To succeed in a sales position of any type, you must be a proficient listener. This comes more easily to some reps than others. To help salespeople continue to develop this ability, sales leaders should run listening exercises during staff meetings, recommend books and articles on the subject, monitor sales calls and offer targeted coaching.
Becoming a better listener takes practice, practice, practice.
For more tips on this all important skill, I turned to Laurie Schloff, a career communication coach and author of "Smart Speaking," who works for the Speech Improvement Company in Brookline, Massachusetts. Laurie's clients include Fidelity Investments, The TJX Companies, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Laurie generously shared her advice about listening.
Talking / Listening Ratio
Laurie often gets asks how much reps should talk on a sales call? She says, "Every customer is different. Some prospects talk your head off, while others speak less. During the first meeting it should be no more than 50/50 (rep/customer), ideally 25/75. In subsequent meetings the ratio may shift, but always be aware of attending to your customers needs and reactions."
"Everyone you call wears a sign that says 'Make me feel special,'" Laurie says, "And clients feel special when the salesperson focuses on their needs and challenges." To do just that, she recommends that salespeople have protocol for each situation in the form of a list of questions to include:
- Before I tell you about our company, I'd like to get to know you and your business better. Do you mind if I ask a few questions?
- Tell me about a week in the life of a [prospect's position at company].
- What's going well for you regarding [topic]?
- It sounds like you're doing well. What would be even more helpful or effective to get the results you'd like to see?
- What's your current level of satisfaction with [topic]? (Five being fantastic and one not so great.)
- How do you feel I can add to your positive results?
It's one thing to ask questions and another to really hear customers. Laurie advises salespeople to evaluate their persuasive listening (her term) skills by asking themselves, "Am I:
- Showing non-verbal interest? (Making eye contact / nodding.)
- Focusing on them without distractions? (Even a cell phone on the table makes a client feel as if you aren't paying complete attention.)
- Validating what the prospect is saying through paraphrasing information or feelings? ("I'm hearing that you're experiencing a lot of frustration regarding changes that took place during the reorganization and it's affecting the needs you have now. Am I correct?")
- Asking check-in questions ("Am I on track?" "Do I understand you correctly?") Laurie advises using these questions sparingly. Ask them too often and it becomes annoying.
- Observing facial expressions and body language. (Sudden shifts in position, leaning back and forward. Shoulders aligned.)
Laurie suggests conducting a self-evaluation after each call, rating yourself on your question asking and persuasive listening skills.
"For anyone who talks a lot for a living," Laurie says, "picture the letters WAIT on their forehead. This stands for Why Am I Talking?" She feels (and I concur) that high-performing salespeople have a fundamental belief that being a very effective listener is key to succeeding in the profession.