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A sales skills primer, part 2

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To be truly successful at getting new clients, your passion for your work must be accompanied by three essential skills:

  • The ability to ask provocative questions.
  • The ability to listen with total focus on your client.
  • The ability to relate compelling stories and metaphors.

In this article, I’ll focus on the second of these skills:

The ability to listen with total focus. Anyone who is married knows that we often neglect to really listen to one another. (I could tell my wife Hannah that I got to work 15 minutes late and saw a flying saucer through my office window, and she would respond, “Why were you late? You left on time.”)

We tend to listen to one another, surf the Internet and watch television all at the same time. When we do, the listening part of our multitasking efforts ends up being pretty passive.

Some of my colleagues have taken courses on active listening. In these courses, they have been told “When you’re speaking with a client, stop everything else, put your papers aside, turn away from your computer, make eye contact, concentrate on the words being spoken and don’t interrupt!”

All of these tips are truly important, but they can’t prevent us from being impatient, waiting-to-talk listeners. Often, even when we stop all activity and make an honest effort to listen actively, our minds will race through a myriad of responses to whatever it is that our client or prospect is saying. Because those wheels in our heads are always turning, we may miss one of the most important components of communication: the emotions behind our clients’ words.

Listening with total focus requires all the skills you need for active listening with the additional requirement that you let go of the need to respond. Listen to the other person’s words, observe the emotions behind his words and pay attention to his body language. Take in what your clients are saying, but also absorb what they aren’t saying.

Professionals who are totally focused on their clients and prospects are always more likely to win and keep loyal advocates who can bring them business. Cultivating this level of focus takes practice, but it’s an endeavor well worth undertaking.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to


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