All good communication is a two-way street, but the lanes are never evenly split.
In fact, successful reps should generally follow the 80-20 rule: spend 20% of your time talking, and 80% of your time listening.
This may run contrary to common wisdom. After all, isn’t it the rep’s job to…well…sell? And doesn’t that require speaking?
Well, there’s a difference between passive and active listening. Passive listening can be a liability and hurt the rep’s ability to sell. Active listening, on the other hand, can be the difference between a win or loss.
But active listening isn’t an inborn skill. Reps have to develop it over time, with help from their coaches and managers. Here are our tips for inculcating active listening across your whole sales team.
What is active listening?
Too often salespeople focus on waiting for their turn to speak so they can make the sale. Instead of listening to the prospect, they’re thinking of how to respond—and completely miss what the prospect is telling them!
Active listening serves as an antidote to this problem. It’s a way for reps to become more aware of a prospect’s needs, and how your product can meet those needs. What’s more, active listening also involves adapting your responses to that new information, tailoring the conversation in real time to what the prospect is telling you.
Active listening isn’t an easy skill. It involves paying attention to speech, tone, body language, and trying to understand the “thought behind the thought.” As such, it’s a difficult skill to master—and requires active coaching to get right.
However, if you want to improve your team’s performance, active listening in sales is a critical skill to master.
How can active listening improve your sales performance?
There are a number of specific benefits you can receive by prioritizing active listening in sales. Here are some of the most impactful.
Focusing on the prospects’ needs and giving them undivided active attention is a rare asset in this fast paced sales turnover workspace.
However, when your sales reps listen actively, they’ll avoid future miscommunication by taking time to ensure there’s a right fit from the onset.
Reps can also close their lead by summing up the conversation with open ended questions which gives the prospect the space to clarify and correct avoiding potential misunderstanding.
This both saves time and can improve your close rate.
Build rapport with the prospect
B2B prospects don’t buy from companies, they buy from people. The reason they’ll buy from your people is because of the trust and rapport those reps have built with them.
Because active listening shows the prospect that you care about their needs first, it’s a powerful tool for building trust. This, in turn, lays the foundation for a long-term relationship.
Most reps overlook, ignore, and talk over prospects just to “make a sale.” Ironically, this leads to fewer sales, because these reps don’t clarify their specific paint points and end up selling the wrong solution in the wrong way.
Reps who engage in active listening, however, stand out from the crowd. They focus on building a mutual rapport based on trust, showing they value the prospect’s needs and opinions.
Overcoming prospect objections
A sales reps response to a prospect’s objections can make or break adeal. By engaging in active listening, the rep can quickly identify these objections, sometimes even before the prospect states them explicitly.
When a rep gives their undivided attention, prospects feel heard, respected, and valued— and they offer fewer and softer objections.
By using active listening reps respond more quickly and effectively to the prospects needs and can work through issues with ease and confidence.
Win more business
Ultimately, all three of the benefits listed above result in the same result: more sales! Not only do you close the initial business, but your reps have also laid the foundation for a genuine relationship.
Active listening allows reps and prospects the space to determine the right “fit” between their need and your reps solutions which is going to result in more sales in far less time.
From there, you can more easily renew and upsell, increasing the customer’s lifetime value.
4 steps to improve your team’s active listening skills
Now that we’ve laid out the benefits from active listening in sales, let’s dive into how to improve this critical skill among your team. As mentioned above, this isn’t a skill most reps can learn overnight. Consistent, specific coaching motions are key to bringing reps along and closing this skill gap.
1. Make active listening a sales motion
Because active listening isn’t an intuitive skill for most reps, you can’t expect them to do it without prompting. That’s why it’s important to list it as a sales motion right alongside call openers, value props, and next steps.
This not only sets the upfront expectation for the rep, but it provides a regular reminder throughout the conversation. Of course, it’ll take time for reps to do this seamlessly and consistently. That’s why your managers need to actively coach this skills set.
Making active listening a sales motion may seem like overkill, but you only need to do it during that initial period where you’re hammering behavior change among your reps. As they start to do it more intuitively, you can dial back.
2. Track talk-backs in call recordings
One simple way for reps to listen actively is to talk back key bits of information to the buyer. This could be:
- The buyer’s state problem, in their own words
- The solutions they’ve tried in the past, and why they didn’t work
- The obstacles they face when choosing to adopt your solution
- The other stakeholders in the organization who need to give buy-in
When you use a call intelligence platform, you can easily track when these key talk-backs happen in the conversation. Then, you can score reps automatically based on how consistently they perform them. Doing this will reinforce the need for active listening in sales conversations.
3. Help reps prioritize followup questioning
Another key thing to track with your call intelligence software is followup questions. Prospects aren’t always forthcoming when it comes to their real problems and concerns. It takes a little bit of journalistic digging to get to the heart of the matter.
Some follow up questions you can track include:
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Why does that matter to you/your business?
- Can you be more specific about that?
- How did that impact you?
- How did you feel about that?
Here’s the thing about these kinds of followup questions: you can’t ask them effectively if you aren’t actively listening in the conversation. If you try, you’ll just look like you weren’t paying attention.
By emphasizing the importance of followup questions, you’ll naturally drive active listening among your reps.
4. Coach physical posture
Research shows that body language and tone of voice make up 93% of how a message is communicated. From facial gestures to eye contact, tone of voice, physical cues and simple microexpressions your reps can pick up on what a prospect is telling them—without hearing a single word.
However, reps don’t just need to know how to read their prospects’ body language, but their own as well. Even something as simple as how a person sits can impact their tone of voice. So if you want your reps to project confidence, it’s important to coach their physical posture.
While you can’t track posture from call recordings, you can during your physical coaching sessions. It may seem like a simple fix, but it makes a big difference. That’s science talking.
Final thoughts on active listening in sales
Effective team and sales communication encompasses more than just being able to focus on the needs and wants of prospects to enhance your team’s skills and performance.
Incorporating active listening throughout your team is just one way to boost your team’s performance but instilling multiple faucets will ultimately be what gives your team the most proficiency.
Coaching intelligence software works hand in hand with your methods that enables you to identify issues, and monitor improvement— and enhance performance before they become big problems.
Click here to learn more about what coaching intelligence is, and how it can help you make your team better.