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NorthStar Performance Partners, LLC | Minneapolis, MN

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Has this ever happened to you? You had an initial meeting with a prospect. You asked that prospect what seemed to be all the right questions. You had what felt to you like a good conversation, and based on that conversation, you scheduled the next meeting. You sat down at your computer. You prepared a proposal... ...which bombed.  There are a lot of possible reasons for that outcome, but today, consider this possibility: You weren’t listening actively.

If that’s the case, you might have missed important elements of what the prospect really wanted to say. As a result, your proposal might have been missing essential components.

What’s tricky about this is that you may have thought you were listening, and you might even have written down interesting, accurate notes reflecting what the other person said during your meeting. But listening actively is not the same as waiting patiently for your turn to speak!

Here’s a process that will help you to listen actively during your next discussion with a prospect or client.

Step One: Recognize the real goal of all your communication.  When we communicate, we have an innate need to be understood and acknowledged. That means Step One is letting your prospect or customer know that he has been heard and understood! If you skip this step, your sales call is likely to go off track, no matter how good your ideas are.

Step Two: Send subtle messages that say, “I hear you, I’m paying attention,” as the other person speaks. When you are engaged in a conversation, how do you let the other party know that you are listening and understand what he or she is saying? You can acknowledge the person speaking and signify your understanding by simply nodding your head or saying something like, “I see,” “OK,” or “that makes sense,” each time he makes a point. This sounds like a basic, common-sense step, but it’s something most salespeople haven’t mastered.

Step Three: Before making points of your own, restate key content to prove you were really listening and really do understand what was said. Active listening is the process of reflecting back to the speaker the message you heard in order to confirm or correct your understanding.  That is accomplished by summarizing the speaker’s message and asking for confirmation or, if needed, clarification.  Active listening not only facilitates effective communication, but it also enhances rapport.

Here’s an example of Step Three in action:

Prospect: Minimizing equipment down time is our primary goal.  When we have to take equipment off line for maintenance, it does more than just disrupt the production schedule.  Raw material inventories start to back up at our warehouse facilities, and I have warehouse managers complaining.  And, if the line is down for any length of time, our ability to fill orders is negatively impacted, and then I have the VP of Sales breathing down my neck. 

Salesperson: So, your primary goal is to minimize equipment down time so you don’t disrupt the production schedule and negatively impact your ability to fill orders. That will stop the warehouse managers from complaining about inventory backups and also keep the VP of Sales from breathing down your neck.  Did I miss anything?

Notice that your summary may incorporate the speaker’s exact phrases and statements, or you can paraphrase them.

If you follow these three simple steps – understand the true goal of your communication, send the right subtle “I’m listening” signals as the other person is speaking, and restate key content to prove you really were listening – you’ll have better conversations, gather high-quality information, and make better recommendations. Last but certainly not least, you’ll improve your closing ratio!


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