All great salespeople knows that listening is the most important skill. Most people believe that good communicators are the best salespeople, but in reality it is those who have mastered the art of listening and identifying the true motivations of people who are most successful. Listening isn't just a practice you should do when in front of your sales manager, it's also what will help you become your company's best salesperson.

Read the article and understand what preparation for active listening looks like and how you can refine your listening skills to sell more and faster.

What is active listening in sales

Active listening in sales is nothing more than listening to your leads and prospects with full attention, and also with the intention of understanding what they really mean, what their pain points are, and what problems they are trying to solve.

While it may seem obvious at first, a study conducted in the financial services industry showed that salespeople spoke 80% of the time on a typical sales call.

This happens because active listening is harder than it sounds. Often, salespeople are waiting their turn to speak or are thinking about what they should say next according to an inflexible script, rather than actually listening to the prospect.

Why is active listening so important in sales?

Active listening is a fundamental skill that elite salespeople possess. They are able to accelerate their business and close with better margins by being able to listen to the interlocutor with the right focus. See below for more reasons to train your attention:

Better rapport and relationship building

Without a solid rapport, it's difficult to earn buyers' trust to close deals and build a true long-term partnership.

But in recent years, as the industry has become more efficient with processes, with more automation, and with a primary focus on closing deals faster, salespeople have been missing the softer side of sales – building rapport.

Active listening helps you build a better relationship with your prospects because you have a lot more opportunities to improve the relevance of your conversation. For example, let's say you are demoing your product/platform. With active listening, you tend to pick up on subtle emotional signals and understand what features you should demonstrate rather than overwhelming them with everything your product does.

That is, instead of spending your time with an empty speech, you will have a more targeted speech and with greater chances of reaching your target consumer.

Increased conversion rate and fewer objections

In the age of constant, empty communication, truly listening is a rare skill and a great gift, because you are giving away your most valuable asset: your attention.

When you give them your full attention, prospects feel heard, respected, and valued. They offer fewer and smoother objections. You gain a reputation as a trusted solution provider and give you more assurance that you and your solution would meet the customer's needs.

With Active Listening, you save time and frustration by figuring out if there's a right “fit” between what the prospect needs and the solution you offer, resulting in more sales in less time.

Better construction of business speech

Active listening prevents misunderstandings. When you really listen to what your lead has to say, you get a better idea of what they want out of the conversation, whether it's an immediate sale or an ongoing relationship that could lead to future sales. Therefore, the chances of slip up and running over expectations are much lower.

How to adopt active listening in your business pitch

Active listening is not a new practice. It was conceived by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson in 1957.

It is a type of communication that requires participants in the conversation to focus, understand and fully respond to what is being said.

It means being attentive to what the other person is saying and genuinely understanding the feelings or points of view of others. It is a form of listening that involves asking clarifying questions.

Below are some quick actions to implement and improve active listening in your sales department:

Let your prospect speak...

When your interlocutor starts talking, resist the urge to share your stories or give advice – unless, of course, they specifically ask for it.

If the other person isn't talking much, take them from the superficial conversation to deeper levels. Ask questions such as, “How was it for you, when…?”. Or encourage them by asking, “And what happened next?” or "Could you tell me a little more about that?"

The most amateurish mistake you can make is starting talk about you, your business, making assumptions about what the prospect needs without ever stopping to ask. This self-centered approach is a guaranteed way that your prospect will never want to talk to you in the future.

Listen with intent

"You must actively listen" is a tip that is easier said than done. Often, salespeople are waiting their turn to speak or thinking about what to say next, rather than actually listening to the prospect. They are usually looking for specific words or phrases that will give them clues to start pitching their rehearsed script. Anxiety at these moments can be like cutting your own throat.

But the best salespeople listen differently. They don't follow a rigid script and they really listen to the words and feelings being conveyed. They understand your words, listen to your tone of voice, observe facial expressions and body language.

And that kind of listening makes a big difference.

Focus on the moment

The time to sell is not the time to be multi-tasking.

Make sure you're not getting distracted by taking notes, or worse, checking your smartphone. Focusing means you're all present.

If it's a recorded meeting, you won't have to worry about writing down or memorizing information.

Avoid interrupting

After your prospect has finished speaking, count to three before answering or asking another question. Some people tend to finish the other person's sentence with impatience. While speaking too slowly can be irritating, avoid the temptation to overwhelm your interlocutor.

Sometimes, even when you seem to be listening, you are thinking more about your next statement or the next question to ask.

Practice pausing and thinking about what the other person has verbalized. This helps to increase your awareness of your prospect and your pitch.

Repeat what you heard

After a potential customer shares something important about their challenges, repeat what they just narrated. With this approach, he will hear exactly what he has just said and will be able to confirm or clarify his statement. But you need to be careful that they don't doubt your power of interpretation.

The best approach is to paraphrase what you've heard in a condensed and concise way. Summarizing what your interlocutor has said makes conversations shorter and also builds confidence that you have heard and understood them. However, if you oversimplify and leave out some important details it can lead to a loss of trust.

The best approach is to tell the same story, but with your own vocabulary. You need to focus more on the feelings and emotions behind what is said, not just the words. With this, you are demonstrating that you understand the situation and can sympathize with the struggle experienced.

Convincing your prospect that they've been heard and understood is the most important outcome of this step.

Ask follow-up questions

While it's important to avoid frequent interruptions, if you're not sure about something the prospect has shared, ask for clarification.

Clarify your understanding with questions like: “Let me get this straight...” or “These are the main points I've written down so far....”, etc.

Also ask open-ended questions that encourage the interlocutor to share more about their goals, challenges and plans with phrases such as: “Tell me more about…”, “Why…”, “How…”, etc.

Create interactive presentations

Slideshows can be boring. So make sure your prospect experiences, feels, and sees your product or service more vividly during meetings. Incorporate as much interaction as your product allows and give your customer a greater opportunity to provide feedback instantly.

Follow this step and see the magic of engagement happen.

Work your body language

First, don't forget to maintain eye contact. That means not checking the time, checking notifications, or messing with paperwork. This doesn't mean you can't relax, however, make sure your speaker feels relaxed too. Keep your posture open and inviting, which can mean leaning back slightly and releasing your body from any tense positions.

Lean in as you listen, nod when you agree, and demonstrate that you understand something important with a simple smile, for example.

Your main objective here is to be present, attentive and ready to serve.

Put active listening into action!

The next time you're in a sales meeting, take the time to reflect on the scenario. Are you hogging all the conversation? If the answer is yes, then you are selling wrong.

While active listening is a relatively simple skill to understand, it is extremely difficult to master. Using the tips and actions shared in this article you can become a more proactive and empathetic listener. And with practice, you can excel at this skill and eventually it becomes a natural skill for you.