I found loads of resources about what to do to engage clients, customers, and employees as I began my research for this third post in the three-part series that started with 3 Notes to Scale Up Your Sales. The one piece of advice conspicuously missing is the one thing we should stop doing to increase sales and revenue – talking.

Too often I’ve watched sales professionals move their prospects through the stages of their selling process without pausing or giving the other person a chance to speak. When your prospect answers your questions, he/she is giving you a gift – a chance to learn. Don’t throw it away by spending all your energy composing your next response.

If you want the sales results that come from engaging your potential customer or client, remember this. To build rapport, don’t approach your interactions as a contest, debate, or pitch. Approach engagement as an opportunity to listen.

Two ears and one mouth to listen quote

To engage your potential customer or client in the sales process with you and avoid hearing phrases that indicate a lack of connection, practice the following four skills.

  1. Ask thoughtfully
  2. Listen intently
  3. Respond intentionally
  4. Repeat often

Let’s take a look at ways to develop each skill.

Ask thoughtfully

Research shows how important it is to develop listening skills to be an effective communicator, however not all prospects will offer information readily. They are used to sales professionals doing all the talking. You certainly don’t want to stare them down in silence, right? To set the conditions for listening and avoid hearing the phrase, “How do we get started?” begin with a customer-focused introduction.

  • Tell the prospect about how your current clients or customers benefit from your goods and services.
  • Continue with a statement or two about why your current customers choose you over your competitors.

(Hint: If you don’t know the answers to the questions, “What benefits does my company provide?” or “Why do our customers choose us?” then some investigation is in order. This post about gathering customer intelligence is a great place to start.)

Now is the time for the big question. Ask your prospect, “If we could provide (share your company’s core benefit) to your business today, what would it look like to you?”

From your introduction to your question, the focus is tuned into your prospect and his/her needs. Take a deep breath and get ready to learn.

Listen Intently

Listening involves your ears, yes, but your brain and body are about to get a workout, too. While hearing is a passive activity, listening is active and takes concentration.

  • The first thing you must do is stop talking. If this step is difficult for you, you are not alone. I have to picture myself with my hands over my mouth when I’m excited and struggle to listen!
  • Give yourself time to get in listening mode. Try this; for the first five minutes don’t make any new statements unless it clarifies what the speaker is saying. You’ll learn more about how to keep the conversation going in the next section. It will take some time to calm your brain and tune your ears to listen, so use the time wisely. As he/she is speaking, think to yourself, “What s/he’s trying to say is…” This technique, called summarizing, will prime your brain to focus on the words and their meaning.

While you listen and prepare to summarize, you also need to communicate that you are, in fact, listening.

Red bookmark I hope you don’t need this tip, but just in case, I’ll remind you. Minimize or remove distractions while engaging with your prospect. Turn your phone to off, not vibrate, and put it away. If you have a habit of looking at your watch, turn it to the inside of your wrist to avert temptation.

You never want your potential client to wonder, “Are you listening to me?”

However, avoiding distractions is the most basic part of flexing your listening skills. It is much more involved.

Respond Intentionally

In the section above I challenged you not to offer new information to your prospects while they are talking. What do you do instead? The most experienced listeners use their whole bodies to understand and reflect back what the person intends to say. In our case, you will respond, but your focal point will be on the speaker. Here’s how.

Get comfortable with silence

When a speaker pauses, it’s in our nature to jump in and fill the gap. Don’t. Different people need various amounts of time to think and process. The pause doesn’t necessarily mean they are done talking. Give your prospect time in case he/she is silently thinking something through before verbalizing it. You certainly don’t want to hear, “I’m not done.” The speaker should give you subtle cues when it’s your turn to speak so pay close attention during the pause. The longer you interact with someone, the better you’ll get at anticipating speech patterns.

Move your summary from thinking to speaking

You’ve been practicing summarizing in your head. Now it’s time to show your prospect that you’ve been listening. When it’s your turn in the dialogue to speak, try these phrases to share what you’ve been learning.

  • “What I’ve understood is…”
  • “It seems to me you are saying…”
  • “May I take a moment to summarize what I’ve heard?”

Be prepared if the speaker says, “That’s not quite right,” and explains again. You’re not aiming for perfection; you’re striving for engagement.

Ask probing questions

Probing questions allow you to get additional information from your prospect. If your summary of his/her communication is correct, then it’s time to learn more. Resist the temptation to ask questions that lead your prospect to an answer you want. Leading questions are easy to spot and are not customer focused. Instead, try a questioning technique called funneling where you ask more or less specific questions depending on where the prospect started.

Here are some examples of dialogue from retail sales.

General to specific: Retail shoes

  • “Hi, how can I help you today?”
  • “I’m just looking.”
  • “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
  • “Running shoes.”
  • “Our running shoe section is over here. Are you looking for women, men, or kids shoes?”
  • “Men’s”
  • “Is there a particular sport or use for the shoes that is important to you?”
  • “No, just regular wear.”
  • “Excellent. Here’s the right section and this brand is on sale right now. If you need a particular size that’s not on the shelf, I’m happy to get it for you.”

Specific to general: cooking/housewares

  • “Excuse me. I’m looking for a cookie cutter that’s about ‘this’ big.”
  • “Our cookie cutter section is right over here. While we walk over, may I ask if you’re making the cookies for a special occasion?”
  • “No, I just need to cut dough to about this size.”
  • “Are you cutting cookie dough only or other types of dough?”
  • “I’m not actually making cookies at all. I want to make ravioli but my circle cookie cutter is too small, and the filling doesn’t stay in it.”
  • “I believe I have a better option for you then. Let me show you the ravioli cutters. They both cut and seal, and you can pick from a variety of sizes. Should we head over to that section?”

In the second example, you’ll see the sales representative kept the focus on the customer’s needs. He could have sold her the cookie cutter, but instead he discovered more about the benefits she was looking for in her purchase.

Get your whole body involved

Research shows that only 7% of communication is verbal, and 93% is non-verbal. That means how you communicate, your tone and pitch, how fast you speak, and your body language “say” more than your words. No matter how good your sales script is, it can only account for 7% of your communication success. Pay attention to the following non-verbal cues as you talk to your prospect.

  • Make steady and appropriate eye contact.
  • Reflect the emotions of what you hear. If the speaker is telling you something positive, smile. If he is telling you about something that concerns him, reflect concern back.
  • Lean forward so your speaker knows you’re engaged.
  • Keep your hands, arms, and shoulders relaxed. You don’t want to look like you’re about to pounce in and take over the conversation.
  • Nod your head to encourage your prospect to share his/her ideas.

Keep in mind these non-verbal behaviors are primarily for Western business people. For more information on how to do business with other countries, this is my favorite resource.

Your entire interaction will not consist of listening, of course. As you learn more about what your prospects want and need, you are better prepared to find a solution with them.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author os Silent Messages, found in his research that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc). Subtracting the 7% for actual vocal content leaves one with the 93% statistic.

Repeat Often

The fourth and final tip to further your listening skills is to practice, practice, practice. You will repeat the listening/responding cycle often through the engagement with your potential customer, and with each subsequent interaction. The goal of engagement is a better relationship with your prospect to secure a loyal customer or client, right? Developing strong relationships in all parts of your life will support your success. You can practice your listening skills with your supervisor, co-workers, friends, and family. Repeat your practice often and you can avoid hearing, “You never listen to me!”

Not only will your sales relationships prosper, so will your personal relationships.

You can watch a short video on the 3 Notes to Scale Up Your Sales on my YouTube channel for an overview of the three-part blog series. If you like what you see, I encourage you to subscribe. I have many more videos in the pipeline.

3 Notes to Scale Up Your Sales – series review

Clarify your target customer

Discover your customer’s pain and offer a solution

Engage your customer by listening – not talking (link to video)

Are you interested in professional development for your team? We’ve got training for that!