How to use active listening and 4 tips to get better at it
Listening is as much as a learned skill as it is natural curiosity. If you want to be successful in sales, you must understand the needs of your prospects. It’s the same with your personal relationships, half the battle is being able to communicate effectively.
However, the most skilled communicators deploy active listening to better understand who they are speaking with and to better relate to them.
When it comes to SDRs many get caught in a “call dream.” This is when their thoughts are about what to say next instead of actively listening to whom they are speaking.
When this happens, the salesperson will miss important information about the prospect's challenges. This hinders the salespersons ability to align their solution with the challenge the prospect is facing and ultimately can lead to losing a deal.
Therefore the best salespeople use active listening to better understand their prospect's challenges.
What is active listening?
The simplest way I define active listening is the act of genuinely listening with the intent to understand. In order to practice active listening you must be fully focused on the person you are speaking with and ask questions that directly relate to what they are saying. It’s a great technique to learn more about the person you are speaking with and have deeper, more meaningful conversations.
What are you listening for?
There are specific things that should pique your interests when heard. I follow a simple acronym based on emotional cues for identifying what is important to the person I am speaking with and how to guide the conversation. This works great in both sales and personal interactions. The acronym is D.I.C.E.
- Dramatic language
Here are examples that come up during sales conversations.
Did the prospect use dramatic language?
“Running the analyses has become a burden for me…”
Is the prospect describing a dramatic situation?
“My boss was asking a lot of questions about one of my calculations and I was very nervous…”
Are they over-exaggerating or being hyperbolic?
“Our sales are in the toilet, I feel like every year we are losing money while our competitors are doing so well!”
The prospect says they are frustrated by something.
“I'm frustrated by all the manual work that goes into onboarding a new hire.”
The prospect is describing is an obvious problem or frustration.
“When a new hire starts I need them to sign a document, I then scan it, manually add them to every system that we use internally, and add them to payroll. It's a long process...”
The prospect admits they are having some confusion regarding a work arrangement, task, or duty.
“I am constantly helping my team set up our marketing campaigns because they have a hard time using our automation system”
The prospect explains a situation in which they are confused themselves.
“I don’t understand how to make changes to the marketing campaigns I have already set up, I know I can but the UI is so confusing.”
The prospect explains a situation that causes you to be confused.
“We download the CSV, edit it, upload it, and finally run it through activation. After all that we have to cross-reference with our CRM and finally execute.”
Prospect explains or acts very excited about something.
“I am very excited about our growth, we will be adding 12 new people this year…”
Prospect tells you something that excites you.
“We realized we were paying way too much for our marketing automation software and we plan on making a change…”
When hearing the prospect say something that is part of D.I.C.E. your instinct should be to ask a related question. The goal of the question is to get them to discuss the situation in more detail so you can gain a deeper understanding.
When asking these questions and throughout the conversation, it is important that you practice active listening. Here are four tips for improving your active listening skills.
Here are four tips for improving your active listening skills.
Tip# 1: Never interrupt
When practicing active listening there is a very important principle, never interrupt. This is especially challenging if your mind moves a mile a minute, which is something I struggle with.
There are two main problems with interrupting someone. The first is that it comes across like you don't care about what they are saying. The second is that it shuts down the conversation from moving forward naturally. These both have a negative impact on sales conversations.
When you interrupt someone its typically because you have made an assumption of some kind. Either you are predicting what they are going to say, or you have assumed that you have a solution.
When having a conversation, assumptions block the natural progression of the interaction. What you will experience by not interrupting is that often the person you are speaking with will add more context than you were expecting, giving you more information. In a sales interaction this is great, the more information the better! In fact, all interactions benefit because that extra context allows you to better understand the person you are speaking with.
Action Tip: On your next sales or prospecting call give this a try. After you ask a question, hit the mute button. Only take yourself off mute when the prospect has stopped speaking. This will force you not to interrupt but also train you to get used to speaking after the other person is done.
Tip #2: Relate to the other person
When someone is telling you a story of something stressful, they are often looking to feel like they are not alone. Therefore relating to the person you are speaking with is such a powerful tool for building rapport and showing that you are listening.
There are two things I do to relate to the people I speak with.
The first is, I give them a quick example of a similar situation that I've gone through. I keep it very short because I do not want to dominate the conversation, I just want to give them enough context so they understand how the event is similar.
The second thing I do is tie how I felt in that situation to how they must be feeling and confirm that it relates.
Here is an example.
"That's a tough situation. I went through something similar when I was the top performer at ABC company and they passed me over for a promotion just because the other person had been there longer. I felt like my accomplishments were not being recognized. Is that similar to how you're feeling?"
Simple, empathetic, and takes the conversation to a more meaningful place.
Action Tip: Next time you are in a conversation try sharing an example of a similar situation that you went through and tie your emotion during that time to how they feel. You will see how it opens up the conversation and leads to a deeper connection.
Tip #3: Summarize what they just said
When speaking with someone, especially when having a sales conversation, it is important that they feel that you are listening to them. Many try and accomplish this by responding with "I hear you" or "I understand." This is level one active listening, let’s do better than that!
After the person you are speaking with finishes their thought, summarize what they just said. Once they confirm that your summary is correct you can move on with the conversation or suggest a next step if that's appropriate.
This helps you because it clarifies your own understanding and improves your retention of the information. This also helps the person you are speaking with feel that you understand their perspective and that you are listening to them.
Finally, it will increase your perceived intelligence level because it shows that you are tracking the conversation and are capable of understanding and distilling down complex situations.
Action tip: When someone explains a situation during your next conversation, summarize it back to them. See how it impacts the conversations and improves your own retention.
Tip #4: Make eye contact!
The simplest thing you can do to improve as a communicator is to maintain eye contact. Maintaining eye contact shows the person that you have confidence in what you are saying and that you are being honest with them.
There is an obvious challenge with eye contact in modern-day sales...
A lot of sales is done through web conferences. How do you keep eye contact with someone who isn’t in front of you?
Look at the camera.
It blows my mind how many people don't know this. If you are looking at the video of the other person speaking it looks like you are not looking at them, from their perspective. They are looking at your video so when you look into the camera it appears to them that you are looking at them in the eye.
Action Tip: In your next video meeting look into the camera, not at the video of the other person. Do this for every video meeting to start building the habit!
Active listening is a learned skill and takes practice to do well. Follow some of the advice in this article to improve your skills and remember that the best way to be a great active listener is to be genuinely curious about the person you are interacting with.
- Never interrupt: Use the mute button to keep yourself from butting in and speaking over the other person. When you're sure they're done with their point, unmute yourself!
- Relate to the other person: Next time you're speaking with a friend, relate to a point they make by sharing a similar story and talk about how it made you feel!
- Summarize their last point: Next time someone is explaining something to you, pause them and repeat their point in your own words.
- Eye contact!: In your next video call, make sure you're looking into the camera - not at the image of the person speaking on your monitor.