connection is the most important takeaway.
A true connection is made when the other party feels heard, understood, and willing to open up and share information.
In sales and negotiation, knowledge is power.
How The Maker Group Can Help Your Sales and Negotiation Team Improve Their Listening Skills
At The Maker Group, our goal is to maximize your team’s sales and negotiation potential by training all aspects of communication — with one of our primary focuses being the importance of listening skills in sales and negotiation. Our team consists of expert commercial negotiators with decades of experience and we’re positioned to help you achieve your sales and negotiation goals.
Each of our workshops is tailored to meet the specific needs and demands of your organization. We can help you reach your goals through proven, practical methodology and modern-day behavioral techniques.
For more information, contact The Maker Group. We make good, great.