Hearing Versus Listening

Al Simon


One of my favorite exercises to use in our sales training classes is to ask the group to list the most important attributes of a “good” salesperson. Answers will always include persistent, quick thinker, excellent public speaker, knowledgeable, hard worker, etc. It usually takes a few minutes before someone finally says, “a good listener.”

Early in my sales career, my boss told me that my job was to convince the prospect to buy from me – that I had to educate the prospect into submission. In the age of the Internet, prospects do not need to be educated as much as they need problem solvers.

Prospects want salespeople to listen to them, to understand their business. This point was driven home for me one day when I was on a sales call with a client to observe her performance. She did what I thought was a good job, asking several excellent questions and the prospect responded with a lot of valuable information. As we were leaving, the salesperson excused herself to visit the restroom. Standing there at the elevator with the prospect, he said to me “that salesperson seems very sharp.” I had to chuckle – the salesperson had not said much else besides asking questions!

Today’s best sales professionals employ a concept called active listening. It means we should listen with our eyes, our minds, our whole being, not just our ears. Maintaining solid eye contact without staring, having relaxed yet attentive body language, and being comfortable with a little silence between thoughts the prospect is sharing, these are all components of Active Listening. Another important component is paraphrasing back what you heard the prospect say.

A recent sales call of my own is a good example. Calling on the CEO of a construction materials company, I heard him say, “I want our salespeople to be able to grasp (and he made a fist with both hands as he said this) the basic concept that we must make more sales calls on builders and contractors that we haven’t yet met.”

I said I took that to mean they needed to be more aware of their prospecting activities and asked if that’s what he meant? “Not really,” he said. “I want them to grasp (and he did the fist thing again) that we have to make cold calls!”

This time, when I paraphrased back, I used the word “grasp,” and made a fist. He said “That’s it!” I truly believe I would not have been awarded the business without him hearing me say that word back to him. He might have thought to himself that I didn’t understand him or his business very well.

Another important skill that salespeople need to develop is the ability to stay with the prospect’s thought process and not think too far ahead or behind. For example, if you are in a sales call and there is an interruption – an important telephone call or someone sticks their head in the door to ask a quick question – and after the interruption the prospect asks, “Now, where were we?” You need to know! If you are able to respond, “you were in the middle of explaining to me about...” then you will score some major points with your prospect.

If you are unable to remember conversation from even a few minutes back, it will be painfully obvious to the prospect that you aren’t listening and don’t care about their issues. How much business do you suppose you will win that way? To be effective in today’s business climate, really listen to the prospect and then help them solve the problem.


Al Simon is president of Simon, Inc., an authorized licensee of Sandler Training. He can be contacted through www.Simoninc.sandler.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @SandlerSimon