Why Listening Is The Master Key To Sales Excellence

Tony Hughes


God gave us two ears and one mouth. Why is active listening the meta skillset, the most obvious one to leverage, yet the hardest to develop? Rackham always talks about how if you're listening most of the time, the deal is likely to close.

Is your sales call so valuable that your client would write a check for your visit? - Rackham

I would challenge you to speak only 25% of the time. Buy the book Power Questions by Andrew Sobel. Come to the meeting prepared with the Who, What, Where and especially starting with Why. It's all about the quality of your informed questions coupled with your ability to peel the onion back to the root problems. This is why I've often tongue in cheek, compared question-based selling to numbers based accounting. I would argue they are mutually exclusive, even an oxymoron.

I've often wondered if I sent in a green salesperson who was an extraordinarily 'present' listener into a highly charged sales setting with the brass muckety-mucks and just encouraged her to interview the client, if she would literally perform better than a seasoned rep looking to take the high horse pulpit.

Listening is a muscle, mentally and physically because it requires will power and self control; and it becomes stronger the more you use it. I think the crux of this is being present in the moment; being fully there as I describe it within the context of my RSVPselling methodology. Excellence in execution and being there fully round out the wheel for complex B2B selling that is Relationships - Strategy - Value creation - Process alignment. Recently, a manager who had read my book was subconsciously applying this method in coaching one of his reps.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. - Michaelangelo

Many would posit we were put on Earth to better ourselves in every way that we can. Sales is a game of infinite spirals where those that win, practice positive psychology to get in the 'flow' and then do the impossible - pulling revenue out of thin air. They make it look easy, what appears to be effortless mastery. The angel you are sculpting is really you, so if you were to look at 100 critical success factors that create the coveted sales eagle, mythical strategic selling Sphynx - listening would be the number one pick.

Master your ability to get to the root of problems, realizing that what clients mostly tell you at first, will be the symptoms masking the root problem.

We all recall the classic Dale Carnegie story where he takes the meeting, doesn't say a word and the executive later comments, 'You're the best conversationalist I've ever met!"

Brevity is the soul of wit. - Shakespeare


The best way to become a better listener is not to restrain yourself like Houdini but instead to work on the quality of your questions. SPIN is rife with great ideas as are books on consultative methods, as dismissed as consultative selling has become. Clients are intuitive and will sniff you out if you are disingenuous or do not truly care. There's been way too much emphasis placed on X or Y type of selling.

Relationships of trust, value creation, insight and interactive listening the entire way have always been the fundamentals. Even if the buyer is further along in the sales process, or we could argue the sales process has become a buying process, we must listen, 'seeking first to understand before attempting to be understood.' We now just have a leg up on our competition if they get lazy. We can listen before we even meet our dream prospects: to trigger events, to press releases, by reading an annual report and via myriad social platforms and filters.

Here's a formula that could double your income this year.

  1. Be fully there - present. (Cell phone off)
  2. Actually care. (Mean it!)
  3. Speak 25% of the time - only ask insight provoking questions. (The classic probing techniques only make them feel like it's an interrogation and will backfire!)


4. Show that you understand by asking a question to the corollary concept. (Peel the onion!)

5. Don't talk about yourself, your company, your product or solution... just focus on them.

6. Keep comfortable eye contact versus undressing them with your eyes...

I read many posts about whether or not sales executives should take notes. The bigger risk is missing the finer points of the problem which inhibits your ability to craft a more coherent solution. If this is Evernote, Moleskine or even recording the call on your iPhone, make the questions count. Go deeper than the next competitor because you will then be able to craft a proposal that sells to your customer in their own words. Collaborate with several meetings as you craft the value hypothesis and work to build a strong business case backed by hard numbers - conservative ROI estimates.

Insights are all the rage right now. There are 2 bestsellers on them! But how can an insight penetrate the account when your dream client can't get a word in edgewise. Collaboration is the great secret to the modern strategic sale. When we co-create the solution with multiple stakeholders we render ourselves indispensable as trusted advisors.


Whether you sell services, products or a SaaS blend, listening will separate you from the wolf pack of aggressive proposal pushers. The most confident data dumper, walking brochure can't touch a thoughtful introvert armed with insatiable curiosity.

Social selling also hinges upon listening and powerful questions - create content as your currency to speak to these questions - proactively. IMHO, 75% of what you share should be reflections on OPC, as Jill Rowley sagaciously calls it - Other People's Content. It's all about them, it always was and always will be. Any President's Club Winner who has been off to the islands many times will tell you that with Mai Tai in hand while between karaoke sessions.

BuzzSumo is a phenomenal tool for listening to trends to figure out what you're going to write about. Any type of Twitter filtration or listening technology is phenomenal too. I prefer to make lists of Savvy Tweeps in TweetDeck. In the Enterprise, a full blown scenario of Radian6 is fully worth it to allow brands to listen and respond with high levels of customer services, 24/7 on every continent.

Now it's your turn: What are your secrets to improving listening on calls, in face-to-face meetings and even board room presentations? What are some books and strategies you've found to improve the quality of questioning? Would you agree that collaboration is the new key to winning the enterprise sale? Which social listening tools do you use and in what ratio do you listen versus posting about yourself or your offering? - I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Ad as a bonus for reading all the way to the bottom of this post, here is the best sales training video ever made on how to really listen... Amy is masterful.



Tony Hughes is ranked as the #1 influencer on professional selling in Asia-Pacific and is a keynote speaker and best selling author. This article was originally published in LinkedIn where you can also follow Tony's award winning blog. Also visit Tony's keynote speaker website at www.TonyHughes.com.au or his sales methodology website at http://www.rsvpselling.com/.


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