How many times have you caught yourself mid-way through a conversation and realised that you haven’t heard what the other person has been taking about, or been introduced to someone and by the time you shake their hand have forgotten their name? This is called marginal listening (Comer & Drollinger, 1999) and is very common. Humans are terrible at listening. If you want to get ahead in sales, relationships or business then learn to do well what many others don’t: listen. You may have heard about people talking their way out of a sale, but you can’t listen yourself out of a sale.
Are you one of the many people who say “I'm no good with names!” that was me until a year ago until I consciously decided that I was going to become good at names. All it took was listening and concentration; remembering other people’s names is one of the best skills you can master.
Many people associate being good at sales with being a good talker – the gift of the gab. Research (Grant, 2013) has found that extraversion is not connected with sales performance. The ability to listen to customers interests is strongly connected to sales revenue, not the ability to talk. The best piece of advice for building professional relationships that I have ever received is 'be interested not interesting”'– be genuinely interested when listening to others rather than overtly trying to sell yourself. This resonates with every social situation you may find yourself in.
Dobbins and Pettman (1997) found that 70% of selling is about building trust and developing a relationship with customers, and only 30% is based on the actual sales presentation.
What is active listening?
Have you got the next question lined up in your mind or are you truly tuning in to the other person and responding to what they have just said? Active listening is showing the other person that you are truly listening and have understood them. Listen with the intent to understand rather than the intent to reply. Show you are listening by tuning into the non-verbal communication, paraphrasing what they say and asking questions to encourage them to elaborate (Lester, 2002). This communicates empathy but most importantly builds trust; the other person will be more likely to buy from you if they trust you.
Stand out from the crowd
Once you have listened and understood, remember what they have said – make notes throughout the meeting/call that you can refer back to afterwards. How good do you feel when someone remembers your name, asks how your weekend in Aberystwyth was or comments on your new suit? Give yourself the slight edge by remembering the little things that people say and you will stand out from the crowd.
The impact of active listening
Active listening is not only important in sales but all social interactions. Expert hostage negotiators use active listening (Haddelt, 2005) and stable romantic relationships are positively associated with active listening in resolving problems (Reznik, Roloff & Miller, 2012).
Individuals feel more understood and get better conversational satisfaction if you use active listening compared to just simply acknowledging them talking. If the person feels understood then they will be more likely to buy from you than if you present a pitch. Nobody likes to be sold to but everyone likes to buy!
How much of your sales meeting do you spend talking and how much do you spend understanding? Do a little study and find out. You should be spending the majority of the start of/your first meetings listening, in order to build the trust to be able to influence them to buy.
Impressions of a good listener
Good listeners, whether they were estate agents, husbands or doctors, were perceived to be socially attractive, friendly, trustworthy and understanding (Bodie, 2012). People make very early impressions of people, how good at listening you are is one of the attributes you are judged on. Good listeners are rated more highly and this is important as it shapes whether the person would want to have a future interaction with you (Ramirez, 2007). So, if you go to a networking event or friends party and have listened to the people you met with the intent to understand then they will be more likely to meet with you again, connect with you on LinkedIn or help you out in the future.
As I mentioned earlier, be interested not interesting.