Albert Einstein once said, "If I had an hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and then five minutes solving it." Applied to the world of professional sales, it speaks to the importance of exploring and listening intently to fully understand the customer's problem. In recent issues, we've revisited tips on effective exploratory questioning. This week, we address listening skills with tips to improve listening in every customer interaction:

  1. Resist the urge to fill every second of silence; not every instance of silence is awkward. The customer may be gathering his/her thoughts before telling you something of great significance. If we talk to fill every second, we may interrupt or completely derail his/her thoughts.
  2. Count "one thousand one, one thousand two" after the customer stops speaking before you begin to speak. It will help you avoid cutting off an important follow-up thought.
  3. Focus on what the customer is saying now, not on what you will say next. The rate at which the human brain is able to process information is much faster than the average human speaks. It is so very easy and tempting to begin crafting our response to the customer versus giving the customer's words our full attention. Listening exercises, like repeating back what is being said in our minds or trying to anticipate what will be said next, will help us stay engaged in the listening process.
  4. Record your call and note how much time you spend talking versus listening to the customer. If it isn't a 2-to-1 ratio of listening-to-talking, keep working toward that goal.

Sales professionals who talk too much and listen too little run the risk of missing key insights and undermining their sales success and that of the organization they represent. Conversely, individuals with disciplined listening skills will always be better positioned to uncover their customers' gaps and effectively meet their needs. Periodically assessing and addressing our listening habits is prudent for maintaining optimal selling skills and improved sales performance.