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The Most Important Sales Skill Every Representative Needs to Learn

February 26, 2016


Poor listening has its price. In fact, millions of dollars are lost daily due to poor listening. It may not be that much for your business, but there remains the fact – poor listening is a costly mistake. Adding insult to injury, such a mistake shouldn’t be a mistake at all if you’d just invested a little of your time learning the most important skill every sales representative must possess.

Then again, there goes the cliché – hearing is one thing, listening is another. By definition, hearing is the act or process of perceiving sound while listening is the act of paying attention to sound and the process of hearing something with thoughtful attention.

But, then again, listening is not the most important sales skill that we are talking about. Active listening is a conscious effort, which means you have to be mentally present during the entire process. What we want to teach you is the art of empathetic listening. Here are some things worth knowing about this most important skill.

Empathetic listening defined

Empathetic listening is guided by the principle “seek to understand, before being understood.” The root word is empathy, which is defined as the ability to understand and share the emotions and experiences of another person. Thus, the process aims to connect cognitively and emotionally at the same time. It means paying attention to what the other person is saying with empathy, with compassion without forgetting about the insights.

One study refers to the process as active empathetic listening. Again, active listening appeals to the intellect more. For example, repeating back what the other person has said to ensure that you understand. The listening aspect is superficial. But whether it’d be empathetic listening or active empathetic listening, the bottom-line is empathy must be at the core.

Why empathetic listening

Empathetic listening has its own dynamics. Nonetheless, it can only be effective when the act of listening itself is born out of the sincere desire to understand what the other person feels. Such desire helps in realizing that the perspectives of that person have value. After listening empathetically, you may now see the bigger picture and make better and more informed decisions following that.

Fundamentally, you might be asking – As a salesperson, how can I make sense of empathetic listening? Empathetic listening is the key in upping up connect rates, developing better relationships and enabling to make more sales. Here’s how in detail.

1) Empathetic listening optimizes a follow-up

While you might say that cold calling is difficult, wait till you do some rounds of follow-up. Understandably, you would want to go over your follow-up script, but how will you respond when your prospect says, “Oh hi! I just got back from Greece. The place is so nice!” Will you say, “That’s great! Well, you should have bought our product blah blah blah to make your vacation more blah blah blah.” Wrong.

Think of a sales follow-up as an opportunity to build a relationship with your prospect. That means during that call you may say, “That’s great to hear. I’ve been wanting to go to Greece for a long time now. Any place I shouldn’t miss checking out?” Upon hearing the question, your prospect may start talking from a personal experience you can also build upon to deepen the connection.

2) Empathetic listening helps in need identification

Some prospects – the majority of them – cannot clearly articulate their pain points. They often do this through telling a story, a story that you have to listen to intently otherwise you will miss any opportunity that might emerge from it. There would be no need to ask any questions whether they need your product or service or not, allowing you to clarify and qualify.

For prospects that aren’t so forthcoming, the single most important question you can ask is W-H-Y to facilitate the sharing of experience. And, other than listening compassionately, read the body language of the person speaking. Don’t miss the small cues and steer the conversation from there.

3) Empathetic listening aids in prospect qualification

One of the most common mistakes of a sales rep is going too deep in the sales prospect without realizing the bad fit between the prospect and his or her product, service or both. Nonetheless, once you get the facts from listening from them, you can instantly make an informed decision whether that prospect is worth pursuing or not.

Depending on what the prospect says he or she needs or what his or her body language reveals and depending on the depth of the connection, the conversation may eventually lead to a demo.


How to listen empathetically

While empathy is not a word you get to hear during a sales meeting, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist within the sales schema. Because it does and it should be. Good thing, empathetic listening is a learnable skill. Below are the basic guidelines.

– Focus on the person speaking

– Tune into the speaker’s voice inflection and body language (verbal and non-verbal cues)

– Look for feelings surrounding the person’s words and nuances in the speaker’s thoughts

– Identify the person’s core perspectives

– Accept the person’s interpretation as valid and worthwhile

– Use your imagination to think about a similar or almost similar situation you’ve been in

– Be aware of your own emotions about the topic

– Be aware of your own body language

– Indicate you are listening through providing responses, head nodding, providing invitations for the speaker to relate more

– Be open-minded and honest particularly if there’s no good fit

– Put your opinion aside in the meantime; share them later

– Collect yourself first before responding

– Seek confirmation by verifying your perceptions

– Ask confirmation questions genuinely

– Don’t pass judgments on their actions, the facts, and the meaning being related

– Respect the speaker’s views and opinions

– Follow the basic listening rules – don’t interrupt, don’t interrogate and don’t be distracted

Let’s end this discussion with one of the most powerful states from Anthony Iannarino: “Caring comes first. If you don’t care how people feel, it is impossible to be empathetic.

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