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As salespeople, our number one need is to be able to understand our client or prospect’s business pain. Sure, some of this can be ascertained through research but the best source is always, as they say, straight from the horse’s mouth. If sales pros don’t use active listening in a variety of situations - networking, events, client meetings, prospecting calls - then they are missing out on valuable intel that will help them make a sale. Or worse, poor listening skills can be the cause of big missteps or mistakes that will ruin your chances with an important customer.

Here’s why active listening is an essential sales tool.

Number 1: Listening Allows You to Understand the Need

From prospecting to pitching, effective sales is all about personalisation. Yes, you know why your product is great and all the very many features it possesses and the problems it can solve. But if you don’t tailor your approach to why your product or service meets your clients very unique and particular needs, your sales pitch will be dead in the water. Sometimes a prospect or client will be upfront about what they need or what their issues are, but more often than not, you’ll need to do a little digging to get to the route of their business pain. Using active listening skills to decipher and decode the tidbits of information they drop into conversation can give you the killer hook that will give you the edge over your competitors. You might even be able to help them solve a problem they hadn’t even realised was an issue and that kind of solution drives real customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention.

Number 2: Listening Gives You the Chance to Build a Relationship

People buy from people they like; people with whom they feel a rapport. Listening is key to building this kind of relationship with a prospect or client. To build a solid client relationship it’s not JUST about business, you need to learn their personal likes and dislikes, their communication style, information about their family life and situation outside of the office. Listening actively will help you find mutual points of interest upon which you can build your relationship. By listening to and acting on their preferences, you can create a situation whereby they look forward to interacting with you and opening up their business.

Number 3: Listening Offers Chances for Meaningful Follow-up

Follow-up can be somewhat precarious at all stages of the sales process. Whether you’re following-up on that first sales call, after that all-important presentation, or post sale, you need a genuine reason to connect for it to be well-received and successful. Let’s say you’re a week post pitch and you’ve heard nothing, nada. Of course you want to follow-up but if you pick up the phone with a “just checking in…” you’re unlikely to be rewarded with much success. However, if you were listening carefully during previous interactions, you can have a treasure trove of real reasons to pick up the phone that the prospect will find meaningful. Perhaps it’s to answer a question that they raised in the presentation and you sensed your answer wasn’t fulsome enough. Or maybe you heard that XYZ was of interest to them and you’ve just found an interesting article on the topic that you want to share. Listening skills give you the opportunity to make sure all your follow-ups add value and the “in” you need to successfully reconnect.

Number 4: Listening Helps You Avoid Potentially Disastrous Errors

So often in sales, our tight deadlines and busy schedules mean that we have to move quickly. But if we don’t pay enough attention, this can lead to serious mistakes in communication with clients. Not only does active listening give you the opportunity to learn what to say to customers and prospects, it gives you the chance to learn what NOT to say.  For example, by listening carefully, you might learn that there’s some serious cutbacks in the pipeline for your client, so now is not the time to approach them with an upsell. Or it might be as small a thing as noticing that a prospect is put off by a certain type of joke or way of speaking, so you can avoid them so as not to cause offense. Maintaining good relationships with clients is important and active listening is an essential way to keep these relationships strong.

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