What is Active Listening?
Active listening is a communication technique used in counselling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what is being said.
While you can find the full Wikipedia post on Active Listening here, the most relevant piece to sales is summarized in the second sentence of the definition: "...requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said." By doing so, modern sellers make it a priority to focus on their client's needs. They ask insightful questions to understand their business priorities, and then engage in meaningful conversation to help their clients solve pressing problems. As a result, modern sellers create value in every conversation through active listening. By practicing this technique, sellers can gain a competitive edge to help them from the beginning right through to the end of the sales cycle.
10 Easy Hacks to Practice Active Listening as a Modern Seller
1) Get Rid of All Distractions
Turn everything off. Yes, all of it. Anything that has a push notification needs to go. That includes Slack, Twitter, iMessage, WhatsApp and anything that could somehow take your attention away from the client. Any extra chrome tabs you have open need to go. If you need help closing those chrome tabs, you can use OneTab for free.
2) Take BASIC Notes (NOT Detailed Notes)
Taking notes can be a powerful way for you to remain concentrated on your client. Having said that, don't get bogged down on trying to capture everything; this is not a classroom lecture. Just focus on jotting down some quick notes; it may even look like gibberish or something only you can understand at first, that's okay. Once your call is finished, use these bullets to put together more detailed notes for your CRM. Also,
3) Get a Dual-Monitor Setup Going
Having to toggle back and forth between Chrome tabs or windows is a distraction; both for you as well as your client if you're in a screen share. Invest in a dual monitor setup that will allow you to have a note taking app open in one screen at all times. This doesn't need to be the latest 27" screen with Retina display, any working monitor that you can connect to with ease will do.
4) Close Your Eyes
Even after removing all of the distractions around you, there's a good chance you'll still find your mind wandering while on calls. If your client goes off on a tangent and begins talking for a long stretches, expect this wandering mind to increase. When this starts happening just close your eyes. It will force you to focus on your client's voice and come up with some insightful follow-up questions to ask.
5) Don't Wing it, Prepare in Advance
As a seller, it's your job to be prepared for every call or meeting. Spend some time in advance doing research to learn about the prospect, their industry, potential challenges, competitors etc. This is not just about gathering intel to help you make the sale, it's about trying to create more value. Being prepared will decrease the time spent talking about trivial things that are publicly available, and more time digging into your clients' business challenges.
6) Develop a Helpfulness Mindset
For every client call you schedule and get on, think to yourself: "How can I help my client during this call?". There's a good chance the answer may have absolutely nothing to do with your product. That's fine! However, this practice will act as a forcing function for you to constantly be thinking about your client, THEIR business and THEIR challenges versus your own sales agenda.
7) Unlock the Power of the MUTE Button
As a seller, you've likely heard how important it is for you to talk less and listen more. There is a really simple hack for this, hit the mute button! I'm not suggesting you take a vow of silence before hopping on the call, but when your client is speaking, feel free to hit the mute button now and then. This works especially well once you've asked an open ended question like: "Can you walk me through your process for X". When your mind knows that nobody can hear what you have to say, you spend less time thinking about sounding smart, and can focus more of your efforts on the client. Ironically, this will actually help you sound smarter when you can ask an intelligent follow up question.
8) Embrace Silence. Welcome the Pause.
Having a little bit of silence is FINE. Too much silence however can get awkward, I get it. However, if you're taking a moment to gather your thoughts that's perfectly okay. As sellers, we often feel like it's our job to fill any and all silence on a call, but sometimes less is more. A great example of this is when you're on a demo and your client asks a question like: "Does the product have the ability to do X?". Fight the natural inclination to immediately respond with a binary Yes/No answer or going into show-and-tell mode onscreen. Consider pausing for a moment and thinking to yourself why the client is asking for this capability. Sometimes the best answer is a follow up question like: "Do you mind me asking why is this important to you?". Once you know their WHY you'll be better positioned in responding, regardless of whether or not your product has the functionality.
9) Use Time Checks
I recommend doing two time checks during a call with the client. The first one, right at the beginning of the call, confirming that s/he is still available for the full time you had originally scheduled. Then, I'd recommend doing a second time check about midway through. This not only helps to ensure you're on schedule, but more importantly, it'll help you gauge how the client feels about the value of the conversation so far. More often than not, if the client is finding value, they'll confirm availability and even let you know it's fine if you go over by a few minutes. While not always the case, if the client seems to be in a sudden rush to leave, it's a good indication that you're off the mark and may need to refocus.
10) Paraphrase and Summarize
Prove that you're actually listening to your client, and you really do understand what they've expressed to be most important to them. While you don't necessarily have to paraphrase and summarize everything they've said, but for key points it can be a real sales differentiator. Consider starting your paraphrasing response with: "If I understand correctly...." and ending with "...have I got that right?". Your client will appreciate you taking the time to confirm your understanding of their business, before sharing why your product is an awesome fit.
Are you trying to be a better active listener? If yes, then congratulations! You've taken the first step towards modern selling and differentiating yourself from the majority of salespeople out there today. I hope you found this post useful and would love your feedback if you end up trying any of the hacks I've listed above.
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