The Art of Good Listening
By Jack R. Snader
One of the most common complaints customers express about salespeople is
that they don’t listen. And one of the quickest ways to destroy customer
confidence is to make an off-the-wall comment or a misfit proposal that shows
you haven’t been listening.
Listening is a critical skill that goes beyond merely keeping quiet until
it’s your turn to talk. You have to hear what the customer is saying,
sort out the meaning and reflect that you have understood. To improve your
listening skills, keep the following in mind.
Customers may express themselves in colorful stories and anecdotes, history
lessons, slang and jargon, litanies of complaints or terse pronouncements.
To understand their meaning, you need both their main point and their reasons
for making it. If either of those is missing, probe for clarification.
However long it takes your customer to express a complete thought, hear
him or her out. If your customer pauses in mid-sentence, don’t “help” by
finishing the thought for him or her. Jumping in to complete the sentence
will signal that you are bored and impatient and that you assume you know
what’s on the customers mind.
As long as the customer is talking, don’t interrupt, don’t
comment and don’t rush in to fix this problem with your solution. When
the customer is speaking – or pausing to collect his thoughts – silence
is golden. Nod or otherwise signal your comprehension non-verbally. You
might take notes, for example, looking up from time to time to make eye
contact with the customer.
When the customer has expressed a full thought, it’s your turn to
speak. Providing feedback is an essential part of listening. What you say
when the customer pauses lets him or her know how well you’ve been
If the customer has made his or her point perfectly clear, use the pause
to concisely recap the main points. If there was a reference you didn’t
catch, a term you didn’t know or a situation you didn’t fully
understand, ask for clarification. If the customer made a point, but didn’t
support it with reasons or background information, ask an open-ended question
to encourage him or her to fill in the blanks. If the customer rambled on
without ever making a point, ask what these facts mean to him or her, or
what their consequences are.
What you ask should reflect the content of what the customer said. It should
show that you were paying attention, genuinely interested and looking for
the importance of what the customer said.
A final component of listening is looking. Not all of your customer’s
feeling and meaning is imparted verbally. Observe expressions and
gestures. Tensed muscles can reveal how urgent it is for the buyer
to find a solution. An impatient gesture can tell you all you need to know
about a competitor. A trusting smile or an icy frown may inform you how you’re
While it’s tempting to only talk when you finally succeed in meeting
with a customer, sometimes it’s more important to listen.
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