There are certain universal concepts and sayings in sales that everybody just nods to, “sure, of course, that’s hockey, motherhood and apple pie, of course.” And then they go in about selling like they always have whether they implement the concept or not. One of these concepts is around listening. “Come on Tibor, everyone knows you gotta listen, this is nothing new.” Then they double down and tell me “Tibor, I am all about active listening.”
But what does that really mean? Especially given the fact that the original Active Listening, dates back to the days of consultative or solution selling. Just as aspects of those approaches have felt the effect of time, in some ways so has active listening. And let’s be clear, my focus is not on the intent or merit of active listening, but the manner in which it unfolds with some sales people.
As with most things in sales is it about the execution, everything else is just talk, and often not worth listening to.
My main concern with the way some people “do” Active Listening, is that all too often it is really Selective or Filtered listening. Specifically they are actively listening for those things that fit their solutions, their narrative. And if they don’t hear it they try to steer the conversation in that direction. How many time have you heard a rep start a question with “wouldn’t you agree Ms./Mr. Prospect that if you could….., then it would be …..?” Of course it is often hard to say no to the proposition even though it may not add to the discussion at hand. But by agreeing, the prospect is taken down a predetermined path, a path that the seller hopes leads to a sales, but often doesn’t, just leads to wasted time and emotions.
If you’re a buyer and want to have some fun, next time you hear those words just say “no I am not sure I agree”. If the question was sincere, the seller will be able to add context and build on the premise, and extend the discussion; but if it was meant to take you down a path, you’ll see a classic deer in the head light moment.
Real active listening is a lot like bungee jumping, where as a seller you are willing to throw yourself into a discussion with a buyer, tethered only by your genuine curiosity and the strength of your subject knowledge. If either one of those is weak, you risk plunging to the depths of the gorge, your landing only softened by the bodies of other sellers who came before you.
Listening takes practice, especially since we think faster than people speak, it is easy to race ahead. Which is why many end up listening for selective things rather than everything the buyer is telling them. To be a better listener, you really need to be a better questioner. By learning how to formulate questions based on what they buyer is saying, you can engage them better, and demonstrate your knowledge, and move the discussion forward. One technique I was taught a long time ago, is to challenge yourself to ask a question base on what the buyer just said. This forces me to listen, evaluate, and synthesis the information before speaking. By using their input as a means of asking the next question, one can interview instead of interrogate.