Speak well, but also bank on listening more to the customer

Listen! Did you hear that? No? LISTEN! Do you hear it? If you haven’t paused to these instructions you are in good company-the company that hears, but does not listen.

Besides sales, we also offer other customer/audience facing solutions and when conducting any of these programs, a key component comes through again and again- the art of listening is becoming more and more rare. So rare that it startles many when one sets everything aside to listen to them. Try it and see.

Unfortunately, many sales people simply do not listen. You’ve heard it said before that the most important part of speaking is listening. Contradictory? Not at all. Whether making a speech or a pitch, listening acts as the rudder that steers you to your audiences soul.

Why listen? Because for some reason, human beings rarely speak in black and white-we largely thrive in the grey especially when talking about something that makes us uncomfortable. To discern what is being said, a keen ear on the said unsaid (what wasn’t verbalized but was communicated) therefore becomes paramount. Another reason why one should listen is because even when speech is clear it is not clear. Confused? Don’t be. In a class I recently held, a delegate explained that her job entitles managing a portfolio-she works for an NGO and she believed her explanation was absolute. In her professional world, portfolio referred to projects regarding heath, water, hospitals etc. Well, it turned out that in the same class, was an investment banker to whom managing a portfolio meant having several investment accounts under her jurisdiction; and as fate would have it a third participant informed us that in her professional world managing portfolio meant overseeing a student’s artwork, number work and such other subject- this participant was a head of a primary school. One definition, three different interpretations. Why listen? Are you still asking?

Psychologists have demonstrated over centuries that human being are different and thus interpret the world differently. Simply put, “We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are” (Anais Nin). Three people in the same park can give this feedback about it depending on how they perceive the world: “There were beautiful trees with colorful flowers” (sight); another, “Did you hear how nicely the birds sing” (hear) and a third, “Here in the park I feel so much at home”(touch). Why listen? Because the prospect could be giving you his side of the story only based on how he views the situation.

But it’s not easy to listen is it? It’s not easy to give absolute concentration to one person and what they are saying. Even when you do, from what we have just shared you are still open to misinterpreting what is being said. And truthfully, unless you are an expert in matters yoga and oriental art, your mind will drift in out of the dialogue. What to do then for a salesperson, for instance? I find the easiest and most effective way is what doctors do when a patient is sharing her symptoms-they ask questions and, more importantly, write. Forget that you and I have no idea what they are writing, but if we poured our hearts out to a doctor who just stared at us without writing, chances are we wouldn’t take him seriously. For the salesperson, or anyone wishing to improve on their listening skills, writing down pointers to what the other party is saying serves two purposes-it instinctively forces you to listen and somehow, it also forces the other party to focus on the subject matter at hand. Try it. Just like a doctor does, as you go along, the use of questions to seek clarity renews the focus of the listening lens. For instance, asking for a clarification of what “managing portfolio”means could amaze you.

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