May 31

Catch a Cue: The Actor’s Secret to Better Listening in Sales


A lot of what acting is, is paying attention. ~ Robert Redford

Just between you and me: Have you ever  jumped in to finish a customer’s sentence because you thought you knew what he was going to say? How about rushing in to address an objection before it’s even fully out of a customer’s mouth?  Have you ever started calculating commission during a conversation that’s going particularly well?  Read on:  These tips for more effective listening in sales are for you!

In his book Spin Selling, Neil Rackham proposed that good sellers were not necessarily the best talkers, but instead they were often the best listeners. We all know listening is a critical quality for sales success yet it’s so easy to slip into bad habits or take shortcuts when it comes to listening.

Listening shortcuts

Shortcuts like selective listening (responding to what we expect to hear) or partial listening (dipping in and out of a conversation) keep us from discovering what might be new or unique about each new prospect. In our haste to tell our story, sometimes salespeople talk over their clients or, equally as bad, approach listening as the act of “waiting to speak.” Good listening is active. It involves more of your senses than just hearing. The great actress and teacher, Uta Hagen calls it: “listening with your entire being.” (Find your listening style here.)

Picking up cues

The difference between real or “active” listening and “waiting to speak” is best illustrated on stage where an actor’s performance is dependent upon picking up and reacting to cues. A cue is typically another actor’s line, word or sentence fragment which cues the actor’s response. Amateur actors often just memorize the “cue” word or line and then rush to say their lines without really “hearing” what the other actor is saying to them. The result is often painful for the actor’s scene partner and the audience.

Missed cues

Missed cues, like a client tapping her fingers or having a sudden change of expression during your presentation, can result in miscommunication and missed sales. Sellers can also become so focused on listening for common buyer “cues” that they don’t take in the full meaning of what is being said to them. The dangers of selective listening are many: What if your prospect doesn’t give you the cue you’re expecting? What if the cue is non-verbal? What if you aren’t paying attention and miss your cue entirely? Your prospect might re-state his response if it’s obvious you’ve missed the point. Then again, he might just check out and give his business to someone who he feels is making a real effort to not just listen, but to hear.

You can avoid this from happening to you by practicing active listening skills.

What is active listening?

Active listening requires slowing down and processing what the other person has said before throwing out our lines. Active listening is compelling to watch. Some of film’s greatest moments are when an actor is simply listening. The 2006 Best Foreign Language Academy Award winner, The Lives of Others is a great example of this. Actor Ulrich Mühe plays a Stasi officer in 1984 East Berlin assigned to spy on fellow German citizens by listening to wiretaps that have been placed in their apartment. Scene after scene shows him at his desk listening to private conversations between a couple to whom, simply by listening, he becomes indelibly connected. He is captivated and therefore captivating.

So how do you make sure you’re actively listening?

Active listening tips:

• Turn off your filter. Don’t anticipate, project or interrupt.
• Stay present for the entire response–even if you think you’ve heard it before. Listen for new information.
• Don’t tune out the negative or assume a “false positive” because you really need the sale.
• Listen to not only what is said, but how it’s said.
• Listen to the whole package. If words seem incongruent with body language or facial expressions, check it out.

Active listening can open us up to new opportunities and insights that may not have otherwise become apparent to us. And as a salesperson, the more you focus on listening, the more you’ll start hearing the word “yes!”

photo credit: Public Citizen via photopin cc


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