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If you're not a good listener, you can't be a good salesperson. Here are nine bad listeners inside your mind, who will destroy your sales call:

  • The Mind Reader doesn't hear any of the words the prospect says because he's too busy trying to figure out what the prospect is really thinking or feeling.
  • The Rehearser is so busy thinking about what she's going to say, she never really listens to what the prospect is saying now.
  • The Filterer practices selective listening, hears only what she wants to hear.
  • The Dreamer drifts off, starts thinking about other things.  Can lead to an embarrassing, "I'm sorry, what did you say?" experience.
  • The Identifier relates everything he hears to his own experience. Preoccupied with drawing these parallels, he fails to hear what the prospect is really saying.
  • The Comparer concentrates on the person he is talking to-comparing him or her to other people he has dealt with, which prevents him from hearing.
  • The Derailer changes the subject too quickly, and sends the message that she wasn't really interested in what the prospect was saying.
  • The Sparrer actually hears what is said, but immediately jumps to counter it, appearing defensive-which can make prospects suspicious.
  • The Placater agrees with everything the prospects say and wants to give them anything they want.

If you see yourself here, work on balancing your listening style.

Balanced Listening

There is no argument that listening is a key selling skill. But it requires a balanced effort. Too little listening results in lost rapport and communication; too much can lead to indecisiveness and "decision avoidance."

Research suggests that there are two basic causes of poor listening in salespeople: insecurity and the inability to pay attention.

  • Many salespeople listen poorly because they need to be the center of attention or the dominant force in any conversation. These types must usually decide by an act of will to allow others equal time. If this is you, put a symbol on your notepad that means nothing to anyone else, but reminds you to focus outward.
  • Other salespeople have a great need for stimulation, change and excitement. They must remember not to interrupt and to ask instead of tell.  
  • Some salespeople listen too well. For them, consultative selling may prolong the sales cycle because they use listening as an excuse to avoid advancing and seeking a decision.

One way to assure balance is to have a plan for each sales call, one that's not solely yours; you must co-develop it with the other party. When someone agrees to meet with you or schedule a call with you, before disconnecting, discuss the agenda.

"I'm looking forward to seeing you next week. Let's take a minute or so now to make sure that our meeting is as productive and valuable for you as possible.  We've talked about why we're getting together, but what, specifically would you like to accomplish?"

Now, listen carefully. When she stops speaking, clarify any parts of her expectation that are vague or otherwise unmeasurable. One simple test is: can you envision what she expects?  If not, it's probably too fuzzy for you to deliver. Probe. Get her to expand.

"I hear you, but I've learned not to try to interpret others' words.  I'm not you. How will I be able to recognize that we've accomplished your purpose?" This often yields a more objective, concrete response.

Now, it's your turn. Inform her of what you wish to accomplish. There's no value in surprising her with it during the meeting. Better that she has time to think about it and contribute, or tell you right now if she doesn't agree with your expectation or can't support it. As a result, you may learn that the timing of the meeting isn't advantageous.

Anything that you clarify up front will make it easier for you to test the meeting's success at its conclusion.

"You said you wanted to accomplish 'X' today. Have we?"

This is all designed to earn trust, a modicum of Professional Intimacy, and to earn the right to ask, "What do you see as sensible next steps?" 

If you leave without a defining a next step, or learning that the person doesn't welcome further interaction, you've wasted both of your time.

Mike O'Horo

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