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How listeners can increase customer satisfaction and sales

The advantages to being ‘all ears’

Instead of asking prospects questions and listening, many salespeople describe their products or services and overcome prospects' objections. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Instead of asking prospects questions and listening, many salespeople describe their products or services and overcome prospects' objections. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Naturally talkative people are fun, engaging, colorful and expressive, and we love to listen to them describe events and tell stories.

Often, people tell them they should be in sales. And, yes, they should, but don't discount the listeners, especially in the analytical world of insurance.

What's the difference between talkers and listeners? Talkers give more information than they get and it's important for them to say everything they have to say. Listeners will take in information without looking for their turn to talk. When it is their turn, they use the information received to craft a concise, logical reply.

Listening elicits goodwill from the recipients, and effective listening allows successful producers to gather information — crucial to closing the sale — that dominant conversationalists might miss.

But wait: Aren't the best producers aggressive personalities who need to win?

Yes. Research from behavioral consultant assessment firm Omnia Group shows that reliably consistent producers can be distinguished from the fakers by their need to win and their ability to ask for the close. Assertiveness is not directly tied to the talker/listener predisposition. However, a producer who's too aggressive and too focused on “winning” — even at the customer's expense — will turn many customers off and struggle to earn repeat business. Successful producers certainly do want to win. Successful producers are some of the most driven and accomplished individuals around. But consultative producers, those that listen first, simply use a different style than the “classic” presenter sales personality to reach their goals.

What listeners do differently


A key component of consultative communication is asking questions and expressing a willingness to accept input from others. Although this type of communication might seem counterintuitive to good salesmanship, it turns out that consultative communication actually builds credibility in the four domains of influence: presenting, selling, persuading and negotiating.

1. Listeners leave the pitch for last: Listeners don't lead with a pitch. They lead with questions to uncover needs. When a listener approaches a potential customer, he or she doesn't immediately jump in with an authoritative proposal about how XYZ product will enhance the customer's life. This type of sale focuses on listing features and benefits. Instead, listeners make inquiries, which focuses on translating product features into specific customer benefits. At Omnia, we call this the “inquisitive sales personality.”

For example, let's say a customer calls about a home insurance policy. A consultative insurance agent might ask the customer:

    • How old is your home?
    • How long have your owned your home?
    • How long do you intend to live in your home?
    • Do you have a home-based business?
    • Are you planning any major home repairs in the near future?
    • Do you collect any valuables, such as antique furniture, paintings, jewelry, or pottery?

And so on. Only after gathering information about what the customer needs and wants does the consultative (listener) producer make a pitch.

It might sound like Sales 101, but research shows that many salespeople are either unfamiliar with the strategy or lack the training to effectively use questioning techniques. Instead of asking questions and listening, they begin by describing their products/services and overcoming objections. This approach works much of the time, but it isn't as successful as what listeners do.

2. Listeners focus on service, not selling: Listeners believe they have something of value to offer customers and focus on providing that thing of value, not selling the customer something for the seller's benefit. Of course, producers want to sell, and sell a lot, but they focus more on the customers’ wants, and it pays off.

3. Listeners solve customers’ problems: At Omnia we call this the “problem-solving sales personality.” He or she is logical, analytical, socially reserved, and can focus on details without losing sight of the big picture.

Because these listeners are motivated to understand others’ needs and are not just focused on self-interests, they’re better at following through on customer concerns, which leads to more sales.

Related: 50 of the most innovative sales ideas

Many salespeople are either unfamiliar with a listening strategy or lack the training to effectively use questioning techniques. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Spotting a fake during hiring

Considering how listeners can increase sales, you’d probably like to make sure your next hire qualifies as one. Although many talkers will out themselves during the interview process with their exuberant, dominant communication style, others have learned to present like listeners in an interview while being nothing of the sort.

Behavioral assessments can tell you, first and foremost, if you have an assertive competitor. Second, they offer helpful insight into a candidate's listener or talker temperament through questions designed to draw out common traits of listeners such as analytical curiosity, a troubleshooting disposition and social reserve.

References can be key as well. Employers often fixate on the recommendation of former managers during reference checks, but talkers are notoriously talented at “kissing up and kicking down.” That’s why it’s good to speak with former subordinates and peers. A pattern of treating superiors well but subordinates and peers less so is likely cause for more questions.

Adopt a listener mentality

Despite the hundreds of thousands of dedicated salespeople helping their customers every day, overall the profession does not enjoy a good reputation. A 2015 Gallup poll rated telemarketers and car salespeople as among the lowest in honesty/ethics. What that means for individual salespeople, unfortunately, is that many potential customers are already predisposed to distrust whatever it is the salesperson was planning to say.

Now imagine disarming that customer by leading not with a pushy pitch, but instead questions that demonstrate interest in serving the customer and solving his or her problem first and selling second. This approach will lead to more sales and more satisfied customers.

Carletta Clyatt is senior vice president of the Tampa, Florida-based Omnia Group, a behavioral consultant assessment firm. Email her at carletta@omniagroup.com.

Related: What the sales experts won't tell you: You're being too stubborn 

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