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Has this ever happened to you? You’re in discussion with a prospect about the possibility of working together. The meeting is going well. You’re working your way all through the questions you know you’re supposed to ask at this stage. You’re paying close attention; you’re taking notes. One of the questions you ask strikes a nerve with the person you’re talking to. Suddenly the floodgates open, and you find yourself listening to a detailed, fully expressed, fully engaged answer -- one where the prospect really opens up to you. The prospect keeps talking. And talking. You take lots of notes. Once the prospect is finished, you nod and ask the next question on your list.

And for some reason, the rapport between you and the prospect now seems weaker, not stronger.

This strikes you as odd, because you’ve always been told that it’s good when the prospect does most of the talking. Yet in addressing your next question, the prospect seems more distant and aloof, and the meeting starts to lose momentum. By the end of your discussion, you feel like you’ve actually lost ground with this person.

What happened?

That moment when the prospect opened up to you was an opportunity to connect -- and you missed that opportunity, because you started thinking about the next question you wanted to ask, instead of validating what you’d just heard.

When we communicate, we have an innate need to be acknowledged and understood. When you are engaged in a conversation, it’s important to let the other party know that you are not only listening, but that you understand what he or she is saying. How do you do that? One way is to acknowledge the person speaking and signify your understanding by simply nodding your head or saying something like, “I see,” “OK,” or “That makes sense” each time they make a point. A further step you can take to make sure that you fully understand what the speaker is saying (and to let them know that you understand) is to listen actively.

Active listening is the process of reflecting back to the speaker the message you just heard in order to confirm or correct your understanding. It can be accomplished by summarizing the speaker’s message and asking for confirmation or clarification as needed.

Active listening not only facilitates effective communications, but it also enhances rapport!

Here’s an example.

Salesperson: “What’s the most important goal for you personally this quarter?”

Prospect: “Minimizing equipment downtime is our primary goal. When we have to take equipment offline for maintenance, it does more than just disrupt the production schedule. Raw material inventories start to back up at our warehouse facilities, and I have warehouse managers complaining. And if the line is down for any length of time, our ability to fill orders is negatively impacted and then I have the VP of Sales breathing down my neck.

Salesperson: “So, your primary goal is to minimize equipment downtime so you don’t disrupt the production schedule and negatively impact your ability to fill orders. And that will stop the warehouse managers from complaining about inventory backups and also keep the VP of Sales from breathing down your neck. Did I miss anything?”

Your summary may incorporate the speaker’s exact phrases and statements, or you can paraphrase them. It’s up to you.

Whenever a prospect shares something that seems important with you during a sales interview, try the active listening technique. You’ll sustain the momentum of your meeting, improve your rapport with the prospect, and close more sales.


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