How to Be a Better Listener in Sales and Life


Even the most effective questions achieve nothing in the sales process if you fail to listen actively to the responses and make use of that information. Believe it or not, listening is the superior partner—to talking—in the sales process. What separates the top 2 percent of sales professionals from the pack? They ask many of the same questions as their competitors. What sets them apart is the ability to hear the responses and act on the information—superior listening skills.

Ben Feldman—the first insurance salesperson to sell $25 million in a year—was the leading salesperson for New York Life for more than 20 years. This while selling in an Ohio city of only 20,000. When asked his secret, he always commented, “Work hard. Think big. Listen well.”

Listening well is all about focusing right here, right now on this one prospect or customer. Take off your expert telecom hat for the moment and become a complete novice. After all you are a complete novice when it comes to the business issues of this customer or prospect. When it comes to their business issues, your customer is your Subject Matter Expert (SME).

Effective listeners assume nothing and so they miss nothing. Motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer, says the advantage of becoming a novice in each situation is that you are open to any possibility. The novice checks their preconceived notions at the door. As an expert—with all the answers—it’s easy to assume you know what you are going to hear before the customer speaks. This approach diminishes possible options before the process begins.

Be willing to play the role of an inquisitive student—especially early in the sales process. Your time to shine as the expert comes at proposal time. For now, open your ears and let the prospect or customer educate you about their points of pain. Let what you hear—and don’t hear—guide your questioning.

Following are some tips for using active listening as a powerful tool in your sales interactions.

  1. Prepare to listen - go into each meeting as if you haven’t heard it all before. Each customer sees their needs as unique—so must you. Being prepared to really hear the customer allows them to lead you to the way they want to buy.

  2. Focus on what’s being said - listening effectively allows you to focus on the both the flow and content of the conversation. This helps you logically direct the progression of the discussion, while being flexible enough to move in a new—perhaps profitable—direction when the customer communicates a new interest.

  3. Eliminate distractions - eliminate both mental and physical distractions. Do all in your power to limit distractions in the physical environment while communicating with a customer. Wipe your mental slate clean for each call. Put the last sales call and the next sales call out of your mind. Focus in on this customer and what they are saying.

  4. Take notes - take bulleted notes on what the customer is saying for follow up or future reference. This allows you to capture and retain pieces of information that are critical to selling this customer.

  5. Ask questions that stimulate listening - develop questions that stimulate listening. Ask effective, open-ended questions that open the door for the prospect to talk. Don’t feel the need to fill customer pauses with talking. Use phrases like—“Go on.” “Tell me more.” “Then what happens.”—to stimulate them to discuss their needs in more depth.

  6. Offer feedback - be an active listener. Reiterate or rephrase what the customer says to make sure you understand. Make eye contact and use facial gestures and body language that show you are listening.

  7. Focus on facts and feelings - when your customer says, “We want XYZ” do you immediately go into a Features, Advantages, and Benefits (FAB) statement about your product? The top two percent don’t. They seek the “why” behind the need. Just a little extra concerned digging separates you from the majority of your competition and helps you better address the customers underlying business need.

  8. Practice listening - practice active listening. As with any skill, the ability to actively listen improves with practice. Fortunately, everyday life provides ample opportunity to practice this skill. Practice in non-sales situations. Honing this skill offers benefits for both your professional and personal life.