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4 ways to become a better listener

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We wicked sinners must beg forgiveness and change our sinful ways if we want to build sold relationships with our prospects and have them sign our contracts. A reading of much of the Old Testament sounds like a modern day sales meeting — a great deal of hearing, very little listening of what is being said.

When we read those passages where the Israelites hear the words being spoken but understand nothing because they don’t really listen, we tend to think: “Oh, those evil Israelites, they deserve all the wrath that descends upon them.” And in reality, they do.

But listen in on many of our sales calls and the only conclusion we can come to is, “Oh, that wicked salesperson, they deserve all the failure that descends upon them.” Just as the wages of sin is death, the wages of not listening to our prospect is the equivalent of death in sales — no sales.

The problem is most of the time we aren’t even aware that we’re not listening because it is just plain human nature to hear what we want to hear and to be thinking about what we want to say instead of what our prospect is saying. In terms of hearing, what comes naturally to us is to be thinking of our rebuttal while the other is talking, and to be listening for the words we want to hear and to skip over the ones we don’t. Listening, really listening to what is being said rather than what we want to hear, is something we have to learn to do.

Here is one example:

“I’ve got a great referral coming from one of my new clients,” said Richard.  “He said he’d talk to his business partner and see if he could set up a lunch meeting with the three of us.”

A few days later, I got the following email reply when I asked Richard if he had spoken with his new client about the referral lunch: “He said he hadn’t spoken to him yet and probably wouldn’t anytime soon, since his partner is in the process of getting a divorce and is in a surly mood and pre-occupied most of the time.”

That’s not what I was expecting. I asked Richard what led him to believe his client would be setting up a lunch meeting. He said he had recorded his session with the client as he often does and would play the referral meeting request section for me if I wanted.

Here’s what his client actually said: “Well, I’ll see if I can set up a lunch with Don. I’m not sure now is really the right time since he’s got some really serious personal issues he’s dealing with, but I’ll see if maybe there might be a good time to ask in the next few days. If now isn’t good, can we wait until he has worked through the issues that are occupying him right now?”

My client heard: “I can set up a lunch meeting with Don.” The rest, to Richard, was just filler. He heard the words he wanted to hear.

What I heard most loudly was: “If now isn’t good, can we wait until he has worked through the issues that are occupying him right now?” The client wanted to help Richard, but was obviously uncomfortable asking Don for the meeting at this time and was asking permission from Richard to wait for a better time. Richard didn’t hear the request because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear, consequently, he was disappointed and a bit upset when the referral lunch didn’t happen.

Here’s how to listen carefully:

1. Concentrate on the prospect:

It’s hard to do, at least at first, but the single most effective thing you can do is to consciously concentrate on each word your prospect says.

2. Focus on context and agreement:

While listening to your prospect, consciously focus on what your prospect is saying in the context of the overall discussion. Is the prospect giving a subtle message between the lines?

Do the words your prospect is saying match their body language? Concentrating on what they are saying in context and examining to make sure words and body language are in agreement will force you to really concentrate on what is being said.

3. Pause before talking: 

When we’re anxious to get our point across, we tend to interrupt and break into our prospect’s discourse. This is rude and a solid indication we really aren’t listening. Wait two seconds after your prospect finishes talking. This pause gives you a bit of time to think of your response.

4. Restate your prospect’s statements: 

Once your prospect has finished their statement, reword it back to your prospect to make sure you understand. Say something like, “So, Ms. Prospect, I understand that your concern is…” or “I want to make sure I fully understand, you are suggesting that…“

Although hardly natural for most of us, listening is a skill we can — and as sellers must — learn.

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