Top salespeople listen as much (not more) than they talk — about 50% instead of the 65-75% average, according to Gong’s analysis of 25,537 sales conversations.
But, believe it or not, not all listening is created equal. In fact, there are multiple types of listening, or listening styles, that can impact the way your conversation moves, through subtle nuances and your own listening approach.
The article covers all seven (yes, there are seven) listening types and explain how they can help you in sales. While you might choose to simply listen without thinking about how you’re doing it, being cognizant of these different styles can help you get a bit of an edge, and bring you one step closer to another signed deal.
Here are the seven listening styles and how to use them in sales:
1. Informational listening
Informational listening is a type of listening that focuses less on the emotional content of what is being discussed and more on the critical thinking and logic of what’s being communicated. We use informational listening when we try to learn something new (and important), and it requires a high degree of concentration and focus to understand.
Sales reps should use this type of listening when the prospect is explaining the complicated nuances of their particular situation, or when they (the sales rep) is learning about their own products. Focused listening can be difficult, but sometimes, it’s vitally important.
2. Discriminative listening
This is the most basic type of listening we learn as infants. Discriminative listening relies on tone and other subtleties of sound to understand the person’s meaning (and intention).
Imagine listening to people speak in a language that you don’t understand. You would have to use their tone and body language to determine what they’re saying.
Sales reps can use discriminative listening to pick up on people’s true feelings. Maybe somebody seems dejected when talking about a specific topic. If so, this might be a place you can help solve their problem and earn their business. Use discriminative listening whenever possible — it’s basic but it’s important.
3. Comprehensive listening
After discriminative listening, comprehensive listening is the second type of listening most of us learn in early childhood. This type of listening requires basic language and vocabulary skills to take in what is being communicated. It’s the type of listening most of us rely on in our day to day lives.
Salespeople should make comprehensive listening the “bare minimum” requirement for their interactions with prospects. Give the prospect time to speak, don’t interrupt, and make sure you leave the door open to letting them communicate everything they’d like to get across.
4. Biased listening
Biased listening is a type of listening when the listener is only paying attention (or hearing) the information they want to hear. Rather than taking in what the recipient is saying, someone who is practicing biased listening is merely projecting what they want onto the speaker’s words. Salespeople should avoid this type of listening as it can cause serious miscommunications, and create a rift between the prospect and salesperson.
As sales reps, we need to figure out the prospect’s needs and problems, then come up with a solution, rather than hearing what we want to hear and trying to force a solution they didn’t ask for.
5. Critical listening
Critical listening is used when trying to evaluate or “judge” complicated information that is being conveyed. It requires that the listener not only absorb the information, but also evaluate it in order to come to a decision.
Salespeople should have their critical listening ears open at all times. Depending on what the prospect says, it will be incumbent on them to propose a custom-tailored solution. That is to say: listening on its own is never enough — sales reps must process the information, and always be prepared to offer a well thought out response.
6. Sympathetic listening
All salespeople should know how to be sympathetic listeners. Sympathetic listening is an emotionally-driven type of listening, where the listener processes the feelings of a speaker and provides support and understanding.
This type of listening can deepen the relationship between the speaker and the listener, which is why it’s so helpful for salespeople, who are always looking to strengthen the bond with their customers and prospects. While you never want to infantilize the prospect, or treat them like they’re your children, becoming a better sympathetic listener can definitely help you become a better sales rep.
7. Empathetic listening
Empathetic listening takes sympathetic listening one step further, by having the listener literally imagine themselves in the speaker’s (or, in a sales rep’s case, the prospect’s) shoes.
Without a doubt, sales reps need to master this type of listening. It gives them the best shot at truly understanding what the prospect is going through, and allows them to tailor their message and offering accordingly, increasing the chances of a closed deal. If you can truly take yourself out of the equation and empathize with the prospect directly, then the likelihood of your pitch resonating with the prospect is quite high, which is what every sales always rep strives for.
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