Imagine this: you’re about to embark upon one of your weekly sales calls with a prospective client. You may be thinking that no extra sales call is preparation needed. Heck, it’s just another routine sales call. You tell yourself, “I’m an experienced producer, I’ll do what I always do: introduce myself, learn about the client, explain my services and, hopefully, write an app.”

It’s easy to fall into the “complacency trap” and just conduct business as usual. However, by improving your listening skills, you may be able to increase your closing ratio and achieve even greater sales success.

Customizing the recommendations

Determining your prospects’ situation and what’s important to them allows you to customize product recommendations as a solution to their goals and objectives. Only after understanding a client’s problems can you can decide on a product recommendation to solve their problem. Therefore, listening skills play a critical role in your ability to ascertain the salient information to tailor your product recommendations and close sales.

Let’s assume you’ve done your personal introduction and explained the type of work you do. Now you’re ready to move into fact-finding. So you begin to ask questions.

There’s an art to gathering pertinent information and building a “client-advisor” relationship. Professionals know it’s not simply about asking questions. You must carefully listen to what clients are saying and make sure you understand what they mean by their statements. The goal is not to just get answers to fact-finding questions and fill a sheet on a legal pad or your fact-finder. You must also find the real motivating issues and problems the client has.

Active listening

Active listening is “listening for meaning.” As a listener you check with the ‘speaker’ to see that you have correctly heard and understood key statements the client made. If you misunderstood as a result of poor listening skills, a misdiagnosis of the client’s situation may occur.

Throughout my many years in field sales management, I’ve observed that most underachieving sales people, while good talkers, are not good listeners. With this in mind, allow me to share a few tips to ensure active listening:

? Don’t interrupt–Let prospects finish their thoughts. Often we are so quick to digest what clients are saying and develop a response that we inadvertently cut them off because we can’t wait to either make our point or to get on to the next question we’re rehearsing in our head.

? Follow up with questions–Listen, pause, and then probe professionally with follow-up questions. After prospects are done saying what they want to say, pause for a few seconds before you respond. This allows the persons speaking to feel as if you heard them and respect what they’ve said.

? Repeat back–Repeat what you ‘think you heard’ so the persons you’re speaking with understand you ‘got it’ correctly. Your interpretation may be different than what they were attempting to communicate to you. Don’t assume anything that may potentially mean something else. If there’s any doubt about what you heard, seek clarity.

? Take notes–This shows you care about what’s being said and insures you have the pertinent data to follow up on the meeting. Because you won’t remember as much as you think you will it’s always best to write things down. Prior to taking notes, indicate the reason you’re taking notes is to better understand the client’s situation so you can better tailor your recommendations.

Common listening barriers

Here are some common reasons why many advisors are not good listeners:

? Taking a mental vacation–Focusing too much on the next question to be asked.

? Planning and rehearse–Practicing one’s response to the prospect’s statements.

? Mentally assessing–Jumping ahead to where you want the conversation to be in 5 to 10 minutes.

? Becoming bored–Tuning out what’s being said because you don’t like what the other person is saying.

? Physically tired–You must be well rested to perform mentally and physically at your best.

? Not concentrating–Being preoccupied with other things.

Strengthening a client relationship

When you’ve finished your initial meeting, you must take the following key actions to strengthen a relationship:

? Next steps–Obtain agreement as to what is to take place, as well as when, where, and by whom.

? Leave behinds–Give the client “reinforcement” sales support pieces, such as your bio, value proposition, testimonials, samples of work done, etc.

? Debriefing–Spend 3 minutes in the car debriefing your thoughts after each appointment. Write these thoughts down or put them on a micro cassette recorder while they’re still fresh in your memory. (You’ll forget at least a few keys thoughts within 30 minutes if you don’t get them down.)

? Thank you note–Send a ‘thank you’ note to clients, either as an email or a handwritten note, thanking them for their time and outlining the key things agreed to, along with the timetable to complete.

Remember, clients don’t generally want to hear about your product or company (at least not immediately); they want to hear how you can help solve their problems. It’s about them…not you.

Summarize & confirm-the final frontier

It’s very important before you terminate a meeting that you take a minute or two to summarize and get confirmation with the client as to what you ‘believe’ you both heard and agreed too before moving on. Sales calls and business relationships can fail or succeed based on this one ‘item’ alone.

This is where you demonstrate that you have been listening while also letting clients know that you clearly understand their situation. It’s also an excellent way to distance you from the competition.

One of the best ways to do this is to ‘Paraphrase, Confirm, and Ask’…

Paraphrase“Amy, I just want to make sure we’re in agreement on our next steps. If I heard you correctly, it’s important that we…?”

Confirm – “Is that accurate to say?

Ask – “Is there anything else we should discuss before I ‘go to work’ on your behalf?” “Is there anything else I missed?

Summarizing guidelines

It’s best to express the action steps in terms of what you heard, as opposed to what the client said (e.g., “Let me tell you what I think I heard…”) Start with the obvious things, as these will resonate with the client, and proceed from there. Be sensitive to anything you state you implied from what you heard (as opposed to a direct statement by the client).

It’s also best to couch implied needs. Example: “Earlier when we we’re talking, you mentioned how important it is to make sure…I got the impression you meant…” Always give the client lots of room to correct, add, change, and modify anything you’ve stated. Ask: “…Is that correct…Is there anything else I should know so I can provide appropriate recommendations?”

Benefits to your practice

These listening tips, if followed, will increase your performance level on sales calls. All experienced life insurance professionals are generally good at what they do or they wouldn’t have made it as far as they have in the business. Often small changes to an already good selling and relationship-building skill set can make the difference in a few extra sales during the year.

Thanks for ‘listening’! And continued success!

John Lensi, CLU, ChFC, RHU, REBC, CMFC, LLIF, is vice president of sales at Impact Technologies Group, Inc., Charlotte, N.C. You can e-mail him at john.lensi@impact-tech.com.