You’ve Got 2 Ears But Only 1 Mouth – How Come?

Really listening with care, curiosity and empathy is something we’re not very good at.

(By the way ’empathy’ in sales is defined as “putting yourself in the customer’s shoes” – the first rule of which is TAKE YOUR OWN OFF FIRST!

So get rid of your assumptions because to ASSUME makes an ASS of U and ME.)

Listening skills are one of the most important sales techniques because one of the most valuable rewards of listening is the ability to learn something we might not know.

And minimising, or even better eliminating, uncertainty in the sales process is one of the major keys to a successful sale.

Good listening, or Active Listening as we call it in selling, is a skill, and like your golf swing or tennis forehand or pool cue action the right technique can be learnt and practised until it becomes second nature.

Bad At Listening? Is This You?

Poor listeners are good interrupters, a sure sign that they’re not prepared to hear the other party out, have jumped to conclusions, and are more interested in pursuing their own agenda.

They find it difficult to park their own outcomes and desires (like the salesperson too focused on winning the order or thinking about their next appointment?), their automatic pilot keeping them on the course of their own self-interest, what’s in it for them.

And even if they look like they might be listening (simply because they’re not talking), in fact they’re too busy calculating what they’re going to say next to be paying attention.

Unskilled listeners tend to be in one of two modes:

Information dumping (like the salesman spewing out Features).

Or argument seeking – like a missile waiting to launch at the first sign that you disagree with them.

Clearly in sales we need to avoid both these modes.

How Good Listeners Use Their Eyes

A good listener is attentive on more than one level.

Not just HEARING the words and making sense of them,

but also TUNING IN to the tone of voice,

as well as WATCHING the non-verbal signals and noticing nuances in posture and gestures.

The skilled listener-salesperson is monitoring all this simultaneously and checking congruency in words, tone, posture and gestures.

To what extent are the visual signals matching the audio?

Any incongruencies (for example apparently agreeing with you but at the same time sitting back and folding arms) are logged and either tested immediately or revisited later.

Why Active Listening Is Not Enough

We have to demonstrate that we’re listening.

And the first sign that we’re listening is that we’re NOT TALKING!

So, the VERY first thing we do when we’ve asked one of our Open Questions is quite simply to


Why Silence Is Golden In Selling

Counter intuitive, right?

But let’s think about it. If you’ve just asked your customer a powerful, thought-provoking question about their business, what are they going to be doing next?

That’s right, THINKING ABOUT IT!

So what’s the WORST THING that you can do during this silence?

You’ve got it – start speaking again.

Now the problem is that as social animals we don’t like the vacuum of silence and we have an irresistible urge to fill it. 5 seconds can seem like a lifetime of toe-curling embarrassment.

This is an urge the salesperson must learn to resist.

Silence in the sales meeting truly is golden. Please allow the customer the courtesy of filling it.

Active Listening Mode – What To Look Out For

During this period remember you’re in Active Listening mode, so you’re on the lookout for non-verbal signals.

And when the customer eventually replies to your question not only are you listening to the content, but you’re also maintaining appropriate eye-contact and giving encouraging feedback like nodding, and all those small grunts and noises we make like “Uh-huh”, “Yuh”, “OK!”, to demonstrate that you’re listening.

(Click for more on Body Language And Sales)

When you’re clarifying your understanding by reflecting back what the customer has said DON’T PARAPHRASE INTO YOUR OWN LANGUAGE. If you do that you’re subconsciously saying “We’re not on the same wavelength”.

So echo the exact words and phrases a customer commonly uses, but don’t finish their sentences for them!

Always check you understand what the customer means; your view and their view will probably be different. Use your Open Questions to do this.

Listen carefully for:


‘better’, ‘more’, ‘faster’, ‘cheaper’ etc.

Best to find out what that means to the customer; you’ll probably also help them quantify it.


“Your competitors are better value, and our customers are more price conscious, and demanding better quality from us.”

Which competitors? What does value mean? What level of quality?


‘never’, ‘always’, ‘everyone’, ‘no one’.

When you hear one never let it go, always question it: every absolute has an exception (including this one!)

Apparent Rules:

‘must’, ‘should’, ‘can’t’, ‘have to’.

Who says? What if they’re broken?

Questioning and Listening skills are the beating heart of your salescraft. If you learn and practice just these two sales techniques you’ll be way ahead of most of your competitors.

You should be listening twice as much as talking in your sales meetings – it’s easy to remember:

You’ve got 2 ears and 1 mouth, so USE THEM IN THAT PROPORTION!