Have you ever been with someone when they were not really there?

Have you ever been with someone when you were not really there?

If you reflect a while on these questions and you have had either experience you already know why listening to other people is a really tough thing to do.

Day one of any sales training programme will include a section on the importance of listening to the customers. When customers are talking they tell you about their needs and their preferences, if you are really listening you will be able to craft a a persuasive case for your product or service. Why then do so many people find it so hard to really listen to their customers.

Well here are some of the reasons that you are probably not really listening to your customers.

1 Warm Up, when we switch our attention from one thing to another the brain takes a few seconds to fully direct all it’s faculties on a new situation. This is why remembering names at parties is so tough. You are chatting to one person and your well meaning host introduces you to another. By the time that you have switched your focus to the new person they have said their name and you weren’t really listening. If you have ever experienced that twinge of embarrassment when you have to ask again for someones name (or worse tried to conduct a conversation without using their name) then you are experiencing a warm up failure. The same happens with the first calls of the day, (your brain is still processing all the baggage of your your journey into work) the first call after a meeting (still running over the details of the meeting) and when you pull your self away from a detailed piece of work.

2 Flare Up Have you ever been in a group discussion where the topic of the conversation ebbs, flows and shifts quickly. You wanted to make a point, a good point an important point, but just as you were about to open your mouth and deliver your opinion someone else jumps in with their own. What happens next is what we call flare up, your point flares up in your own mind, it is all you can think about, you are desperate to make your point and you don’t want to forget it. So your brain, obedient thing that it is, starts to ignore other stimuli so that you can focus your efforts on remembering your important point. When eventually you do blurt out your point there is an embarrassed silence, the conversation has moved on and you didn’t know it you weren’t there you were lost in your own thoughts.

The same happens in sales calls when we suddenly think of an important or relevant point that we want to make, but the customer is still talking, we stop listening for a while, all we can think of is our own point.

3 Assumptions We talk at a rate some where between 90 to 120 words per minute, but we think much faster, so when a customer is talking to us our brain is generally working faster than their mouth. We start to imagine how they will finish the sentence we start to make assumptions about what they are going to say and at our worse we put words in their mouth by finishing their sentances for them.

At school I remember an exercise that our teacher once did to demonstrate the point. She asked us a question, “The old testatment tells the story of how God became angry with man and sent a great flood to punish him for his sins, however God wanted to save the animals, so how many of each species of animal did Moses take on to the ark?

Of course the hands would fly up in the air, we knew the answer. Everyone, even the kids from other faith groups knew the answer, everyone knew that Noah lined the animals up two by two. But of course the answer was none because the question was about Moses (who didn’t build an ark or save any animals as far as we know). Every kid who said two was wrong, not because they didn’t know the story of Noah but because they didn’t listen to the question about Moses.

How often do you stop listening to customers because you “know” what what they are going to say?

4 Wandering Mind: The attention span of the average human being is woefully short, after only a few minutes the sub conscious part of our brain starts to get bored and entertains itself by playing videos from the past or creating possible scenes from the future. It does this all the time, the ability to remember and to imagine in vivid detail is one of the skills that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom but sometimes it gets in the way of us really focusing on the people around us. When someone is described as being lost in their own world they are focusing their attention inwardly rather than externally. We start to do this the moment that we get bored, confused or distracted. If your attention switches from the the external world (your customer) to the internal world ( your personal youtube channel) you are failing to listen.

5 Prejudice: We all hold opinions about other people, we like some people more than we like others,we have views on their jobs, their working methodologies and their capabilities. If you find yourself having an internal conversation about a customer during your sales call you are simply not listening to them.

If you ever wondered what gives someone real presence on a call or in a meeting, what makes them memorable and engaging, well the secret to having presence is simply this; Be Present. Don’t go anywhere else in your mind catch your self before you drift into an internal dialogue, and you will notice that your customers will talk more and share more just because you are present. This is one of those sales hacks that is simple in theory but needs a practice and discipline to master. It’s important because you may only get one chance to listen to a customers needs.