As salespeople, we’re often thought of as “talkers.” But is talking really our most important communication skill? What if, instead, we were seen by the public as “listeners”? Wouldn’t this be more beneficial to our clients — and consequently, our business?

Listening has been hailed as an important skill since perhaps the beginning of recorded history. Nearly two millennia ago, ancient Roman historian and essayist Plutarch said, “Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” It leaves one to wonder, then, why this communication skill tends to be the one emphasized the least, especially when it comes to sales training. It is inarguably important to know what to say to a client, but it is perhaps even more important to know how to listen to the client — and then reply accordingly.

Both anecdotal and recent empirical research clearly suggest a significant positive relationship between listening ability and sales performance.1 How then can you sharpen those listening skills in order to improve your business and increase sales? Although there are methods for dramatically improving your listening skills over time, you can start becoming a better listener in your next client meeting by following these simple steps:

1. Stop talking. This may sound rather obvious, but the truth is that it’s often very difficult for us to stop talking, especially if that means a few seconds of silence. However, silence can be very effective in convincing your clients that you have a sincere interest in what they have to say and making them feel comfortable enough to share information with you.

2. Be present. As salespeople, our minds are always working, planning our next response or crafting how we’re going to close the sale. However, when your mind isn’t present with the clients, you’re not truly listening. Concentrate on focusing on what your clients are telling you, and think about how that will affect your proposed solutions. Use active listening techniques, such as nodding your head and leaning toward your clients, to make them feel valued and let them know you are there, with them in the moment. Sometimes all it takes to really listen is just to remind yourself to be present in every conversation.

3. Take notes. According to the International Listening Association, we only remember 20% of what we hear.2 Taking notes while your clients are talking will help you later process the information and determine the best solutions. The fact that you’re interested enough to take notes will also make your clients feel more comfortable with you as a client-focused financial professional and confident in your recommendations.

4. Ask questions. Properly positioned and phrased questions can help you clarify information you need from the clients, as well as show that you are validating — and truly listening to — what they are saying. For example, after a client has shared information with you, respond with, “What I’m hearing you say is that you’ve traditionally been very uncomfortable with risk when it comes to your retirement income planning. Would you please define for me what you classify as a “risky” retirement savings strategy?”

5. Look closely. Pay attention to not only what your client is telling you with his or her words, but also body language, including eye contact, posture and body movements. Nonverbal communication, or what your client isn’t directly telling you, is just as important as what he or she is directly saying. You’ll be able to gather information about what your clients are feeling just by picking up their nonverbal cues.

Just as you should practice your presentation skills, you should also continue sharpening those listening skills. Give these tips a try in your next client meeting and see how some dedicated listening can translate into a positive experience for you and your client — and potentially greater sales success.

Footnotes:
1. Castleberry, Stephen B., et al. “Salesperson Listening: A Replication and Extension of the ILPS Scale,” Applied Business Research, Vol. 20 (1).
2. Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, “Quick Facts About Listening from the International Listening Association,” 2007.