Susan is in life insurance sales. She understands how to make cold calls, how to follow up on leads and referrals, and how to offer excellent customer service. Yet she’s amazed at how much more successful her colleague Michael is, when she puts much more time and sweat into her work than Michael seems to do. She wonders what is missing in her approach.

The key difference between Michael’s and Susan’s approaches is the fact that Michael has trained himself to be an active listener. He uses the active listening P.R.O.P.O.S.A.L. not only to help him maximize his sales deals but also to help him communicate more effectively with his wife and teenagers.

First, whenever you communicate with a prospective client or, for that matter, anyone, place yourself at eye level with that person. If they are sitting, you sit. Never place yourself above or below the eye level of the speaker.

Then, put to use the following components of the P.R.O.P.O.S.A.L –

Probe for understanding. Your job is to try to understand what your prospective client needs and how you can accommodate those needs. The only way to show the client you have exactly the product to satisfy those needs is to ask gentle questions about his or her goals and hopes in relation to your product. Say, for example, If you could picture the ideal financial situation for your family when you are no longer around, please describe what you’d like to see happen.”

Reflect. The best way to understand your prospective client is to make sure you are listening carefully, and the best way to do that is to paraphrase what you heard him or her say before commenting on it. For example: “What I’m hearing is you want to make sure your children are well taken care of if you pass on within the next 15 years.”

One thing at a time. When you get onto a subject with your prospective client, stick to that topic. If he or she tells you something that sparks an idea for a different product, keep a notebook handy and jot down some notes. Just listen to what the prospective client is saying; don’t shuffle papers or start thinking about your response. Just listen to him or her.

Pause. Regardless of what the person asks, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need to answer immediately. Just listen and reflect. It’s OK to say, “That’s a great question. Give me a day or so to research our products to find the one that precisely addresses your question.”

Observe nonverbal behavior. Body language is so important that studies point out only a small percentage of what is “heard” by a listener are the words of the speaker. The listener is also hearing tone of voice, facial expressions, vocal inflections, etc. Watch for all of these indices of your client’s mood and attitude. You might even wait for a pause and make an interpretation of what you are sensing. An example: “You appear to be assuming I am trying to force you to buy this product. Is that what’s going on in your head?”

Summarize. You can show the speaker how much you are listening by simply summarizing what you just heard. If you have hit the key points in your summary, the speaker feels validated and closer to you. If you missed key points he or she is trying to convey, he or she can inform you at this time.

Acknowledge the message. Understanding what the speaker is saying doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with them necessarily. You are simply showing you hear the speaker’s concerns. One example: “Alice, I hear your concerns because of your last experience with an insurance salesman. Let me get the information you need to make you feel comfortable about this.” Always acknowledge the speaker and his or her position before voicing your opinion.

Let the speaker finish. I am often in a hurry to address an issue before I forget it, but cutting off a speaker loses you a deal immediately. Always give the courtesy of finishing his or her point before you interject yours. Again, take notes so you won’t forget what you wanted to say.

Selling is all about trust and communications. If you are genuine and sell products that truly satisfy people’s needs and desires, they will trust you. That includes not selling them the most expensive product if you believe it is not right for them. Nothing gains their trust more than you being an excellent listener. Using this P.R.O.P.O.S.A.L. can dramatically increase your success rate. Practice this with friends and family. It’s easy to get the hang of it, and it really works.

Jack Singer, Ph.D., is a professional speaker, trainer and practicing psychologist. A proud member of the National Speakers Association, he has been speaking for and training Fortune 1000 companies, associations, CEOs, sales directors and sales staffs for 34 years. He is a frequent guest on CNN, MSNBC, FOX Sports and radio talk shows across the United States and Canada. He is the author of “The Teacher’s Ultimate Stress Mastery Guide” and several series of hypnotic audio programs, some specifically for athletes and some for those wanting to raise their self-confidence and esteem. To learn more about Singer’s speaking and consulting services, please visit www.drjacksinger.com or www.funspeaker.com, or call him at 800-497-9880.