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Topics Covered: <a href='/resources/search/?query=Self-Improvement'>Self-Improvement</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Tips and techniques'>Tips and techniques</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Sales personnel'>Sales personnel</a> | <a href='/resources/search/?query=Listening'>Listening</a>
Sales Strategy
Oct 13, 2010 | Tom French lock

It never hurts to step back and think about listening. Some call it a skill; others call it an art; still others call it a behaviour. Call it what you will—the one thing we know for sure is that it is a very hard thing to do well all the time.

The research makes this abundantly clear. Here are some of the statistics you might want to share. They vary a bit as they are derived from different sources, but the message is certainly consistent:

  • People remember 10 per cent of what they hear; 20% of what they see; 50% of what they hear and see.
  • If you go to a 30-minute lecture in the morning, you will forget 70% of what you heard by mid-afternoon.
  • Attention spans are short—depending on whose research you are quoting, they can range from 5 to 60 seconds before listening drops off.
  • We process information at a rate that exceeds the rate of speech by a factor of six to eight, or in simple terms, we think much faster than the people to whom we are listening to can speak.

Listening is difficult. Many people believe that we simply aren’t wired to listen effectively. Our minds are always racing ahead and as a result we tend to miss so much of what people say. That is why those frightening statistics hold up.

As sales professionals we have to listen. In sales training we always talk about the critical importance of questioning, but if we don’t listen at 112% to the answers, the brilliant questions don’t get us the results we need. Our job is to do whatever we can to offset our tendencies that work against our ability to listen. Remember, as sales professionals we are the eyes and ears of the organization.

Most salespeople can quickly explain why it is so difficult to listen. They have no difficulty listing the barriers. Here are ones we hear most often:

  • Thinking about what we want to say
  • Anticipating what the client will say
  • Rehearsing our response
  • Trying to understand what was said
  • Preoccupation with something else
  • Boredom, disinterest, discomfort

The list goes on and on, but those are the most common responses.

And when you put all this in perspective, you realize that listening is not a passive act. That is why so many communication skills advocates consistently refer to active listening as the approach we need to use.

So what do you do about it? Here are five reminders to consider:

1. Be aware of the problem—"Forewarned is forearmed." Knowing how challenging listening can be is the first step.

2. Take notes—or as we prefer to say, make notes. Any time an idea or response or need or objection or even a distraction occurs to you, drop out for a second or two and get it on paper. Write down that key word or two that will remind you of what you were thinking.

3. "Double Click"—Asking the client to say a little more about what is on their mind gives you a better opportunity to hear what they are saying. So if someone says: "this is making me uncomfortable," ask them "what is it about it that makes you uncomfortable?" By double clicking on uncomfortable, you will learn a lot more and listen better.

4. Paraphrase, paraphrase, and paraphrase again—Let the client know you heard them. Review your understanding. Review the needs you have uncovered. Restate or reframe the objections you hear. Do whatever it takes to make sure you understand what the client has said.

5. Be present—Stay in the moment. Don’t digress. Do what you can to keep those barriers from impacting your listening ability. If you are distracted, force yourself back. If you are preoccupied, make a note and jump back in. If you are bored, remind yourself that only boring people get bored.

The bottom line is that we have to listen. In many ways that is what we get paid to do as sales professionals. When you look at the barriers you can’t help but notice that the items on the list have one thing in common—we are listening to ourselves, not the client. It’s about us. Try these tips as a way to manage this tendency and you will find your listening improves.

About the Author: 

Tom French is a Managing Director of Sales and Marketing at The Baron Group. Mr. French has over 25 years experience in the sales and delivery of skill development training programs. He is an accomplished facilitator with expertise in consultative selling, negotiations, strategic selling, 360 degree feedback, influencing skills, presentation skills, and sales coaching.

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