The most effective sales tools we have are our ears. Yes, those lovely, funny shaped flappy things on each side of our head. When you’re in a selling situation, do you do more talking than listening? We often think of salespeople being ‘smooth talkers’ – yet being full of the blarney isn’t a great selling tactic.
Think about how you feel when on the receiving end of unremitting spiel. Not very persuasive, is it? Participants in Zoomly’s ‘How to communicate for clarity’ workshop can be slightly surprised when their self-assessment exercise includes listening – but they get the point that listening is a vital communication skill. Here are 8 habits you can develop to build better conversations – particularly when it comes to B2B sales.
1. Develop the habit of really listening to what someone is saying. Not just the general gist, but the actual words (being able to capture notes of what we’re hearing helps too).
2. Pay attention to any words that stand out. For example, is any of the language highly emotional? This could be a sign that the speaker has a lot at stake on this issue (and it’s well worth finding out what).
3. Notice if the speaker is using ‘I’ far more than ‘we’. What’s going on for them here? What’s important? Ask careful questions to find out.
4. Hear them talking excitedly about the future more than the past and present? The speaker may have a very goal-focused orientation. This can be inspiring: politicians frequently use this deliberately. However, you’ll need to ensure the checks and balances are in place.
5. What if the speaker keeps on about what they DON’T like, DON’T want? They may need coaxing a bit, or we’ll still be no wiser about what they DO want. “So if you weren’t happy about the lack of communications last time, how about we hold regular catch-up calls? How often will work for you?” They will need reassurance that what you’re suggesting will avoid a repeat of the past.
6. Listen for what they’re not saying, as well as what they are saying. What’s missing?
7. Observe the pace, pitch and volume of what your speaker is saying. These will convey a great deal: urgency, exhilaration, exasperation, anxiety or caution, to name a few. They will also give you vital clues to preferences. Urgent, rapid speech often needs on the spot answers. A more deliberate pace will not want to be rushed, may need time to think things through.
8. Summarise the key points: briefly as the conversation progresses and clearly at the end. Don’t assume you’ve got the other person’s point – check you understand (and that they do too).
We can all develop our listening skills with practice. It takes commitment and concentration. Whilst we’re hearing what someone says, our brains are processing heaps of other stuff in parallel: what we fancy for lunch, pedestrians in our path, replaying a conversation from last night, something we’ve forgotten to do, notifications on our smartphones, etc. It’s great that our brains can parallel process: that’s how we can walk and talk at the same time. But it’s also how we can miss information that might be pure gold. With practice you can progress from passively hearing to actively listening.
You may also find this post useful: Are you asking the right questions?
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