A guy took his girlfriend to the big game…


So some of you probably chuckled like I did and perhaps others not so much! I found it pretty funny and yes, I’m blonde!

I think there is a great point in this joke, regardless of how funny you may or may not have found it. Often times what we hear is not necessarily what was said. And, in sales this happens a lot. Without question, listening is the number one skill in sales, and there is a big difference between passive hearing and active listening.

A lot of sales training focuses on the art of asking great questions, and while that is a very important skill set, my opinion is that without active listening it’s very difficult to ask more and better questions in the sales process, no matter what you’ve been taught.

And while the vast majority of people I train in sales attest to being a “great” listener, the real question is, are they really listening well?

I’d like to share the critical principles of active listening, as they apply to sales teams.

5 Critical Principles of Active Listening

Active Listening Principle #1:

Be Present

Being present means that you have to filter out all of the distractions around you and solely focus on the person you are speaking with. You need to be so present that you almost have no idea what else is going on. This is easier said than done, and I can attest to how easy it is to be distracted. What I’ve learned to do; however, is when it happens (especially in a sales conversation), I simply say, “I’m sorry…I just got sidetracked with what you just said, would you mind repeating your last comment?”

To listen well, you must be present in the conversation. And if you become distracted, take accountability for getting the conversation back on track.

Active Listening Principle #2:

Remove Ambiguity

People say things all the time where their meaning or definition of a word or phrase isn’t necessarily aligned with how you would define it. The key is to listen for words that could have different meaning for someone else and ask them to define it. It’s as simple as saying, “Tell me what you mean by…..”

Removing ambiguity means that you are in seek-to-understand mode as opposed to seek-to-reply mode.

Active Listening Principle #3:

Remove Assumptions

This is another habit that completely gets in the way of understanding the person you are speaking with. Whether we realize it or not, we look at situations and hear conversations through our own personal biases and filters. It can be devastating to a salesperson when they “assume” that they have been speaking with the decision maker until they find out (at closing time) that someone else has veto power. Another assumption that derails salespeople is assuming that just because someone asks for a quote they are going to buy.

The only assumption I make in sales is that complacency or status quo is my #1 competitor!

Active Listening Principle #4:

“ABC” Always Be Curious

I like to say that you should have the curiosity of a four-year-old. What’s a four-year old’s favorite question? WHY??  In selling, my motto is that the compelling reason for someone to buy from you lies behind at least two “why” questions. And it’s key to have a practice of seeking to understand as you ask the “why” questions. This enables you to ask with the right tone and motives. It’s also good to use “question starters” when you are being curious. These almost give you permission to ask. For example, you can start a question simply by saying, “I’m just curious, what…?” or “I’m wondering….”

Have the curiosity of a four-year-old… always ask “WHY?”

Active Listening Principle #5:

Turn Off The Inner Voice

When you realize that your voice is the loudest voice in the room, I promise, you aren’t actively listening. And to make matters worse, when your inner voice is going when someone else is speaking, you can’t possibly be in curious mode. In fact, it might just put you in assumption mode when you realize you missed part of the conversation you are in. It is critically important for salespeople and sales leaders to control their own emotions and head talk. Without that control, you miss both content and context in a conversation.

Control your own emotions and turn off your head talk in order to listen actively.

The quality of your sales conversation will determine, to a large degree, the quantity of your sales conversions.

Active listening in your sales conversations allows you to uncover information that your competition may not get and that you might never hear when passively listening. It takes practice and humility to get really great at active listening. When I work with sales teams, I challenge them to not make this an “on/off” button. The active listening button should always be on. After all, in sales we must listen to get the Quarterback (of our opposing team)!

Look for my next post on contextual listening in sales.

We’ll focus on the Halfback instead of the Quarterback next time!

– Jennifer Hines

To learn more about how to spot great listeners in your sales hiring process, contact me at jennifer@asliinc.com or request a free consultation with me here.

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