Tips to Become a Better Listener

by Susan Novicki

“When people talk,” Ernest Hemingway said, “listen completely. Most people never listen.”

The definition of listening is as follows: The active process of receiving and responding to spoken (and sometimes unspoken) messages.

We have grown up being told to listen. In elementary school we were told to “listen in class” and “don’t interrupt” or “ask for permission to speak” or “you have two ears and one mouth for a reason”. This is an important lifelong skill that during our education was consistently drilled into us. But as we grew older and joined the work force somehow these sound principles were lost.

As salespeople and managers, how often are we truly listening to what the other person is saying?   Also, often many successful salespeople and managers have a “Type A” personality and one of the biggest characteristics of this personality, and I put myself in this category, is that we are terrible listeners. Yet, as a consultative seller, we must be listening to what the client needs. Listening is a tool that we use to capture information and information is the key to success.

Too often we focus our conversations on selling, versus listening. Everyone is under pressure to perform and hit certain numbers and goals and this causes us to multi-task and many times talk over the person that we are conversing with- how can we listen to what the person is saying to us in either of these circumstances? As a manager, when you meet individually with your staff, are you truly listening to what they are saying or are you thinking about the report you have to send in to corporate and what numbers you need to get from this person? In sales, are you truly listening to what the decision-maker is saying or are you thinking about the product you want to sell them and how you are going to present it to them?

To help me focus on listening I do a few things prior and during the conversation.

First I prepare for the call – I am not just grabbing a lead, finding the decision-maker and calling cold. I do a little bit of research on the company and the person I am calling. Can I make a connection to warm the cold call? Can I pull some information about something the company is currently doing that I could help them activate locally? Can I create that Valid Business Reason for making the call? I prepare a few questions that I want to ask that are going to delve into their needs and in turn will help me create a solution for them with my products. I focus on the five key things that I need to know to understand the objective – product, customer, partner, timing and budget. Preparation helps me to listen to the information that will come from a successful call.

Second, I take notes – this will force me to listen to what the person is saying instead of just thinking about what I am going to say next or what I want to sell them. We are all much more comfortable with what we have to sell – we need to be comfortable with their business.

Finally I recap what I have heard from the decision-maker to make sure that I did listen as intently as I wanted to and set up the follow up meeting to present ideas, taking the information I heard as the key to success.

Try some of these things – become a better listener!

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