February 23, 2016

If your salespeople are not skilled listeners, their sales will suffer – there is no doubt about it.

That is because customers do not want to feel like they are being sold to. Instead, they want to feel like their concerns are being heard and connect with a salesperson like they would with a consultant whose main goal is to meet their needs.

active-listening-meeting

For your salespeople to connect with customers this way and achieve higher sales as a result, they must become skilled in active listening.

What is Active Listening?

Simply put, active listening happens when your salespeople listen and respond to their customers in ways that build trust and mutual understanding. For active listening to occur, a salesperson must concentrate on and comprehend what the customer is saying, respond thoughtfully, and remember what has been said.

When a customer feels like your salespeople are actively listening, they will be more likely to buy because active listening builds rapport. Plus, active listening helps salespeople overcome barriers in the form of negative salesperson stereotypes, like being someone who talks more than he/she listens or someone who is only interested in meeting quota and making money.

Here are some more reasons why active listening is a critical skill for salespeople:

  • It helps salespeople overcome objectionsWhen a salesperson listens more than he talks, he will be better able to understand all of the customer’s objections. This make is much easier for him to uncover, address and overcome those objections.
  • It helps salespeople overcome initial resistance from customersWhen salespeople begin a call, they may hear the customer say that they do not need help or do not have time to talk. In that case, the salesperson can use active listening to open up the conversation and show that he is there to help resolve a problem that the customer is facing.
  • It helps salespeople close salesOf course, the benefit of active listening is that your salespeople will be most excited about is that is allows them to achieve a higher level of sales success. Active listening works this way because it allows the salesperson to close a sale without coming off as pushy or offensive.

If your sales team cannot master active listening, they will miss out on many sales opportunities. Do not let that happen – instead, use the following guide to teach active listening to your salespeople so they can reach their fullest potential.

How to Teach Active Listening to Salespeople

You can easily teach active listening to your salespeople. First, it is best if they research the customer before the conversation begins so they can anticipate their problems and identify solutions. Then, salespeople should follow the four-step process outlined below.

1. Genuinely listen to customers

Unfortunately, salespeople are commonly thought of more as talkers than listeners. If customers view your salespeople this way, they are unlikely to make a purchase from them.

To combat this issue, explain to your salespeople that they must be in-the-moment when talking to a customer so they can genuinely listen and understand the feelings that the customer is conveying. By taking the time to observe what the customer is saying and why he is saying it, your salespeople can improve their chances of seeing the situation from the customer’s perspective. Once they understand that perspective, it becomes much easier to sell.

Active-listening-with-customer

Here are some tips that will help your salespeople genuinely listen to customers:

  • Set the script aside – While scripts can be helpful, they should not be referenced by your salespeople when a customer is talking. Instead, salespeople should focus on having a real conversation with the customer rather than reading a prompt off a piece of paper.
  • Block out distractions – Salespeople should focus completely on listening to the customer when he is talking instead of paying attention to anything else, including preconceived ideas about what the customer might say next.
  • Try to understand the complete message being sent – If your salespeople talk to customers in person, they can observe non-verbal clues that uncover a customer’s true feelings. If they talk to customers on the phone, they can observe auditory clues like tone of voice and language.

2. Repeat back what was said

When the customer makes an important statement that expresses his wants or objections, it is important for the salesperson to repeat that statement back to him.

One option for doing this is to simply repeat the statement word-for-word. However, this option can make a salesperson seem like they lack basic understanding if this method is overused, so it should be used sparingly.

To avoid repeating the customer’s statement word-for-word, your salespeople can either paraphrase the customer’s statement or put the statement into their own words. Choosing one of these options shows a deeper comprehension of the customer’s needs and feelings, and it can be effective at improving sales, as long as salespeople do not stray too far from the customer’s original language.

3. Confirm for clarity

After a salesperson repeats back what a customer has said, he must confirm that he repeated the customer’s thoughts back effectively. To accomplish this, here are a few things the salesperson can say immediately after repeating the customer’s thoughts:

  • Did I communicate that back to you correctly?”
  • “Do I correctly understand what you have shared?”
  • “Is that what you meant?”

If the customer says “no” in response to the confirmation question, the salesperson should clarify his understanding by asking the customer to more clearly explain what he meant, like this:

“Could you explain what I did not understand?”

Then, the salesperson should listen attentively to discover what he missed. Once the customer explains what was not understood, the salesperson can repeat the customer’s thoughts back and confirm for clarity again until a mutual understanding occurs.

This step can take a few tries to master, but once a salesperson gets good at it, he will automatically build trust with customers more easily.

Active-listening-on-phone

4. Ask the right follow-up question

Once the salesperson has listened to the customer, repeated back the customer’s statement and confirmed for clarity, it is time for him to ask a relevant follow-up question.

To succeed at this step, the salesperson must ask an open-ended question that encourages the customer to share more about his objections, wants or needs. When the customer has an opportunity to do this, there is a good chance that he will give the salesperson more information to work with and use to make a sale. The key to making this happen lies in active listening the entire time the customer is answering the open-ended question.

To help your salespeople learn how to perform these 4 steps effectively, you can try:

  • Group role-playing activitiesHave your salespeople sit in a circle. Then, have one salesperson begin by using an example of an ordinary sales conversation. Have the other salespeople in the circle offer comments, one at a time, to keep the conversation going. Encourage your salespeople to make use of active listening throughout this process, and provide feedback along the way to help them understand when they are right and wrong.
  • Coaching and/or training sessions – Obviously, your salespeople cannot actively listen if they do not clearly understand the steps involved. Train or coach them to make sure they know how to perform each step, and answer any questions they have.
  • Call reviews – Sit down with each of your salespeople for one-on-one call reviews, providing positive feedback as well as constructive criticism so they can improve their active listening process and sell more effectively.

While mastering the patience, determination and concentration required to perform active listening may be difficult, it is an absolutely necessary skill for your sales team to learn. Start by having them implement the steps outlined in this post as soon as possible, and you should see sales results begin to improve.