Effective selling begins with good listening. Listening is a discipline; like other skills, it takes self-control. Good listening requires that you ignore your own needs and concentrate your attention to the person speaking. Failing to listen actively sends the message, "I don't care about you," or, "I'm not interested in what you have to say." As a networker, if you're not fully listening to your clients and prospects, you are missing opportunities.

I learned this lesson about 15 years ago at a dinner party. Immediately after I was introduced to the CEO of a major network marketing company, my husband joined the conversation. Normally, Steve would wait until everyone is finished speaking and introduce himself with a handshake, but on this occasion, before Steve had the chance to speak, the CEO turned to me and asked, "Would you introduce us?"

It had been only a few minutes--and I had no idea what his name was! I was so embarrassed. It ruined my entire evening.

Why couldn't I remember his name? Because I wasn't actively listening. When we were introduced, I wasn't fully paying attention and didn't listen for his name. I acted as if I were listening, but what I was really doing was organizing my thoughts so that I would look and sound good when I spoke. I was too busy thinking about what I was going to say next to hear his name.

The ability to listen is a skill you can improve with use, and doing so will improve all your relationships--with friends, mates, partners and children, as well as upline, downline and clients. Listening to someone when he talks shows commitment, caring, interest, respect and builds rapport. I have never met a top-producing sales person who didn't have world-class listening skills.

Here are a few strategies to becoming a better listener.

 

Strategy #1: Use Silence

Silence can be a powerful way to communicate acceptance and encouragement. It can say, "You are important to me. I'm willing to wait as you gather your thoughts. I want you to say what you're thinking in your own way." You communicate impatience when you interrupt, prod or finish others' sentences when they falter. That's a sure way to hinder a client relationship.

 

Strategy #2: Make Eye Contact

Eye contact demonstrates that you're listening. Take cues from the other person as to how much eye contact he

or she is comfortable with. Look the client in the eye. Focus your attention on this person without trying to do some other activity while listening. Yes, you may be able to do a task and hear what is said, but the client will feel unimportant, not heard and discouraged.

 

Strategy #3: Use Supportive Body Language

Show your support and acceptance of your client by leaning discreetly--not threateningly!--toward him. This body gesture says, "I'm interested." You can also nod; nodding is probably the best non-verbal way to acknowledge that you're listening. You can also let the other person know you are listening by saying, "Mm hm."

 

Strategy #4: Listen Without Interrupting

Before any serious selling can occur, you need to let the other person know that you understand where she is coming from, that you understand that she feels strongly about the issues you are discussing. Always let your client finish her train of thought before jumping in with the answers or another probing question. Use discipline!

 

Strategy #5: Ask Probing Questions

Ask open-ended questions rather than those that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Use questions sparingly. After you ask your question, be quiet. Let the other person feel free to answer the question in his own words, at his own pace.

 

Strategy #6: Repeat and Paraphrase

Without interrupting, repeat what the client has said using your own words. This shows that you were attentive and gives the client a chance to correct the information, if you've misunderstood. At the end of every sales presentation, summarize the facts and your client's feelings.

 

Strategy #7: Eliminate Distractions

When you're ready to walk into a client meeting or make a sales call, eliminate distractions. Obvious distractions include cell phones, pagers, a busy meeting place, or background music. Less obvious, but just as important (or even more so!) are distractions in your mind: an argument with your spouse, trouble with your kids at school, the thing you have to do right after this appointment.

 

Strategy #8: Empower Your Client to Talk

As a salesperson, it's important to spend no less than 60 percent of your time listening to what the buyer has to say. Empowering is different than asking questions; it means actively creating the ground, or permission, for the other person to express herself. For example: "Linda, what you have to say is very important to me; please share your thoughts on...."

 

Strategy #9: Use Positive Verbal Responses

Using positive verbal responses means saying things such as, "I see," "I understand," "That's a good point."

 

Remember, people love to talk about themselves, their lives and situations. The more you get other people talking, the more they feel you are investing into them. Your clients and prospects want to be heard; the sale is often won by the person who knows how to listen.

 

 

DAWN SIEBOLD
is co-founder of the Gove-Siebold Group, a training organization that helps networkers develop world-class communication skills.