I love this cartoon because it is so true. The more you listen the more you sell. How effective are your sales people at listening? At truly listening…not just to what is said, but what is not said. Not just for the words used, but also the intent behind those words. If there is one thing you can get your sales people to do more effectively this year that will dramatically improve sales, drive revenue growth, get into new accounts, expand existing accounts, increase profit margins, and improve customer satisfaction -- I can make a strong case for improving listening skills.
First, let’s look at what gets in the way. Here are the top barriers to effective listening we’ve observed in our sales consulting practice. How many do you recognize on your sales team? Sales people fail to listen effectively because they…
1. Lack confidence
When sales people really know their stuff, they have no problem listening effectively and asking open questions. When they are unsure of themselves and lack confidence, they tend to talk about what they know rather than ask about something they might not know.
2. Rush their calls
Instead of slowing down and investing quality time in quality prospects, many sales people buzz from call to unqualified call. They sure look busy! But being busy is not the same as being productive.
3. Lack empathy for their prospects
For too many sales people, it’s all about them. No, it’s all about the customer and prospective customers. It is impossible to listen effectively if your sales people feel it’s all about them.
4. Never learned how to listen
Yes, your sales people can get better at listening. Just like they can get better at asking questions or making prospecting calls. Listening is a learned skill and like every skill worth having, it takes practice and consistent maintenance to stay sharp.
5. Ask lousy questions
If your sales people sound like they are reading from a script, they are probably waiting for the prospect to finish talking so they can get to the next question on their list. Great listeners stay in the moment, giving all of their attention to the person speaking and responding with great follow up questions because they are fully engaged.
6. Cannot quickly synthesize information
Great listeners can absorb everything being said, pull it all together succinctly, and summarize the key points back to the prospect. As a sales person improves their ability to quickly synthesize what is being said and provide a concise summary that is accurate and on point, they will learn what to listen for and how to listen better. When they can make connections that the prospect has not considered, they will do even better in terms of moving the conversation forward and being memorable.
7. Talk too much
Some sales people just like to hear themselves talk. It may be because they lack confidence (see #1 above), but it can also just be that they like to talk. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason – we should listen twice as much as we talk. So in a one-hour sales meeting your sales people should talk for about 19 minutes and listen for about 41 minutes.
8. Don’t practice enough
How full are your sales people’s calendars? Listening takes practice and if your sales people are not regularly engaging in qualified sales meetings to keep their listening skills sharp, they fall apart when they finally do get in front of a prospective buyer (or worse, they think they do great but when your sales manager debriefs them it becomes clear that they didn’t truly listen).
9. Are too focused
While it is helpful for your sales people to know what they should be listening for, they also need to be flexible enough so they can catch all the information being shared. Sometimes sales people are simply so focused on listening for the one or two specific issues they know they can solve, they miss great information that could also move the conversation forward.
10. Get inconsistent coaching
Listening is a skill that needs constant reinforcement and development. Are your sales managers doing everything they can to coach and reinforce effective listening skills across your sales team? Do your sales leaders know how to coach for improved listening skills? What would happen to your revenue and profit margins if they did?
If some of these issues ring true for you, tell us the top three listening challenges your sales team experiences. I also recommend reading Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston. And never underestimate the power of a good listener.