Most Effective Sales Rep Series Part 1:
Active Listening Tips
Discover More During Discovery
Being a more effective sales rep requires making the most of your discovery and we know there are hundreds if not thousands of articles telling you how to maximize discovery, but we wanted to take a deeper dive into the listening component and give you some golden rules of non verbal and verbal active listening and teach you how to find the golden nuggets in discovery. Gleaning gold nugget information from your discovery is only possible through active listening. Golden Nuggets are critical pieces of information that your competitor will not have and you will because you have listened actively. These help you close your deal during your demo, because you have solved their problems in a more complete way. You have really listened.
Golden Rules of Active Listening
Active listening is not just keeping your eyebrows raised looking excited. It consists of non verbal and verbal components. Below we list the non verbal and verbal active listening rules to generate trust, cooperation, and ultimately to get more information to be able to meet the needs of your client in your demo.
Non Verbal Active Listening
The biggest tips in non verbal listening are to show your audience with your body language that your attention is where they want it to be.
- Posture: Keep your posture forward facing, leaning in, or slightly sideways.
- Eye Contact: Make frequent eye contact and smile. Do not smile all the time, that is inauthentic and can be read immediately.
- Mirroring: Mirror what the speaker is doing but in an easy way, if they look at a piece of information, mirror the way they are looking or leaning.
- Hands: When someone is speaking be aware of your reflexes to fidget, doodle, or inadvertently distract in any way from what they are saying.
- Mouth: Smiling is a great way to show comprehension, but be aware of a too large of a grin throughout and at the appropriate times to smile.
Verbal Active Listening Cues
When you are actively listening, you will be applying what a speaker is saying to your benefit and show them you are understanding what they are saying by responding thoughtfully. The key is responding not to be heard or to make another point, but to show comprehension. There is no real need to respond to everything a speaker says, oftentimes non response is active listening and a non verbal confirmation will do. Countless guides to listening recommend repetition and reinforcement, but we advocate a more subtle approach. Below are our Golden Rules of verbal communication.
- Positive Reinforcement: There is no reason to offer positive reinforcement if you aren’t asked if you understand. It would degrade into comedy for sure, if you were explaining your issues and need for a product and your sales rep with no regard for voice modulation chimes in with “Right On!” or a “Yeah I get it!”. Not useful. Use the other communicating strategies in combination with positive reinforcement.
- Remembering: You need to remember information. If you are really good at this and can maintain laser focus, great, If not, take notes.
- Questioning: This is the most important part of active listening for sales. The questions you ask are going to confer a number of advantages and opportunities. If you ask the right questions, you can detect the Golden Nuggets of information from what your prospect says, and what they do not say. See our note below on discovery questions, but in short no close ended questions. Ask questions that reinforce your interest in what they are saying and ask questions that clarify what they are saying to communicate comprehension.
- Reflection: Reflection is similar to mirroring. Repeat or paraphrase what the speaker is saying. Reflection can be used in two ways, the first is to paraphrase before a question to get more information than they were willing to answer. The second is to help you remember the information. Don’t be afraid to be transparent in how you remember information, it can be an advantage to lightly say repetition helps you remember and understand.
- Clarification: Clarification is similar to questions, but are the open ended questions that are critical to getting the best information from your prospect.
- Summaries: Summarizing is similar to reflection but it is delivered in your own words at a point in the discovery where your speaker has made a number of points, and now is seeking validation from you that you have understood their needs or their position.
Active Listening Pro Tip for Discovery from Chris Voss
Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and agent and author of “Never Split the Difference”, posits seriously valuable information on active listening, questioning, and listening. A central tenet of his book is that in negotiation most parties enter in and are easily distracted, minds acting on cognitive bias, and are preoccupied with what you are looking to get out of the conversation, that you are not listening to what a person is saying. In short, humans are irrational, emotional, and biased, and in order to communicate effectively you need to practice empathy and focus 100% on what the other person is saying without internal dialogue.
Two ways to use Voss’ advice in discovery are showing empathy, and asking calibrated questions to get more information. According to Voss, an easy way to show empathy using mirroring is to use 3-4 words that the other person used to summarize, clarify, or question your client for more information. Through using the same words, you communicate emotionally that you are similar. Second, are the calibrated questions. Calibrated questions require longer answers, longer answers mean more information that you can use, if you are really practicing active listening. Calibrated questions are open ended, What or How.
Start Active listening during your discovery, find Golden Nuggets of information from calibrated questions, and you will close during a demo. If you stop approaching discovery calls like they are a means to an entry into your CRM with defined values, and instead approach them with more empathy and a genuine desire to listen, you will gain more insight into client needs and win more deals with your demos. Active listening is the key to discovery and being a better sales rep because you will understand their problems and deliver a demo that solves it.