Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.

                                          -Roy Bartell

It’s simple: the better your sales reps’ listening skills, the better their sales conversations will be – and the more deals they’ll win. Internalizing tips to improve listening skills is easy enough. The hard part is practicing, honing and applying these skills, which is where you as a sales coach come in.

The “soft skills” that are so vital to effective relationship-building in sales are often lost in the sales coaching process. It’s easy to write responses to customer objections for your reps to memorize, or to create a rep scorecard for them to self-evaluate. But what about teaching them how to develop and maintain relationships with prospects?

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Sales managers need to coach their sales reps on the art of listening to prospects. It is one of the quickest ways to improve their sales performance. Here are some powerful tips to teach your reps:

1. Slow the conversation down

Sales reps tend to be talkative people with lots of ideas and opinions – a characteristic that can sometimes devolve into talking a thousand miles per hour.

Talking quickly can only hurt your relationship with your prospect. They’ll either lose interest or get stressed out. Instead, articulate your thoughts at a digestible speed. Pause in case they need clarification, ask questions to guide and help shape what they share, and never interrupt them. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Don’t interrupt

 Not only is interrupting rude, but it means you’ll miss out on something interesting your prospect would have said if you’d given them the chance. They might have had other things to share that would help shape your conversation, but they couldn’t because you interjected.

Lose your fear of silence. You’ll find that if you pause when your prospect is done speaking, they will often have something to add on that you never would have heard if you’d begun talking right away.

The other time it’s okay to interrupt is if you didn’t hear something or want to clarify. But even then, you may want to make a note of it to clarify later once the person is finished speaking to avoid impeding the flow.

3. Clarify & paraphrase

A big part of listening closely to someone is letting them know you are listening closely. The speaker will know you’re listening and will appreciate it, share more of their story, and they will find you more likable.

Try paraphrasing their thoughts in your own words to show them you care about what they’re saying, and also to make sure you understood them. Sometimes you might take away a message that was meant to mean something else without knowing it – this is especially common with phone communication. Don’t let important information get lost in translation.

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4. Listen to emotions

Words are not always an accurate representation of what a person feels. It can be hard to interpret conversation over the phone because you lose the ability to read a person’s body language – but it is possible. Start by feeling out their tone of voice and stress levels. Practice during your conversations with co-workers and learn to recognize how the volume, speed, and tone of people’s voices can indicate how they’re feeling. On every sales call, make it a goal to think about what the person might be thinking behind their words.

5. Ask questions

Most sales reps know how important it is to ask questions to narrow down your prospect’s pain points. After all, the true definition of sales is actively listening to people about their pains and needs and then helping them solve that pain and need.

This is especially true at the beginning of the conversation during the information-gathering phase. Spend the first part of your call asking great questions to get a grasp of who your prospect is and what their business problems and goals are. “Tell-me” questions, such as “Tell me how your sales manager builds sales reports right now,” prompts prospects to tell their stories and share their experiences. These longer-form answers are more candid and will tell you more about what the person is thinking and feeling.

Don’t assume anything! Fill any knowledge gaps by asking more questions. Follow-up questions show your prospect you are listening carefully and care about what they say.

Only once you understand who they are can you begin to share information and yourself and how you can help them get to where they want to be.

6. Remember anecdotes

Trust me: you will stand out to your prospects if you remember little nuances from the conversation and refer to them later. This applies to anything from how many people they have on their team to a story about their daughter they told you during the call. When you take notes during your conversation, include those personal anecdotes so you can use them when you follow up. Acknowledging these friendly references will help you build up rapport with your prospects. It really is the little things!

Teach your sales reps to self-critique their listening skills. Only when they realize where in their conversations they aren’t listening well can they learn to fix it.

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