Listening: The Forgotten Sales Skill

by WOHe

Last Saturday, our showroom was particularly busy, and I found
myself sorting through the “I’m just looking” prospects to find
those we could turn into customers. I know the right qualifying
questions or, as, I have frequently written in this column, the
right disqualifying questions.’

But something that’s equally important is how I as a salesperson
listen to the answers given to my questions. In those answers would
be the information I would need to correctly form the next probing
question, which might, in turn, help me turn “lookers” into

By listening to the “just looking” customers, I found two
couples who were really looking for complete bath remodeling
solutions. I became sensitive to the fact that, at that point, my
success was based more on my listening skills than on what I knew.
Once my listening skills kicked in, these “lookers” freely gave me
all the information I needed to turn them into prospects. That
meant what I now knew could turn them into customers.’

As salespeople, it can be hard for us to understand that what we
know has little importance until we know what the prospect knows.
But hearing the prospect is actually critical to gathering the kind
of information necessary to close a sale, and for that reason,
listening skills are among the most important skills that you bring
to the table as a salesperson
Being sensitive to listening, you’ll eventually find that you’re
having increased production with less effort and more fun!

Listening skills
Sometimes we get so consumed with product knowledge, existing jobs
and other distractions that we literally forget to listen to the
prospect. The bad news is that this is an easy trap to fall into,
particularly as we become more knowledgeable about what we’re
selling. After all, what good salesperson wouldn’t be eager to
share the features, advantages and benefits of what he or she is

The good news, however, is that we can overcome our lack of
listening skills.

To do this, we must consider two issues. First, we tend to talk
on while the selling opportunity slips away. I know that I,
personally, always have to check myself to make sure my customer is
talking enough so I can gain the information I need to do my

Second, we need to realize that being quiet is not the same
thing as listening. When you’re involved in a conversation, it’s
very easy to allow your mind to wander so that you shut out
important input, even though you’re not talking and might even
appear to be listening. We must not fall into the trap of believing
that listening is the passive side of communication. Neither is
being the speaker the same thing as being in control, as many
believe. Listening is actually a very powerful skill.

Listening has several elements. First, you must hear, then you
must interpret what is heard, and finally, you must evaluate what
you interpret. Only then should you prepare to respond. To me, it
seems all these actions take place simultaneously and, when done
well, build an excellent base for the kind of consultative selling
which seems to work well in our industry.’

To help you hear clients, avoid conversing where noises can be a

We must also be careful in the interpreting process because we
tend to hear what we listen for. We must be alert to subtleties,
while guarding against preconceptions, biases and wishes. And, we
must listen while simultaneously evaluating and interpreting
information, even while our mind worries about budgets,
expectations and the like.’

To be a good listener and give a proper response, you must have
the ability to uncover needs, have product knowledge, and be able
to supply viable solutions.

Areas to improve
Here are five areas one can concentrate on for improvement:

1. Prepare. This means having the highest level
of product knowledge and having an inventory’
of questions to probe for the information needed to further the
process toward a successful sale. Lack of preparation is often the
source of failure in any endeavor. I have found no shortcut to
being prepared for a potential sale.

2. Listen with your body language. Relax, take
a comfortable posture, make eye contact, nod your head to indicate
you’re understanding what the customer is saying. By taking a
listening posture, you will appear non-threatening, which brings a
greater comfort level to prospects, and increases the probability
of effective communication.

3. Clarify the information you get. For
example, you may ask, “Is this what you mean?” or “Do I understand
you correctly?,” and then repeat what you’ve been told. I believe
it’s more comfortable if you rephrase what you’ve been told so your
search for clarity doesn’t resemble an interrogation. If the
information you gather isn’t clarified and, for whatever reasons,
you misread it or don’t understand it, you’ll almost certainly have
trouble later in the sales process.

4. Hear out the speaker. The problem here is we
can listen three or four times faster than we speak. Therefore, we
sometimes get done listening before the speaker is done talking.
The next few times you’re in front of customers, watch their body
language as they look away, look down or fidget with something.
They have probably quit listening to you or at best are only
hearing words and not getting a real sense of your feelings.

5. Listen to the emotions beyond the words.
Your customer’s voice and body language are real giveaways,
reinforcing what he or she is saying. If “hearing emotion” is
difficult for you, close your eyes, relax and imagine your phone
rings, you answer and it is someone significant to you. You say
hello, and all they say is your name. Just from hearing your name,
you’ll know if they are calm, excited, hurt, etc. When you’re
working with prospects, I believe you can learn something about
their true feelings when you master hearing the emotions behind
their words.

Of course, one of the best hearing aids you can use is a pencil
and paper. By taking notes, it’s more likely that you’ll accurately
capture the information you are hearing. Making notes also shows
you care and have concern about what is being said.

Take time to examine your listening skills and see if you’re
missing sales opportunities because you are not hearing’
what your customer is saying.

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