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Has this has ever happened to you?

You had an initial meeting with a potential customer and had what felt to you like a good conversation. A second meeting was scheduled, a proposal prepared but at delivery the presentation failed to impress.

There are a lot of possible reasons for that outcome, but consider this one possibility: you weren’t actively listening. When you don’t actively listen during the pre-presentation phase of the selling process, you can miss important elements of what the prospect is saying to you. Your proposal doesn’t deliver because your recommendations fail to address the prospect’s real issues.

You may have thought you were listening. You might even have written down detailed notes during your meeting. But actively listening is not the same as waiting patiently for your turn to speak!

Here is a three-step process to help you improve your ‘active listening’ skills.

Send subtle messages that say, “I hear you, I’m paying attention.” When we communicate, we have an innate need to know that we have been heard and understood. You can acknowledge the person speaking and signify your understanding by simple body language such as nodding your head or saying something like, “I see,” or “that makes sense,” each time they make a point. This sounds like common sense but it’s something many salespeople haven’t mastered.

Question, question, question. Asking questions helps you uncover information that wouldn’t perhaps be forthcoming otherwise. Don’t feel afraid to repeat a question if it hasn’t been answered satisfactorily and work off responses to dig deeper into a potential customer’s issues. If you ask “How is business?” and you’re told it’s “decent” your response may sound something like “Tell me more about what you mean by decent?” Using questions throughout the meeting demonstrates to the prospect that not only are you listening but you’re interested in what they have to say.

Restate or summarise key content. Active listening is the process of reflecting back the message you heard. That is accomplished by summarising what has been said, and asking for confirmation or, if needed, clarification. Use an expression like “Let me see if I have this straight” to achieve this. And always check-in afterwards by asking, “Did I miss anything?”

Active listening not only facilitates effective communication, but it also enhances rapport. If you follow these three simple steps you’ll have better conversations, gather the right information, be better equipped to make appropriate recommendations and most likely have the edge over the competition!

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