Are You Listening to Your Customers?

Sales professional and Customer

We have talked on many occasions about being an effective listener.  Most sales professionals recognize the need to do it, yet today we will get basic about how it is done.  Even if you consider yourself an effective listener, there will be something in here for you.

When it comes to your customers, there is no code that cannot be decoded by attentive listening.  Remember, as we have said before, you are the expert in your organization on each of your accounts, to truly understand them, you must listen more than talk, and to listening at its best does require you deftly monitor the conversation.

Good listeners understand, interpret, and evaluate, but they also do a couple of other things better than others.  They monitor the communication by repeating or reflecting verbally what the speaker is saying.  If their understanding is wrong, the situation is rectified by that activity.

Good listening is important because your accounts can tell when you are absorbed in their stories and explanations, but also can detect when you are anxiously looking for that moment to jump in commandeer the conversation with “your two cents worth.”

We all know people who are good listeners.  They are patient, considerate, and understand your objective by the time you finish communicating.  They ask relevant questions which help them to respond and comply with your needs.

How important is it?

Listening is one of the most important parts of the sales process. What your accounts tell you is very important.  What they don’t tell you may even more important.  If a customer does not believe you are listening they will not go to the effort to clarify and expound.  You engage a sales professional to be a solution to your problems, not compete with you for “airtime”.

When in conversation many sales professionals can be distracted.  Much of this distraction can be from contemplating their next comment, or just anticipating the next action.  If you are ever in this situation fight it off.  An engaged sales professional pays attention as well as listens.

The basic steps to listening are:

  • You must hear the speaker.
  • You must understand the message.  (Comprehension)
  • You are allowed to judge the message (Believability)

Some Important Tips

  • Give your full attention to the speaker. Look him/her directly in the eye and demonstrate your understanding by your gestures as well as your responses.
  • Let the speaker complete the points before you break in to speak.
  • Look aware and attentive.  If you cannot keep your mind in the room, it will be noticeable.  Daydreaming, even if the speaker is boring, is forbidden.
  • Note the expression and gestures. These are indicators of intensity and emotion.  Note the exuberance or the frustration, key in on areas that cause angst and provide clarity and solutions.
  • Make sure you know of the message.  Ask questions as is necessary to assure this.  Once this meeting is over, it will be a travesty to walk away confused about the message, or the next actions.
  • Record the main issues/ideas from the message. Pen and paper is the preferred method.  Your ability to reduce the key points to writing will allow you to recap the concerns and summarize the actions with aplomb.  You will appear a true professional when you summarize and give next steps.
  • Structure your questions to repeat and reflect on what is being said.  For example “I understand that the timing of delivery is important, can you give me the time parameters that we must meet.”

What Went Wrong in this Example?

I once worked with sales professional who was strong in many ways, yet a marginal listener.  His listening ability was hampered by his desire to think ahead in everything constantly.  He was charming to customers and extremely intelligent, and these two traits covered the mistakes made by marginal listening.

He was meeting with a prominent customer when the customer made it real clear that all transactions for over $200,000 had to go to his board of directors for a final decision.  This type of comment is important and is notable, as the buyer was giving a “qualification”.  He stated that he liked our product, and our price, and would give his endorsement, yet he was not the final decision maker.

The sales professional did not hear it that way.  He heard the buyer’s acceptance, and saw dollar signs.  Not listening for the buyer to admit that he did not have the power to make the final call.

The buyer called back and indicated that we were a better organization, but priced too high and needed to do some price adjustment.  The sales exec went into action and got the price adjusted and the buyer said, “This should do it!”  The sales rep “banked” the sale processed the paperwork, requested services and so forth.

When the buyer called the next day and said that the board of directors did not agree with his decision, the sales exec was aghast.  Everything had to be undone, and his credibility was damaged.  When he and I talked about the decision making process it was obvious that he missed the fact that the board was going to review this major purchase.

The Remedy?

Obviously if the sales professional was a stronger listener I would not be able to use this as an example.


  • Recapping the major points about the decision making process would have avoided the embarrassment.
  • Following the rules on “giving full attention” probably would have helped.
  • Lastly, asking questions would have helped.  Know the “rules” and the process, and be clear about next steps.

I think it was a good lesson, albeit a difficult one.  Don’t miss the point!  There is more to listening than meets the ear.

We look forward to your comments.

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