Listening is arguably THE most important factor when it comes to success in modern selling. In his popular TedX talk, The Power of Listening, Getting to Yes author, William Ury summarizes the power of listening across three principles.
1. Understanding: selling is about shifting someone’s mindset. And you can’t change someone’s mind if you don’t know what that mind believes today. In the context of discovery, gaining an understanding of your customer’s perspective is also important because it helps you determine whether or not they would be a good fit for your solution.
2. Connecting: listening helps us build critical rapport and trust. Customers are more likely to share intimate (and more helpful) details of their business challenges with us if they feel connected.
3. Reciprocity: when we listen to people and demonstrate an interest in their content and consideration of their feelings, it makes it more likely that they’ll want to listen to us. It also demonstrates empathy towards the other person.
What the Research Says
It’s not surprising that in a recent Salesforce State of Sales Report, when salespeople were asked to list factors which they felt had an extreme or substantial impact on converting a prospect to a customer, listening topped the list.
And good listening isn’t simply all about feel-good sentiment. There are quantifiable sales performance benefits as well!
After listening to over 25,000 sales calls, the team at Gong.io, published a study illustrating the highest converting talk-to-listen ratio in sales. What did they find? The top closers talk 46% of the time compared to the bottom 20% which speak 72% of the time.
Interestingly, recent research also demonstrates what I suspect many of us intuitively knew, which is that women do a much better job in this category than their male counterparts, leading to an average 8% increase in quota attainment.
Even when it comes to leadership, listening is a key ingredient for high-performing teams. In fact, a recent study found that managers who listen well are perceived as better leaders, generate more trust with their team members, instill higher job satisfaction, and increase their team’s creativity.
But despite how critical this skill is, listening is hard for many of us.
Salespeople and leaders are preconditioned to speak. To enthusiastically convey our solutions and beliefs to our customers. In essence, many sellers equate selling with speaking or pitching rather than listening. The truth is listening, like any other skill, requires mindful practice.
Five Simple Listening Tips
Here are five simple tips for not only practicing good listening but also showing your customer that you’re engaged in your conversations:
1. Don’t speak: this is easy to say but sometimes hard to do. You simply can’t listen if you’re speaking or poised on the edge of interrupting the other person. Just shut up and pay attention to what your customer is saying.
2. Eye contact/nodding: with the majority of our communication being non-verbal, these queues clearly demonstrate focus and attention. Even on a video call, customers can tell when you’re looking at them on the screen versus being distracted by something else on the screen.
3. Write things down: writing things down not only helps you remember key pieces of information later on but demonstrates to the customer you’re interested enough in their insights to memorialize them in writing. If you’re in a face-to-face meeting with your customer, they can obviously see you taking notes, but what if they can’t? For example, if you’re on a phone or video call. No problem. Just tell them you are! After your customer finishes telling you something, simply pause for a moment and say “I’m just writing this down” to produce the same effect.
4. Recap: nothing illustrates great attention to detail like repeating or summarizing the insights the customer shared with you back to them. This is especially powerful when the insights were shared earlier in the conversation. For extra impact, quote them directly. That is, use the exact same words they did prefaced by the phrase “what I heard you say was….”. Using someone’s exact words back to them is also a powerful and scientifically proven persuasive technique.
5. Ask good follow-up questions: when a customer answers your question, resist the temptation to say “That’s great…” or “Awesome…” and then move on to the next question. Asking killer follow-up questions like “Tell me more about that…”, “Can you give me an example…”, or “How long has that been going on?” is a great way to demonstrate your interest in the customer’s perspective and leave the call with high impact insights! In fact, when it comes to addressing customer objections, a study by Gong.io found that top performers ask follow-up questions 54% of the time versus 31% for average performers.
When it comes to modern sales skills, listening is both simple and critically important but also surprisingly difficult. If improving your listening skills is on your to-do list, these five tips should help you on your way.
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