Talk less, listen more to boost sales

In this era of instant communication, many people seem to have lost their ability to effectively listen.

In this era of instant communication, many people seem to have lost their ability to effectively listen.

Often, people (myself included) are so eager to respond that we cut off the other person in mid-conversation. We are more focused on our responses than the other person. We assume we know where the discussion is headed and “hijack” the conversation.

Every individual is a unique product of her/his environments and experiences, which shapes attitudes, behaviors and communication styles.

Listening is an important skill to have, but not always easy to do. Actual words are only a small part of human communication. Non-verbal messages, like a person’s body language, are a real good indicator whether they’re really listening and engaged in the conversation.

In sales, the best way to gauge where you stand is to ask questions. Asking a direct question should bring out a direct response.

A willingness to answer questions indicates a certain level of trust. Asking good questions conveys a genuine interest in the other person. Plus, asking good questions will tell you all you need to know about the decision process.

Here are a couple of hints that might help.

If you’re new to sales, learn as much as you can about the sales process and why people buy. There is plenty of good material available on sales practice, in written and audio format. Learn how to handle a variety of situations and overcome objections by asking the right questions.

Remember that you have two ears and one mouth — practice using them in that ratio. Ask more questions, do less talking.

Stay in the present and focus on the other person. Make plenty of eye contact and use simple responses that encourage the other person to explain in more detail.

When the individual finishes talking, count to two before you say anything. This will help you to not cut them off.

Look for the “theme” of the message by noting the key points in the conversation. You can even write them down as you go along.

At one time or another, all of us can be distracted. Control distractions by calling or meeting at scheduled times.

The goal is to make sure your, and the customer’s, full attention is on the discussion.

Go over client records and past transactions before the meeting to ensure the conversation doesn’t get off topic.

If there is any doubt they’re listening, ask a question in the middle of one of your sentences. If they don’t answer, reframe your thoughts and try another approach.

There might be times that you meet someone who challenges your personal and business values. It’s very difficult to separate the individual from the transaction.

Be sure that you’re dealing with the “decision-maker” in the company. It’s next to impossible to establish good communication if your ethics are compromised.

Some clients have a practice of venting — raising their voice or even yelling. This normally shuts down the conversation. No one listens to a hothead, and no one likes to be yelled at or criticized.

Remain calm and positive. Try to ask questions. You can’t fix what you don’t understand.

Don’t be afraid of confrontation. Ask the person to clarify the problem from their viewpoint, and then repeat that understanding back to them. Always ask if you have a correct understanding.

Once you know what the issues are, you can look for areas of agreement. Identify with their situation the best you can.

Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention and then gain commitment to work towards a solution. Often, just listening and understanding each other will resolve the situation.

Active listening demonstrates that you respect someone else’s opinion. People feel confident in telling you things when they know you are really listening.

This allows you to learn all you need to know about the business, the owner and staff and management.

Good business relationships lets you find great ways to provide the best products and services to help meet their challenges. Listening to others is one of the greatest compliments you can pay them.

ActionCoach is published on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month in the Business section of the Advocate. It is written by John MacKenzie, whose Red Deer business ActionCoach helps small- to medium-sized organizations in areas like succession planning, systems development, sales and marketing, and building/retaining quality teams. MacKenzie’s blog can be found at and he can be contacted by email at or by phone at 403-340-0880.

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