Updated: Feb 21, 2020
Step aside, Jordan Belfort; get out a notepad, Lee Iacocca; this landmark communications technique comes from someone who never made a sales call, and wasn't the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Carl Rogers, the eminent American psychologist, is the source of this one very deep insight and here’s his tip: listen.
Active Listening, at base, is a mode of engagement between people; the takeaway is a technique for simply listening well. While this technique was developed for clinical psychology, it applies, with tremendous results, to senior-level selling scenarios.
I suggest you buy the book immediately. While it’s shipping, here is a summary of the most powerful applications for sales:
1. Take Yourself And Your Damn Agenda Out Of It
Just listen. Take yourself and your damn agenda out of it. To Rogers, when you listen properly, the secret is to just embody the listener role and not to insert yourself. Don’t make corrections, apply judgement, give rejoinders, and above all, don’t get them to think differently. Rather, just accept the way that their message is coming across. Your time will come, but for now, it’s ears and eyes only. Neither should you listen, vulture-like, for the key openings to sell your thing, or interject your own agenda, or come in and make your big point. Rather, show patience – your time to speak is just around the corner...
2. Listen For "Total Meaning"
As you listen, listen for “total meaning” including the emotional levels that attend the spoken words and phrases. Track the vocal level and the “energy” connected with certain words or phrases; this gives you a wealth of information about what’s in the client’s mind. Once you see the multiple layers of meaning contained within what your customer’s speech, you will have many subjects for further discovery and points on which to connect. “Total meaning” also embeds non-verbal communications. It seems every salesperson has had the short course on mirroring postures and so forth. This is a slightly different angle: within an Active Listening discipline, you’re seeing body language and just taking it in, not judging or countering it.
3. Repeat Their Message To Their Satisfaction (Not Yours)
Present back to the client their perspective(s). When you do this, do it at a level that would make them agree “yes, that’s precisely what I think.” It’s very powerful to show someone that you understand their position as well as they do. This really elevates you beyond the character of barterer, fraught with what things mean for you as a salesperson, up to a level where you can see both your side (obviously) and their side with objectivity. Do this, and you’ve established a new tenor to the exchange. According to Rogers, you can’t change a person or teach a person, you can only enable their own learning or change; and hearing their exact message from your mouth in an outcome-neutral way opens them to revision and adjustments.
4. Be Listened To
Realize that one of the reasons to practice Active Listening as a sales professional is that focused and attentive listening engenders reciprocation. You can expect that if you've been intently focusing on a client’s words, and have recapped their position correctly, you will receive intent interest in what you say next; at that time some very real gains can be made between you and your customer. There are precious few moments where clients will listen as closely to you as at this moment.
This isn’t easy. Active Listening is a discipline; it requires intense mental focus and stamina. When done correctly, this approach is extremely effective. This is uniquely true for high-level client engagement, where it opens the dialogue into new lines of business, it builds up the reserve of trust, and it creates openness and transparency between parties who otherwise assume the posture of combatants.
So - read Carl Rogers, cultivate Active Listening in your approach, and enjoy the view from a higher level of sales professionalism.