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“All About Listening: The Consultative Selling Dilemma” (Part 2)

Last week’s blog talked about the powerful (and often unnoticed) forces that make it so difficult for the consultative salesperson to pay full attention when the client is talking. Two points became disturbingly clear. First, the biggest single distraction is us thinking about ourselves, e.g., what we’ll ask next; what we’ll recommend, etc. Second, a pro-active, problem solving-oriented salesperson is even more vulnerable to these distractions than someone who’s less committed and client-centered. Fortunately, there are several good techniques for “keeping your head in the (client’s) game.”

  •  Monitor your own listening behavior: Be on the alert for self-generated distractions; note them as they occur, and either cut off the irrelevant ones, or have a way of dealing with the relevant ones (more on that follows).
  •  Challenge your own understanding frequently as your client is speaking. “Do I really, fully know what he/she means by that?” “Could I explain it clearly and completely to a third party?” If the honest answer is “no,” you need to hear it again, and pay closer attention.
  •  Paraphrase what the client has just said, and do it often. This simple but powerful tool offers two distinct benefits: it keeps you listening— you can’t paraphrase it if you didn’t hear it— and it signals the client that you’re paying attention and trying to understand his/her needs.
  •  Ask a question, even if you think it’s unnecessary. Your question gives you a second shot at hearing what’s been said and, surprisingly often, the answer will reveal that you missed or misunderstood something the first time around. “Double clicking” is a useful technique here; simply repeat a salient word or phrase the client used, in a questioning tone—  e.g., “more timely responsiveness?” — and see where he/she goes with it. Invariably, you’ll get more information while focusing your attention.
  •  Make notes of your “connections” with what the client is saying. If your distracting thought is relevant— an apparent client need; an area you should pursue further; a possible solution you might offer; etc, — write it down quickly, and resume paying full attention. Technique matters here: your notes must be very short, incomplete “reminders” of what they said; writing too much is a distraction in itself. (Also see the Baron Group March 2 blog on note-making skills.)

In summary, good listening is surprisingly pro-active: monitoring yourself, paraphrasing, asking questions, and making notes are all things you do to pay better attention to your client. Practice them diligently and reap the resulting rewards.

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