Active Listening in the Age of Virtual Selling

Active Listening in the Age of Virtual Selling

Video conferencing has been a boon to sales professionals during the age of virtual selling – a saving grace that has allowed commerce to roll forward in a time when COVID-19 has denied us face-to-face interaction.

Alas, it’s not perfect – we’ve all experienced those moments when your internet connection turns your video into a checkerboard, and your audio into unintelligible garble. That said, if you lack the skills of empathy and active listening that are required in this new virtual era, connection speed won’t matter – you might as well be using tin cans and a string.

Now is not the time to be tone deaf to your prospect’s needs, interests, and desires. It is a basic truth of sales performance that by boosting empathy and understanding, you will have much greater success. Without our tactile world of traditional sales, and with so many businesses struggling to make it through to the “next normal,” it is even more important to ensure you are delivering what your prospect is looking for.

Here’s an easy-to-follow plan that will help you leverage the values of empathy and understanding to your benefit:

  • Discover what your prospect will buy, why they will buy it, and under what conditions they will buy it.
  • The master keys to what your prospects want most by ASKING AND LISTENING.
  • They are your most effective implements for opening up the mind and the heart of your prospect.

Unfortunately, it’s been a time-honored struggle for many salespeople to truly understand the differences between the concepts of “asking” and “listening.” Often, asking people to sign an order form is the first question that some salespeople use. It is so common that you probably cannot remember the last time a salesperson asked you a question such as “how will you use it or what do you like most about it?”

Let’s re-examine those two words. This time, however, let’s look at them with the value based selling philosophy in mind. My guess is that you will see quite different meanings when viewed in terms of customer focus.

  • “Asking” means that if you ask enough of the right questions throughout your interview process, you will likely get an order.
  • “Listening” means that the most important task of the salesperson is to pay careful attention to what the prospect truly says, and what they really mean.

Countless salespeople have been trained to use their listening time to think of what to say after, and sometimes even before, the prospect ever finishes. To improve your listening skills, that focus must change. To survive in a virtual-first marketplace, salespeople must lay aside their own interests to ensure they can discover and satisfy the needs and desires of their customers. This single issue alone will make your sales efforts successful even where others repeatedly fail.

Self-centeredness has never been in your best interests. Conversely, no one would ever suggest that you or anyone else adopt a martyr attitude, and lay yourself at the feet of every prospect, caring nothing about your own needs. There is a vast difference between self-centeredness and serving your best interests. Fortunately, serving your best interests usually serves your customer’s best interest as well.

Here is that same concept expressed in a simple principle: The best way to serve your own interests is to put the needs and desires of your customer first.

If all you want to talk about are your interests, your products, your product’s features, or your organization, then don’t be surprised if you encounter strong sales resistance from the very outset.

If you focus, instead, on your prospect’s interests, your prospect’s needs and desires, and the prospect’s values, you will notice a remarkable difference in that person’s openness to you. The care you take in laying a foundation will pay dividends, because your customers will trust you enough to open up.

Here is a second principle: To deliver value to the prospect, you must see yourself primarily as a value resource for that prospect.

What separates you from a vending machine is that you have an opportunity to meet and respond to the widely varied and specific needs of each customer you serve. If the primary focus of your sales approach is creating value for the individuals you meet, you will not only become an effective value-based salesperson, you will become a very well-paid salesperson.

And here is the third principle: To be a valuable resource for the prospect, you must first discover what the prospect perceives as value.

To paraphrase a familiar adage: Value is truly in the eye of the beholder. Your selling success will rise in direct proportion to your accurate understanding of the value system of your prospects and that comes from the first master keys of selling – asking.

Let’s take a look at 10 ways to improve your listening skills:

  1. Open your eyes, mind, heart, and ears to be truly receptive to the messages the other person is presenting.
  2. Begin listening from the very first word and give that person your undivided attention.
  3. Focus on what the prospect says. Avoid trying to figure out what the person is going to say, or what you are going to say in return. You may miss what he or she actually says.
  4. Don’t try to read meanings into what you think the person is saying. Actively help the other person convey his or her meanings accurately to you.
  5. Never interrupt — but be interruptible. Interrupting is offensive and rude. It also sends a subtle message that you are not serious about listening or understanding what the person is really saying.
  6. Control outside interruptions and distractions as much as you can.
  7. Use questions to encourage people to talk and to clarify your understanding of what they really mean.
  8. Make notes of important points. As the ancient proverb says, the palest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory. Look for connections between apparently isolated remarks as you take a look at your notes.
  9. Show that you are truly paying attention. Look directly at your camera (or, if you’re having an in-person meeting, look them directly in the eye). Use facial expressions and other nonverbal clues to show that you not only hear but accurately understand what they are saying.
  10. Never react to highly charged words and tones. Hear the person out, then respond. Most people will cool down and begin to talk calmly once they vent their anger and frustrations. Remember, unless you accurately understand what someone is saying and truly can plug into their greatest needs, you are never going to find yourself selling the needs that the customer must have fulfilled.

Customer-focused selling begins with accurate listening, the right questions and truly understanding someone’s deepest desires.

WRITTEN BY

Josh Winters

Josh Winters is a Group Vice President/Director of Sales at The Brooks Group, where he serves as the first point-of-contact for organizational stakeholders looking to improve their teams’ sales effectiveness and overall talent management.

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