Would you rather be told what you “need” by a fast-talker or asked about what you want by a good listener?
Science has already given us the answer: Humans prefer to talk about themselves most of the time.
Meaning, prospects prefer to talk about their needs and wants most of the time.
Why, then, are so few sales managers developing listening skills in their reps?
Sales managers are great at teaching their reps about their products’ features and benefits, industry trends, persuasion techniques, etc. But listening is treated as a given. Common sense. Not worth the time to invest in.
But here’s the thing:
Selling is about problem-solving.
How do you expect your reps to solve problems if they’re not listening to what their prospects are saying?
The answer: They won’t.
But you can change that by helping your reps develop listening skills that turn objections into informational gold, which they can then use to sell the prospect exactly what they want.
It’s very hard for a prospect to say no to the solution that addresses their biggest concerns and greatest challenges. Help your reps close more deals by incorporating these listening skill-building tactics into your sales training right away.
Techniques for Developing Reps’ Listening Skills
Create a Playbook of Best Practices
Developing your sales reps’ listening skills is a long-term undertaking that requires patience and commitment.
To remain focused and on-task, it helps to put together a “playbook” of essential skills and proven solutions that is readily available for all your reps to reference and use for practice. The listening skills section is a critical chapter in this playbook.
Your listening skills section should contain clear expectations around what being a “good listener” actually entails. Consider including effective listening strategies like:
- Slowing down your speaking speed so as not to overwhelm the prospect
- Pausing after you’ve finished speaking to judge the prospect’s reaction
- Not interrupting or interjecting when the prospect is speaking
- Clarifying what the prospect just said by paraphrasing it back to demonstrate that you’re listening
- Asking intelligent, prospect-centered questions to dig deeper into the prospect’s fears and desires
On the flip side, it’s also helpful to call out bad habits. Include these “Ineffective Listening Habits” that your sales reps should work to change:
- Offering warnings, or trying to scare customers away from their current provider
- Giving advice or making suggestions before the prospect has asked for it
- Stating unverified facts and figures in an attempt to provide proof for your claims
- Disagreeing with, judging, or criticizing a prospect’s decision
- Ignoring the underlying context of what the prospect wants
- Changing the subject or purposefully distracting the customer so you don’t have to answer a tough question
Having these tactics clearly laid out will help your reps understand the building blocks of being a great listener. Next up, show them what these tactics look like in practice.
Create a Book of Wins and Losses
Another book? Kind of. A “Book of Wins and Losses” is a collection of recorded sales calls and meeting reviews that showcase the deals that sales reps closed using effective strategies and the deals they lost due to ineffective behaviors.
To make use of these collected wins and losses, get your team together, play an excellent call, and analyze why it went so well.
Then, have your reps listen to a poor sales call and analyze why things went badly. Allow them to offer suggestions on how it could be improved.
Identify the specific techniques or “effective listening skills” that were used on the good calls, and point out the “ineffective listening habits” that need to be reformed.
Make sure your reps realize that you’re not singling anyone out, but rather, you’re using their successes and failures to help all of your reps improve.
Encourage Your Sales Reps to Review Their Interactions
If you want your sales reps developing listening skills that lead to closed deals, then they need to be aware of what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right when interacting with prospects.
To build this awareness, develop a worksheet with 2 sections:
- First section - All objections or concerns the prospect shared with your sales rep.
- Second section - Your rep’s responses to those objections or concerns. Include the prospect’s reaction to the responses, and whether the conversation moved closer to a sale or not.
After your sales rep has their conversation written down, go through each objection and response and mark which responses adhere to your “effective listening skills” and which responses represent “ineffective listening habits.”
For each effective listening skill, praise your rep.
For each ineffective listening habit, work with your rep to construct and write out an effective response that they could have used instead.
This type of in-depth sales call analysis could be appropriate to review during your sales pipeline review, or in a separate meeting focused exclusively on listening.
Conversation intelligence tools like Gong, Chorus, and TalkIQ can be really helpful in this review process, as their products “listen in on” and evaluate calls using AI-powered voice analysis to produce a wide array of insights, including how well your rep is listening to their prospects.
Continue this process with different sales calls and meetings on a semi-regular basis with all your reps to help them cultivate listening skills that close deals.
Role-Play Sales Calls
Role-playing sales calls is beneficial for new reps and old pros alike.
It helps your reps form positive habits before they’re on a live call with a potential customer, and by doing this as a group, your reps can learn from each other.
There are 3 habits you should instill in your reps during role play:
- Listen more than you speak
- Ask thoughtful, probing questions
- Pay attention to the emotional state of the prospect
One person will play the “prospect” while the other person will play the “sales rep.”
Pay close attention to how they interact.
Do your reps start the conversation by launching into the features of the product they’re trying to sell, or do they ask questions and listen to what the prospect actually wants and needs?
Are your reps paying attention to the prospect’s body language, tone of voice, and emotional state, or are they just responding to what the prospect says?
The key distinction that separates “sleazy salespeople” who don’t qualify leads to “problem solvers” who earn the prospect’s trust and move them closer to a deal is the 80/20 principle:
The sales rep should listen 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time.
Develop this behavior by having your sales reps begin their conversation with the prospect by asking questions that uncover their pains, fears, needs, and wants.
Every time the customer responds to the sales rep’s question, make the sales rep pause for 10 seconds and consider the best response.
This helps train your rep to listen to what the prospect said, consider where the prospect is emotionally, and construct a valuable response that proves they’re listening to the prospect, they empathize with the prospect, and they’re there to help the prospect solve their problem.
The behavior you want to stamp out of your sales reps is instinctually launching into a knee-jerk reaction that is very “me and my company”-centered instead of prospect-centered.
No one wants to be sold to.
But everyone wants their problem solved.
Great Managers Invest Time in Developing their Reps’ Listening Skills
Clearly establishing and documenting your expectations, demonstrating example behavior, and practicing behaviors through role play will help you hone your sales reps’ listening skills, so your reps are perceived as valuable assets by their prospects, instead of unavoidable nuisances.
Empowering a sales team with these kinds of skills - and prioritizing the time to invest in rep development - is what great sales managers do. Using a tool like Pathlight to handle all the other things on your plate gives you the time you need to be the best sales leader you can be.