Stop Talking! 7 Ways to Improve Your Listening Skills
by Jim Domanski
Here's the simple truth: most tele-sales reps are not good listeners.
It's not their fault: sales reps are taught product knowledge. Reps learn all about features, advantages and benefits. They learn how to present; they learn how to tell, they learn how to pitch. Even those companies that teach questioning skills often fail to teach the rep how to listen to the answers. When a rep asks a question he is often waiting for the customer to stop talking so that they can begin pitching again.
The issue here is lack of training. We have not been taught how to listen. It is an assumed skill. And this is particularly true in tele-sales where you lack the visual contact with the client. Here are seven simple but highly practical AND highly effective ways to improve your listening skills.
The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Technique for Improved Listening...
The first step to improving your listening skill is to stop everything you are doing and give 100% of your attention to that call. Turn your head and body away from all the antics going on about you. You know what I mean: stop watching the jokers around you. Stop throwing things, gossiping, and goofing around. Dare I say it? Stop eating, stop drinking, and stop doodling, whatever.
In particular, stop multi-tasking. I am amazed to see reps trying to finish one task (like entering the last order or inputting notes on a file) while at the same time trying to focus on the client. You're NOT listening. You are barely tuned in. Something has got to give.
Be prepared to listen. Countless times I have watched reps fumbling to find a pen, or a brochure, or pad of paper. Frantically they wave to their neighbor and mouth the word "PEN". Meanwhile, the client chats on and on, giving important details, delving into problems and concerns and all the while the rep is still searching. Being prepared to listen also means having your call prepared ahead of time. Before you dial, have a rough draft of the things you want to accomplish on the call, your objectives, key questions you want to ask or important points to bring up. When you have done this ahead of time you free up your mind to focus on what the client is saying rather than thinking of what you are going to ask next.
Clients communicate on two levels. First, there are the words the client uses to describe their situation or their needs or their objections. Words are important because they articulate complex thoughts and issues.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, clients use their tone of voice to communicate at another level. You need to listen where they place the emphasis on words. Emphasis often means importance. Key into that. You need to gage the tone and determine if you have struck a nerve or if the client is about ready to yawn. Pace and volume can give you clues about the client and their message. Get focused and evaluate the message at both these levels.
Concentrate on what is being said. How do you do this? Two ways: First and foremost, simply "zip it." Ask your question and then ...well ...shut up. It's now the client's turn to speak. My real point here is you can't listen if you are talking.
Second, direct your eyes on one of two things: the computer screen in front of you (if it is applicable to the call) or a pad of paper on your desk. What I am really saying is you have to keep the distractions at bay. Letting your eyes wander typically means you are letting your mind wander. For instance, if your eye catches the traffic jam on the street below you begin to think of the commute home and not think about what the client has just said.
(I have often wished I could issue blinders like horses used to wear when pulling a carriage. I don't mean to be demeaning. I just think it's a great idea.)
There are actually two types of listening you will encounter. The first is called "active listening." This is where you shut up, evaluate, and concentrate like I mentioned above. This is where the client talks and you don't.The second type of listening is called "interactive." As the name implies, interactive listening means you interact with the client. Translated, that means you use questions to verify and clarify information. If you don't understand something, say so. If you don't hear something (because of a noise or distraction) get the client to repeat it. Use questions to get the client to elaborate so that you UNDERSTAND.
Another good way to listen more effectively is to acknowledge what the client is saying. You can do this in several different ways. One way is simply to use verbal phrases like "I see," "Go on", "uh, huh," "Good point," "That's interesting." These phrases get you to clue in to the call. In addition, it shows the client you are clued in and paying attention. They are more apt to give you more and BETTER information when they hear these words than when they hear dead silence.
Another way to acknowledge what you heard is to summarize throughout the call. You can say things like, "To recap then, Eric, you saying you have selected the courses to study but you haven't had the time to complete them and the deadline is just around the corner, is that right?" At this stage the client will either agree completely or correct your understanding or add more to it. Either way, it is a 'win/win.'
A third way to provide acknowledgement is to review someone's order or request. Normally, this occurs at the end of the call. "Just to make sure I have all this: you want 5 boxes of the self-adhesive strips, 3 cartons of the #29 needles, and 2 wrist band monitors in digital format. Is that correct?"
7. Log it
The final "SPECIAL" way to listen more effectively is to listen with a pencil in your hand. In other words, "log it" down; take notes. When you listen with a pen poised over a pad of paper your focus is on the call and pad and not elsewhere. By writing key points down you can let the client ramble on i.e., you can actively listen. You can then go back to the points you jotted down and interactively listen (you can question). You can say, "Hey Dr. Harrell, you mentioned you see patients with sports related injuries. What types of injuries in specific do you mean?"
Someone once told me that these tips on listening were "...nothing more than common sense." I told that person I agreed - but I also told them that there was a big market for common sense. The fact of the matter is this: listening is not terribly hard. It just requires discipline. Use these tips to help you build that discipline. You can become a better listener!