Why Your Active Listening Skills Are Crucial to Hitting Your Number
Great discovery questions can only get you so far if you’re not prepared to really listen to the answer in a way that enables you to dig deeper or pivot decisively. Listening is just as crucial, yet not always the easiest to master. Many people think they are good listeners, but sadly miss the mark.
Active listening is a key skill that elite sellers possess — and they are able to speed up their deals and close at better margins because of it. Understand what preparing to actively listen looks like and how you can refine your listening skill set to sell more, faster.
What is Active Listening?
In sales, active listening means giving your full attention to the speaker and their answers, so you can understand their position and how to further the conversation. By actively listening, you can better engage with your prospects, asking more relevant questions and keep them interested in sharing bigger concerns (which mean bigger dollars). You’re not waiting simply for your chance to talk. Instead, you’re truly listening, in a way that will help you build rapport, and allow you to help find a solution to the prospects’ business problems.
This communication technique is key to overcoming the Seller Deficit Disorder, which we often refer to as the bias buyers have where they immediately believe salespeople don’t listen and don’t understand their business problems.
How to Prepare to Actively Listen:
Sellers often spend a lot of time considering, “What questions can I use to uncover negative consequences, positive business outcomes, before and after scenarios, etc.?” Great preparation can help you develop an effective question flow if you’re actively listening to the answers and responding accordingly.
Preparing to actively listen and being audible-ready (or prepared to respond based on what you’re hearing) will help you map the conversation in a way that gets the buyer to come to the conclusions you need them to get to. Remember, buyers don’t like to be persuaded, but they rarely argue with their own conclusions. Every time you’ve developed great discovery questions and a question flow, ask yourself:
What’s the answer you want to get to before you move on to the next question?
Defining the answers you want to hear is a simple way to improve your pre-call planning routine and help you ensure you’re digging deep enough in your discovery conversations. Having these answers laid out enables you to avoid moving too fast through your sales conversation and/or miss an answer you needed or opportunity to influence buyer decision criteria with your differentiation. If you have to ask a second or third question to get to the right potential answer, having them prepared ahead of time is an easy way to keep the conversation flowing naturally and avoid wasting critical time in front of the buyer.
What are the answers you don’t want to hear?
Based on your sales strategy and where you are in the sales process, there will likely be answers that you don’t want to hear. Prepare to be audible-ready to pivot based on what you’re hearing. Is there a different conclusion you can help them get to that favors your differentiation or the differentiation of a different solution set of yours that you weren’t planning to focus on? Do you need to pivot the conversation to ask qualification-based questions?
What possible answers would surprise you?
Beyond the answers you don’t want to hear, an answer that would surprise you may lead you to further pivot from your initial strategy or goal of the conversation. Being audible-ready to potentially change the direction or focus of the sales call altogether can help you avoid wasting time and ensure you’re able to stay relevant to your buyer’s needs. As best you can, prepare for any answers that may surprise you and have a plan of action for pivoting down a different path, or even scheduling a different time to dig deeper. For example, let’s say a buyer gives you an answer that you think would be a great reason to bring in an additional player from you or your buyer’s organization. If that’s the case, be prepared to articulate the value of rescheduling the conversation and mentioning the benefit of bringing in the other person into the conversation.
Listening Can Help You Earn the Right to Discuss Solutions and Articulate Your Value
Prospects need to trust that you understand their business and can offer impactful solutions that help them address their biggest challenges. Active listening is one of the many sales fundamentals that top performers focus on to sell larger deals and build genuine relationships with their prospects.
Preparing to pivot or dig deeper, based on what you’re hearing, will help you earn the right to talk to the customer about what a possible solution to their business problems could look like and, more specifically, how your offerings can get them to a place they can’t get to on their own. The more you apply active listening skills the better you'll be able to uncover and understand your customer’s before scenario, quantifiable negative consequences and the business outcomes they’re hoping to achieve.
Remember, there’s as much differentiation in what you sell as there is in how you sell. Being audible-ready to actively listen and pivot your sales conversation can help you stay relevant to your buyer’s specific business problems and internal buying process in a way that sets you ahead of competitors (including do nothing and do it internally). Here are two ways you can actively listen in a way that gains trust or builds positive business intent with your customer:
1. Use what you hear to get your buyers to stand in their moment of pain
Listen for verbs, adjectives, description and feelings. These descriptors are a sign that there's room to further open up the conversation and show that you have a genuine interest in truly understanding your buyer’s business and current complex problems.
When customers begin to articulate frustration or use these descriptors, use what you’re hearing to help them dig deeper. For example, if a customer mentions needing to “reduce XYZ” to achieve a PBO, dig deeper. “How much do you think you need to reduce XYZ by?” “How are you currently reducing XYZ?”
Listening for these descriptors and getting your buyer to give further explanation into what implications they cause, can help you get your customer to stand in their moment of pain. If there’s not enough time in your current conversation to dig deeper into these descriptors, write them down and make a note to come back or to follow up in your next email or sales conversation.
2. Always recap what you heard
Recapping what you heard is another key skill of elite salespeople. It’s also difficult to execute on if you haven’t actively listened in the first place ...
If you’ve done your part actively listening, in a way that gets the buyer to have a genuine conversation about their business problems, your next step is to follow up what you’ve uncovered in a way that gets your customer to feel heard, understood and interested in the next step. Sellers who differentiate themselves from the competition make sure to schedule time at the end of their work day to send a recap email to each prospect they talked with. We’ve put together an entire podcast on how to effectively Play Back Your Sales Discovery Sessions with your buyer, through follow-up emails or in sales conversations. Listen to it, take notes and leverage these insights to help your buyer get to a point where they trust that you’re working with them to reach their business goals.