It's no secret that one of the most powerful skills you can possess in sales is the ability to listen to your prospect or customer. People tend to buy from people they know, like, and trust, and from people who they believe understand them. We all know this; it's nothing new.

That said, when was the last time someone complimented you on being a sensational listener? And who was the last salesperson you purchased from that you thought was a great listener? I can't remember one! Most are good talkers and lousy listeners.

Why do you suppose this is? One theory is that we are simply too impatient. Another is that we are too busy thinking about what to say next to concentrate on what the prospect or customer is actually saying. Yet another is that we are all so addicted to multi-tasking that we try to do too many things while the other person is talking.

All these ideas are probably valid. I know I've personally made all of these mistakes, and it's probably cost me a fortune in lost sales. How about you? How good are your listening skills?

Here are 10 suggestions to help you move from being an amateur listener to being a professional listener.  

1. Remove distractions from the sales environment.

Get rid of anything that

might break your concentration or distract you from getting the full meaning of the prospect's message. Remember that prospects don't always express what they truly mean to say.

Learning to read between the lines is the hallmark of a professional listener. The only way you can pick up on these subtleties is to have a clear mind when you're listening. Creating and maintaining a distraction-free environment is a good start. Begin by turning your cell phone off.

2. Listen actively, not passively.

Active listening means participating. Don't be afraid to ask your prospect to repeat what she said, or to clarify a point or two. This shows that you are paying attention.

It also helps give you a deeper understanding not only of what the prospect is saying, but of the feeling behind the words, too. Remember that only seven percent of effective communication occurs through words. Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, attitude and other factors play a major role. The only way you're going to pick up on those things is through active listening.  

3. Make eye contact.

The eyes are the windows to the soul. If you're looking around, the prospect will feel that you're not fully engaged, which will undermine the emotional connection you want to build. Look into your prospect's eyes, and if you must break eye contact (which you may have to from time to time, to avoid creating the sense that you're staring), at least keep looking at his face.  

4. Nod your head in agreement.

Our late business partner, Bill Gove, used to say that the nod is the most affirmative non-verbal gesture there is. I agree. Nod along with your prospect to show support and validation of his thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Showing support creates connection.  

5. Give a half smile.

Your standard facial expression should be a half smile, unless the prospect is telling you his dog died or something sad or upsetting. Your facial expression should always mirror the climate your prospect is creating with his words. When in doubt, the half smile is powerful for normal conversation.  

6. Position your body toward the prospect.

This is a sign of respect and interest on your part. Your body language invites the other person to open up and share her problems, so you can help solve them. Be sure you look receptive to what's being said. Avoid crossing your arms, stroking your beard, or anything else that conveys anything but openness. If a customer thinks you're judging her, you're toast!  

7. Be patient.

Be careful not to rush people. Exercise and practice patience in the listening process. If you have to be somewhere else in 30 minutes, make sure you let the person know right up front that your time is limited. Give him your phone number or set up an appointment to continue the discussion.  

8. Be interested.

No matter what the person is saying to you, think of her words as the most interesting thing you've ever heard. This mindset will keep you focused, and it will show the person talking that you are genuinely interested.

9. Ask questions.

Don't be afraid to ask for additional information by asking questions. This shows that you're truly present and actively engaged in the listening process. Questions also act as a catalyst that trigger additional thoughts and feelings.  

10. Encourage the person by validating his thoughts and feelings.

Whether or not you agree with the person, everyone has the right to think and feel the way he wants to. You don't have to agree with the content of what the person is saying in order to agree with his right to say it. Give your prospect a chance to fully express himself and encourage him to explain his feelings in detail.


Follow these 10 suggestions and you will see a major difference in your ability to connect with people. Become the listener you were meant to be!


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