Shut Up and Listen

You’ve just finished your sales pitch. You have told the potential client everything that your product or service can do; every way it can benefit them. It’s a no-brainer. They’re not interested. They have to talk it over with their partner. Their budget is empty or they have to wait until the next budget cycle. The liturgy of excuses is almost endless. So, you have to ask yourself, what went wrong? Did I not explain it correctly? Did they not understand it?

There’s a good chance that the problem isn’t with them, but with you. The question you should ask is, “Did I listen to them?” Don’t confuse hearing with listening. Hearing is essentially a physiological process. We simply receive the sound, it then registers with our brain, and the brain makes auditory associations (we perceive as words). But these are just mechanics. Even if we have great hearing, it doesn’t mean we are great listeners. In fact, as anyone with teenagers will attest, hearing is not listening. No one can tune you out better then your fourteen year old.

So, before you rehearse your presentation or your sales pitch yet again, stop and ask yourself, “Am I the problem”? The answer could be yes, but not in the way you think. You could simply not be listening correctly. Robert Fripp, guitarist for King Crimson said, “I’d say that what we hear is the quality of our listening.” Granted, he was talking about music, but I think he hit the nail on the head in more ways then one.

If we focus on what we want to tell our prospective client, we lose focus on the most critical component of any sale. What does the client need? We could have the best product or service since sliced bread, but all the client really cares about is how we can solve their problem; and we can’t know this unless we listen.

The American Communication Association (ACA) recently published an E-Textbook entitled “Public Speaking – The ACA Open Knowledge Online Guide”, with one section devoted specifically to listening. Makes sense if you think about it – how important is listening to communication?

In their guide, the ACA provides 12 characteristics of a competent listener. If you approach your next sales pitch with this listening attitude, you will find out exactly what it is your client wants.

12 Components of a Competent Listener:

  1. Uses eye contact appropriately
  2. Is attentive and alert to a speaker’s verbal and nonverbal behavior
  3. Is patient and does not interrupt, waiting for the speaker to finish
  4. Is responsive, using verbal and nonverbal expressions
  5. Asks questions in a nonthreatening tone
  6. Paraphrases, restates or summarizes what the speaker says
  7. Provides constructive verbal and nonverbal feedback
  8. Is empathic, makes an effort to understand the speaker
  9. Demonstrates interest in the speaker as a person
  10. Demonstrates a caring attitude and is willing to listen
  11. Does not criticize, is nonjudgmental
  12. Is open-minded

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