Sales Skills

Five Traits of Active Listening

A high-performing sales leader recently told Beyond Insurance that active listening skills have transformed her team and created “astounding success” with clients.  She said, “We used to brag to the prospective customers that we had a robust tool kit of capabilities and solutions.  We never took the time to first allow the prospect to tell our team their key issues and needs.  In other words, we never practiced a thoughtful discovery process.  Now we’re only talking 15-20 percent of the time, and our prospects are leaving the meeting feeling ‘heard.’”

As a producer, active listening is one of the most important skills you can develop.  When you become a better listener, you will improve your new business hit ratio, productivity, and your ability to influence others.  Additionally, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings.

Why do most people have trouble listening more than talking?

Their thought speed is greater than their speaking speed.  Most people speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute.  Yet we have the mental ability to understand someone speaking at 400 words per minute.  That means that when we listen to the average speaker, we are only using 25 percent of our mental capacity.  That leaves 75 percent to do something else with – and our minds begin to wander.  If you do not listen carefully and concentrate, your minds – and your prospects’ minds – may turn to other ideas.

The process called active listening involves giving your full attention to the client or prospect, then summarizing or reflecting upon what you have heard without evaluating or interpreting.  This lets your prospect clarify his or her wants, needs, or pain points more fully.  As a result, you are better positioned to prescribe a treatment and solution for the prospect’s risk issues.

The five key traits of active listening are:

  1. Paying full attention. Give the prospect or client your undivided attention – without looking at your watch, cell phone, or other device.  Acknowledge that you have heard the message.
  2. Showing that you’re listening through body language and gestures. Nod or smile at appropriate moments.  Encourage the client or prospect to continue by making small verbal comments, such as “yes” or “uh-huh.”
  3. Providing feedback about their problem or pain. As a listener, your role is to understand what they are saying.  You may need to reflect back what you heard or ask questions to clarify certain points.
  4. Avoiding interruptions. Interrupting your prospect or client is a waste of time and extremely frustrating.  Let them finish their point before you ask any questions.
  5. Responding appropriately. Once you’ve gained information about the individual’s needs, wants, and pain points, reflect your understanding by summarizing what you have learned.  Then, and only then, should you offer your solutions.

When you are deliberate in your listening and truly hear what your prospects and clients are saying, you’ll discover that people enjoy interacting with you more and that you have a greater influence on them.  When your prospects and clients feel that you are actively listening to them, they are more likely to trust, have greater satisfaction, and be more likely to do future business with you.

Two ears and only one mouth – are you listening?