The 4 Key Listening Habits of Exceptionally Great Salespeople

sales training and sales techniques active listening

To Sell Greatly, a salesperson has to be relationship first. And the most important skill in building strong, enduring relationships is the ability to be a good listener.

Ironically, most of us are terrible listeners. It’s like we completely understand the importance of listening well, but we just can’t bring ourselves to actually do it consistently.

Luckily for you, becoming a better listener is something you can absolutely become good at, and in doing so become a great salesperson. Here are the four most important things you need to practice in every conversation to achieve your goal of selling greatly.

Focus on The Prospect Not The Sales Opportunity

People buy things because the have a problem they want to solve. Most of us, especially great salespeople are problem-solvers at heart. And thus most sales training programs focus on identifying the problem to be solved and then convincingly demonstrating how your product or service is uniquely qualified to be the best solution for the sales prospect’s problem. 

But great salespeople ignore the common advice and instead proceed in a most uncommon manner. 

They simply let the sales prospect speak. Then as they listen, they are constantly confirming back to the sales prospect “you are being heard, and understood.”

And this gives the prospect permission to share in a safe, non-pressure conversation, which hopefully leads to that prospect developing a connection with the salesperson.

By refusing to lead with problem-solving and advice-giving directly, great salespeople avoid the relationship building interference such an approach creates. And that’s one of their secret keys to success.

So step 1 to in becoming a better listener is simple:

focus on the person, not their problem

or the sales opportunity that problem presents.

There will be a time and a place for showing how your product or service solves the prospect’s problem. And you’ll know when that time is because they’ll ask for that information. 

Until then, chill out and just focus on just being present in the conversation.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

If you pay attention to questions people ask you, as well as the ones you ask them, usually you’ll find that people ask questions to get answers.

Which means, most of the time, when we ask another person a question, we are subconsciously encouraging that person to give a single, definitive answer. We call those closed questions, and they’re the antithesis of good, active listening. 

As you’ve heard here before, when you’re trying to create conversations that convert to customers, the goal of those conversations is less about information exchange and far more about making a connection.

Open-ended questions communicate that you’re interested and care about the prospect. Closed questions communicate that you care about information.

The former is relationship first. The latter is transaction first. 

Here is a simple sequence of open-ended questions that work well in almost any sales prospecting situation where the problem to be solved is known:

  • What caused you to [take my call, call me, schedule this meeting, start searching for options…etc.]?
  • What is standing in the way of solving [issue surfaced in Q1]?
  • Can you tell me more about that? [great follow up to almost any answer]
  • How did you feel about that? [Anytime they give an example of a situation or outcome]
  • How does the rest of your [team, boss, company, etc] feel about that? 
  • How did you arrive at that decision? [especially powerful when they’ve told you why they selected another or prior solution/product]

Being a good listener is making the conversation all about the person across from you, not the information they can supply to you. That’s why so many “info gathering” calls do so little to move a sales prospect further down the Propinquity Pathway and instead, often just annoy the sales prospect.

And here is one more important tip that the psychological therapy folks will tell you: Notice each question starts with What, How and Can… all designed to give the sales prospect room to expand and expound. 

Also notice that NONE of the questions start with Why. Why is that you may wonder? Because “why” can impart judgement on the part of the questioner. And no one likes to be judged… right? 

Reflect Back What You Hear The Sales Prospect Saying

This is another key idea borrowed from the relationship/conflict resolution therapy world. It’s called Reflective Listening. Reflective Listening means repeating back (often in your own words) what the person across from you just said.

Remember, once again, it’s not about information, it’s about making the sales prospect feel understood and connected to you.

When we reflect back what another person is telling us, it shows them that we care and that we’re listening carefully.

Side Note: pay attention to the next dozen sales calls made on you and ask yourself, how many of the salespeople are truly listening to you. I think you’ll be amazed at how few. And if you’re lucky enough to find a few that truly do listen, compare and contrast how you feel about them/their solution and the other salespeople. I’m guessing you’ll favor the connector that listened vs the others. LMK if you don’t because that is a conversation I’d really like to explore.  

In other words, reflective listening makes people feel heard. And when people feel genuinely heard, all sorts of good things start to happen for a great salesperson.

Validate The Sales Prospect’s Fears, Concerns and Emotions

As we discussed above, reflecting back what someone says builds trust and confidence that you understand and care about what they’re saying.

Similarly, when you acknowledge and validate the prospect’s fears, concerns and yes, emotions (if you can sense those), you send the message that you understand them on a deeper level and you are with them in their journey to find the best solution that will reflect positively on their ability to do their job well.

And it’s really not that hard. Just state the concerns, fears, etc., and show them that you understand what they’re feeling. See, when you do this you give them something very few ever receive: the right to feel whatever it is they feel without shame or fear. 

There isn’t a sales relationship in your life that won’t improve dramatically if you can get in the habit of validating your sales prospect’s fears, concerns and emotions.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 25+ year veteran of the sales & marketing industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and showing companies how to Sell Greatly, and turn conversations into customers. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital sales & marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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