When we talk about listening, what do we mean? About 55% of our day is spent listening to others, but it has been estimated that we remember only about 17% of the things that others say. Those missing bits can often be crucial in sales, when understanding our customers makes the difference between a sale and lost opportunity.
Where is the rest of that information going, and how can we get it back? We sat down with Shannon Kita, VP of Sales, to talk about active listening and how it can help us reclaim those lost words and make sure that we understand our customers needs.
What is Active Listening?
To understand what active listening means, we must first distinguish the difference between hearing and listening. Our sense of hearing is one of our most crucial senses for the act of communication – it is how we impart ideas verbally towards others, and the words that we choose contain the meaning that we want others to receive.
However, a large portion of how we communicate comes from other aspects than simply the words alone. The tone that we choose, the way we hold our bodies and maintain eye contact, the pauses and the speed at which we speak are where the brunt of our meaning is communicated. In outsourced b2b sales, most of what we say is communicated over the phone. While this means we can focus less on how we look and move, it places greater emphasis on the power of our voices.
Hearing is a broad word to describe the range of sounds that the human brain can interpret. If I focus, I can hear people around me talking on the phones, the sound of my computer humming, office chairs creaking around me. For the most part, my brain blocks out these sounds which are not pertinent to what I am doing. Listening refers to sounds that I perceive and engage with. If someone says my name, or I am playing new music, or I am having a conversation, I am typically “listening” rather than just “hearing.”
Active listening takes “listening” to the next level. You are listening to the words being spoken to you and demonstrating that you have done so. This shows the prospect that you are engaged and paying attention – without body language or gestures, this is an essential tip for closing inside sales. Hearing is a subconscious activity, listening is conscious (what is being said and how it is being said) and active listening is an action that you perform.
Styles of Active Listening
Humans are social creatures, but listening doesn’t come naturally to us – in fact, it is estimated that only 6% of people have been trained in on listening techniques. Listening is key to get the process talking about what interests them about what they are looking for. Below are three ways that you can demonstrate to your prospect that you are engaging in active listening.
Repeating – Sometimes the best way to tell someone that you’re listening to what they are saying is to repeat what they have just told you, word for word. This can be particularly effective if a prospect is trying to formalize something that they haven’t thought of into words, like a pain point they have felt but haven’t said aloud.
Paraphrasing – Repetition doesn’t work in all cases – sometimes people talk for ten minutes, and it doesn’t make sense to repeat back what they have said. Paraphrasing takes the key ideas they have mentioned to you and puts them into basic, more economic language. To paraphrase this active listening technique: “say it simple.”
Reflecting – When you need to take a prospect’s words and connect them to things that you have said, consider using reflection as a method of active listening. Reflecting is a method of connecting the dots, taking the ideas that a person has told you and drawing them to the topic at hand. While repetition is an effective way of demonstrating that you have listening, reflection shows that you have listened while moving the conversation in a new direction.
Shut Up and Listen
At Acquirent, we believe that listening is a highly undervalued tool in sales that is overlooked in the training process. One of our key pillars is “shut up and listen” – this means to focus less on pitching a product and have the prospect pitch themselves the product. Utilizing all three of the active listening techniques is key to closing deals. We can easily babble our way out of a sale. Have your prospect’s words work for you, and you will see a dramatic improvement in your sales figures.