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Take time to think about your own listening skills and how they contribute to, or dilute, your personal sales effectiveness.


I lost my voice in 2012. The combination of a viral infection and an over-ambitious speaking schedule resulted in swollen vocal chords and strict orders from the EN&T specialist to “rest” my voice.

Considering the only sound I was able to make was an incomprehensible rasp that made Marlon Brando’s Godfather sound like the soprano in a children’s choir … I really had no other option.

For several weeks my only means of face-to-face communication was to hold up furiously scribbled notes.

Usually by the time I had penned my witty response, the conversation had moved on and I was no longer a participant in the dialogue.

I eventually resigned myself to my new – and very alien – role.

That of mute observer and listener. It was frustrating. Sometimes hilarious. And fascinating.

Here’s what I noticed…

  • People frequently interrupt each other or unconsciously finish each other’s sentences and, as a result, never get to hear what the other person planned to say.
  • Two people are very capable of carrying on a “conversation” without actually hearing what the other says.
  • People love to talk about their own experience… and assume others love to hear it.
  • Human beings quickly withdraw from a conversation when they don’t feel heard.
  • I desperately missed being able to “voice” my perspective.

Let’s face it… few human beings are excellent listeners. Salespeople, according to many customer surveys, stink at it.

We try to be attentive but we’re at a disadvantage because our brain is governed by our perspective (my service will make you money so you’d be crazy not to talk to me) and our beliefs (we really do have a better service than your current provider) and our agenda (I need to close one new account before month end).

And seeing as how considerably more time is focused on teaching sales professionals how to craft elaborate benefit statements, deliver persuasive presentations, and create show-stopping responses to client objections, it is little wonder sellers fail to commit to becoming better listeners.

Yet “hearing” our customers is foundational to sales success.

So here are five questions to get you reflecting on your own listening proficiency.

Better still… have a colleague shadow your calls or observe your meetings and have them provide the answers.

Either way, take time to think about your own listening skills and how they contribute to, or dilute, your personal sales effectiveness.

  1. Are you patient?

    And are you comfortable with silence? Or do you find yourself interrupting or finishing others’ sentences? Someone will always fill the silence. Let it be your customer… they will fill it with information that leads you to opportunity.

  2. Do you simply hear words?

    Or do you listen for the meaning and implication behind those words? The reason why top sellers always know the next “smart” question to ask is because they consider the meaning of their clients’ words before responding or moving on.

  3. When people are in conversation with you do they have 100% of your attention?

    I was once complimented by a client, years after meeting at a busy conference, with these kind words, “Jill when I talked to you that day I felt as if I was the only person in the room.” How easy it is to forget that we are always more memorable if we focus on being interested rather than trying to be interesting.

  4. When your clients disagree, or offer opinions that conflict with your own beliefs, are you willing to explore this opposite point of view?

    Or do you subconsciously filter their words to hear what you choose to hear? Worse still, do you immediately jump to defend your own position causing the client to withdraw?

  5. Are you able to refrain from giving your point of view until others have shared fully so that when you speak you do so with more impact?

    I recall a senior strategy meeting that went around in circles, each executive jumping on the words of their colleagues, determined to have their say. Except for one who remained silent. When the rest of us were done he simply said, “After listening to everyone’s opinion on the matter I have just three things to say…” His three points, shared in under two minutes, were more insightful than two hours of earlier dialogue.

Look… if you’re really struggling to hone your listening skills, last resort… put yourself in my situation. Next time you’re out with friends pretend you’ve lost your voice.

Just listen and notice.

I guarantee it will change the way you think before you next open your mouth.

Watch others who listen well and, most importantly, notice the impact they have on those around them.

It’s the kind of impact you want to have with your clients.

About the author

Jill Harrington

Jill Harrington

For over twenty years, Jill Harrington was a globally respected sales leader and executive…

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