If you think the secret to business success comes down to smarts, guts, rare talent or plain old luck, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The missing ingredient is one that might surprise you: the ability to meaningfully connect with others.

Don’t just hear–listen. Hearing is a physical ability. Listening is a skill that must be learned and practiced. So what does it mean to “really” listen? Here are some suggestions:

  • In addition to hearing what someone else has said, actively try to understand their words and ensure you understand what he or she means.
  • Ask questions to confirm any assumptions you’ve made are true.
  • Make sure the speaker has your full attention. Watch for nonverbal cues, stay focused and don’t interrupt.
  • Show you’re listening. Reflect that you’re paying attention and acknowledge what the speaker is saying every so often with an “uh-huh” or a “sure.”
  • Remember you’re there for the speaker, not the other way around.

Make it personal. When you meet with a client, you’re there to talk about the client and what’s important to him or her. You can differentiate yourself by connecting with the buyer emotionally. Ask questions, show you care and, more often than not, the sale will close itself. Ask “heart questions,” such as how many children does he or she have? What is his or her personality like? How does he or she handle money?

Be referable. (And if you’re not, find out why.) When your clients are reasonably satisfied with your services, they ought to agree to endorse you to others. So why don’t they do it? Chances are there is simply a disconnect between you and your clients.

Develop a “client delight survey” that covers every detail of the client’s experience. Ask about the client’s perception of quality of communication, time spent on the project, response to problems or setbacks, and what stood out.

Maribeth Kuzmeski is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults to Fortune 500 firms on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Kuzmeski has personally consulted with some of the world’s most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs and professionals. For more information, go to www.redzonemarketing.com.

Sign up for The Lead and get a new tip in your inbox every day!

More tips: