Listen to customers, and then listen properly
Average salespeople can manage the first of these, except that this could often be re-titled as: pretend to listen to customers. The best sales executives will work hard and concentrate keenly on managing the second. Below, are ways to demonstrate this; and another vital ‘listening problem’ to consider.
Here’s a simple exercise to demonstrate this first point
Gather a group of eight people around a table. Hand one person a marker pen and tell them to start talking about a subject that isn’t work related. Something like ‘How I like to spend my spare time’. After this person has spoken a few sentences, stop them and hand the pen to another participant, who can carry on with more points. Sounds reasonably simple? Ah, here’s the only other rule: before starting on a new theme, any subsequent speaker after the first must repeat, word for word, the final sentence the previous speaker said.
This should be light-hearted, maybe even at a coffee break; it doesn’t need to be formal training. It will soon be clear how hard the repetition is because people are focused on what they are going to say; maybe they misheard, or didn’t fully understand the idea. This shows that listening needs to be a practiced and positive piece of behavior.
Aim to listen without prejudice
This doesn’t just cover problems with racial, sexual or religious feelings. Much lower down the scale is listening to a customer when disagreements arise or when they feel that they are simply wrong. If it’s a customer, the danger then is to obviously try to march them onto the ‘right path’. This is when phrases appear such as: ‘you claim’ – ‘you say’ – ‘do you actually mean that?’ – ‘are you telling me that’. These can quickly raise the hackles of even a mild-mannered customer, because sub-consciously and almost always unintentionally, they are being accused of being either foolish or untruthful. Effective questioners will gently probe to find out what is actually behind what was said, and then try to move it round to a more positive outcome being sought or offered.
The above are only two areas to demonstrate how important effective listening is. Of course this skill should also be paired with an unobtrusive watch for the behavior shown to see if the words match the actions. The best listeners quietly construct a situational picture in their mind and use that to proceed.