Listening is one of the most basic skills required in selling. Yet, it may also be the most overlooked. When polled, only 1 in 3 businesses defined it as a critical skill for success. Most take it for granted. Yet, the art of listening is complex. And not only do humans spend 50% more time listening than speaking, effective listening is twice as difficult to achieve.

The Science of Listening

The science behind listening reveals two important truths:

(1) People think and speak at different rates. We speak at 125-175 words per minute, but think at a rate of 1,000 to 3,000 words per minute. The lag between the spoken word and our capacity to think creates a dramatic gap, making it difficult to remain continuously engaged.

(2) Body language can affect listening. Eye contact, facial expressions, and posture convey more than visual messages. For example, crossed arms during selling conversations not only imply resistance, they create a mental barrier. Studies predict that you’ll retain 30% less when listening with your arms crossed. Winning sales come from uncovering needs. Successful salespeople adopt proven techniques to keep their own stories in perspective, listen openly, and clarify points.

The Art of Listening

Consider this example. A salesperson knows drop shipping is ideal for a customer. Orders are shipped from the warehouse directly to the distributor’s customer, freeing up inventory space and costs, and cutting transit times. But he still can’t make the sale. Why not? The salesperson is probably using one of the 2 most common styles of listening.

:: Combative: Listening but being more concerned with expressing his/her own point. In this approach, the salesperson presses harder, but the distributor won’t budge. Stuck in a combative listening mode, the salesperson is more interested in getting his/her point across than hearing the distributor’s point of view.

:: Passive: Listening attentively, but not confirming what we hear the speaker say Here, the salesperson listens more attentively, but uses only a passive listening approach. He neglects to confirm what he thinks the distributor is saying. Again, no progress is made. When the salesperson adopts a new reflective listening style, he finally makes progress.

:: Reflective: Listening attentively, without pressing our own agenda, then reiterating what we hear the speaker say In this style, the salesperson elevates his approach. He (1) opens up his body language, (2) listens more closely, and (3) repeats key points back to the distributor.

Finding the Answers
When sales people set their own agendas aside, listen attentively, and probe to understand, they engage in reflective listening. They uncover needs, overcome objections, and build stronger relationships with their customers. And that leads to winning more sales.
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