Tips on developing listening skills and knowing how to ask questions.

It’s my hope that this month’s column is one you’ll take time to read and give some thought to. We’re going to talk about how using the skill of listening can help your sales efforts focus on being customer-centric (emotional), as opposed to company-centric (intellectual).

Let’s explore the difference between emotional and intellectual selling. Intellectually, an operator takes clients to the largest flower show in the tri-state area. Emotionally, the clients will be introduced to the sweet beauty and captivating fragrances of the spring season. A restaurant intellectually has a reasonably priced group menu to satisfy every palate. Emotionally, the group menu will embrace the guest in a rich bouquet of tasteful delights.

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The question naturally follows, “How do we gain insight to what emotional triggers a customer possesses?” Actually, they’ll tell you. The trick is being a good listener and knowing how to ask questions.

  • First and foremost, you must develop the aspiration to be a good listener. Accept that when you listen, the other person will share exactly what you need to know. That should be enough motivation to be a good listener.
  • Please, do not interrupt. We all believe that what we have to offer is vitally important. But that’s not always accurate, so don’t interrupt.
  • We have two ears and one mouth. Use them accordingly. The 70/30 (listening/talking) Rule is a good guideline.
  • Be an active listener. Let the other person know you’re hearing every word. In person, eye contact and regularly nodding are good. On the telephone, a simple, timely affirmation is appropriate, i.e. “yes,” “of course,” “definitely.”
  • Ask a question or request clarification, then button your lips.

Up to this point we’ve focused on not speaking and paying attention as the keys to listening. That’s a good start. To become a great listener, though, we need to ask effective questions. Here are a few thoughts that might be useful:

  • Think about using open-ended questions. We want to avoid yes and no answers. Instead of asking, “Can we get this done?” ask, “How can we get this done?”
  • Questions that put the listener on the defensive are conversation killers. Avoid using “why” questions. Try asking, “How come…?”
  • Ask your listener how they “feel about” questions. We’re all flattered when asked how we feel.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask “What if…”. This is a trial close and may not seal the deal. It might very well clarify an objection.
  • When appropriate, use questions with alternatives. “Which way do you prefer…” questions show respect for your prospect and their opinion.
  • Prevent misunderstandings and confirm you are listening by repeating what was said. A simple, “You’re saying that…?” works well.

If you’re beginning to feel a bit like Sherlock Holmes, or even Watson, that’s quite normal. Great investigators are the best listeners.

As I pound away on the keyboard, I’m wondering how often a great idea was presented to me and I wasn’t listening? Was I busy mentally preparing the defense of my own idea? How often did I miss a learning experience from someone much brighter than me? Most importantly, how can I avoid these mistakes, making cer

To succeed in what we do it’s important to both recognize and seek information from others. That’s what good listening accomplishes. We need to avoid jumping-in with answers, but look to uncover fresh insight. Asking respectful questions will often lead you to uncovering unique solutions.

Finally, we cannot be afraid to challenge positions like the long-held objection, “We’ve never done it that way.” Your task is to build your customer-centric case for why trying something new is equally as good, or better.

Some people are better listeners than others. The key to success is committing to being a listener.

In the words of Bernard M. Baruch, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

By Dave Bodle