Use Active Listening to Help Close a Sale

Listening is an undervalued sales tool

Woman in job presentation
Getty Images

The stereotypical salesperson talks all the time, but if that’s how you sell, you’re missing out on significant opportunities. A commonly-heard bit of sales advice is, "You have two ears and one mouth—you should be using them in that proportion." In other words, spend twice as much time listening as talking during a sales situation.

Throughout the sales cycle, prospects will drop clues as to what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling about you and your products or services.

In other words, they’re telling you what they like and dislike and what’s important to them. This is precisely the information you need to close the sale, so if you don’t pay attention, you’ll have to work a lot harder to make the sale.

Practice Active Listening

Few people (and fewer salespeople) are naturally good listeners. It will probably take significant time and effort on your part to break the bad listening habits you’ve developed. Once you do so, you’ll find the rewards are equally significant.

Active listening is an ideal technique for salespeople. Techniques for active listening include:

  • attending to the speaker without thinking about your own response
  • nodding, making eye contact, or otherwise affirming that you are listening
  • asking open-ended questions to elicit more information
  • asking specific questions to clarify your understanding
  • watching body language to determine the speaker's emotional state and underlying meaning
  • paraphrasing the speaker's ideas to be sure you understood correctly

Using active listening with a prospect accomplishes two things. First, you will fully understand what the prospect has told you and you can use those clues to successfully close the sale. Second, you’ll be demonstrating respect for your prospect, which gives you a huge boost in the rapport-building department.

One of the most common barriers to good listening occurs when you hear something interesting and immediately start framing a reply or planning what you’ll do about what you’ve just heard. Of course, while you’re thinking about what the other person has said, you’re now tuning out the rest of what they’re saying. One trick to keep your mind on the speaker is to mentally echo what they’re saying as they say it.

Pay Attention to Body Language

When someone else is speaking, try to listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Body language is as important to conveying meaning as spoken language, so if you listen but don’t look you’ll miss half the message. Eye contact also lets the speaker know that you’re paying attention.

Summarize What the Person Said

Once the speaker has finished talking, briefly summarize what they’ve said. For example, you might say “It sounds like you are happy with your current model, but you wish it were a little smaller because you have limited available workspace.” That shows the speaker that you were listening, and also gives them a chance to correct any misunderstandings right away. Summarizing the speaker’s meaning will also tend to draw out more details (“Yes, and I’d also like it in red…”) that can help you tailor your pitch more effectively.

Know How to Respond to Concerns

Finally, if you have questions or comments try to present them in a non-confrontational way, affirming your client's concerns. For example, if a prospect says “I don’t see why you can’t deliver by Tuesday—that’s a whole week away!” you might say something like, “I know that not getting the delivery right away is frustrating, but we have a strict quality control and inspection process that we follow to make sure that you get top-quality equipment.”