Two Sales Guys and One Lost Sale: Why Active Listening Matters

The car lot bloodhound

Like a bloodhound closing in on a scent, the car lot sales guy made his way towards me. Nonchalantly, I asked if they had any nine-seat vehicles. The sales guy eagerly said a great vehicle and lead me over to a small SUV. It took just a moment to see there were only seven seats. I wondered if this guy even heard me. Was this the SUV management had told him needed to be sold today?

Turning to the quickly-losing-my-confidence-sales-guy, I asked how many seats this vehicle had. Um, ah, well…I cut him off by asking if it had nine seats. He said no. I turned and walked away. Let’s just say I have no intention of visiting that car lot again. I realize that I’d not dealt with the other sales people, however this guy didn’t listen. He was hired to work there and unfortunately, his behavior reflects on the company.

The sales guy likely had a family to care for. Maybe he’d felt pressure to make a sale. Maybe the boss was pressuring him. Either way, his need trumped my need apparently. He didn’t give me the impression that he’d listened to me. At least he gave no indication of listening. He seemed focused on his need to sell.

I definitely wasn’t impressed and you probably wouldn’t have been either.

Are you listening to your clients? When your clients interact with you do they feel understood? Feeling heard and understood is one of the deep human cravings. If you care enough about your clients to learn how to help them so they feel heard and understood, you’ve taken a huge step toward having loyal clients.

The next sales guy

Some time ago, I walked into a cellular phone store. I thought I knew what I wanted. The salesperson listened and showed me the options based on what I’d shared with him. He also kept asking questions to make sure he understood my needs. As I looked over the options, I realized they weren’t going to do what I wanted. 

Instead of trying to talk me into buying by overcoming my objections, he began asking more questions. He listened to my responses and then suggested another option I wasn’t aware even existed. And it was an option that was far less expensive that I’d even imagined. Bingo, I’d been lead to a solution. Just what I needed. Perfect.

It was refreshing to work with a salesperson who seemed genuinely interested in helping me even if it didn’t mean a sale.

Even though I left with a cheaper solution from what I thought I wanted when I walked into the store, a sale was made and I was a happy customer.

Walking out of the store, I felt positive about this company and the sales representative. He’d listened to me, asked questions and offered a solution based on the need I was describing. I felt heard and understood. In my opinion, this reflected well on the company.

What can you do to help your clients feel heard and understood?

First, I believe you need to care about your clients. Then you need to let them know you care. Listening to your clients is a powerful way to connect with them. When you connect with your client and understand their needs and desires, you are in a position to help them get what they want. As author, Zig Ziglar has observed, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.” But you have to put your clients’ needs first.

Putting the client first is what the guy at the car lot failed to do. He put his interests first. He didn’t even seem to listen to me. If your client asks for a “nine-seat car” don’t show them a “seven-seat car”. Simple acknowledge you don’t have a “nine-seat car”. If he wanted to help me, he could have gotten my name and number and called if he got a nine-seat car on the lot.

Now, let’s consider some ways to help your clients know you are listening and understanding them.

One way to set the stage is to use a consultive approach to your sales process. Do lots of listening and ask questions. This will help you understand your clients and once they feel understood they will know you were listening to them.

To make this practical, we’ll discuss active listening. You’ve probably been introduced to active listening before. However, reminders are often helpful. Here are a couple points to keep in mind when talking with your clients.

As Stephen R. Covey pointed out, a powerful way to demonstrate you’re listening is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” When you seek to understand your clients, they will know you’ve been listening.

Active Listing In Action

You almost always filter what you hear through your own biases. Being aware of this is the first step you can take to listening to your clients. Stay open to the bigger picture your client may be trying to communicate.

Listen for the literal meaning, but then seek to understand the unstated meaning. Few people say what they really mean. If you only react to the literal meaning, you may end up missing the point.

Ask questions to help you better understand their situation, problem or need. Use questions that come from different angles to get to the root of the issue.

By using a consultive approach, you end up asking more questions. When you ask insightful questions, you help your client think more deeply about the issue. Your insightful questions help your client see you as a competent professional. You’ll be glad to know that competency is a key part of trust.

When you use questions to help your clients gain insights into their issue, you are building trust. Trust is a key component of a lasting relationship with a client. You know that and yet reminders are always helpful.

You can act on what you’ve heard by paraphrasing what you’re hearing and ask your client if you are understanding correctly. Also at the close of the conversation, summarize your understanding of their situation and ask them to clarify any point you may not have understood correctly.

  • During the conversation stay focused on your client. Give clues that you are listening like noting and saying things like, “I see, Interesting, Tell me more,” etc.
  • Keep lots of eye contact, but don’t overdo it. You’ll have to judge this on an individual basis.
  • Be sure you don’t interrupt your client unless it’s to clarify what they are saying.
  • Give them your full undivided attention.
  • Don’t just listen to what is being said but listen to how it’s being said. This will help you better understand their meaning. It will help you catch on to the real meaning. Remember most people don’t just come out and say what they mean. You have to take the time to help draw it out.
  • This should go without saying but unfortunately, sometimes the reminder is necessary. Don’t argue with your client. You won’t win them over. Your job is to listen to them. You’re investing in figuring out how you can help them or if they need something you don’t offer where they could find what they need. Remember the point is to put the client first. Help them get what they want.
  • Silence is okay. If your client needs time to think or you need time to think before continuing welcome the silence. Silence is a sign that you respect the importance of the conversation.
  • Remember the point is to listen. Make sure you give them the time and space to talk. Use questions to help keep the conversation going which will help you get a better understanding of your client.

In the end, your client should feel heard and understood. You will have accomplished this by putting their needs first. When you care about your clients, active listening will help you understand their situation.

If you aren’t familiar with using a consultive approach with your clients, it might seem odd at first. But if you put in the time, you’ll see the value of listening and being able to understand your clients’ needs.


Photo credit: It’s true. We’re suckers for old car photos. Thanks Julie Johnson.

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Trevor Wilson

Trevor Wilson

I love helping business owners who are passionate about making a positive difference in their clients' lives. I'm a passionate learner and teacher. My purpose is to help people live a more fulfilled life. In my professional life, I love helping business owners get clear on their purpose and identity. Then I help them clearly communicate their story so they can attract their ideal clients. I do this because I believe that when you work with your ideal clients you'll live a more fulfilled life.

Successful people do what everyone else won't dare to do. Don't wish it were easier; make yourself better.

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