Listen up! How we can listen better to win more business
“Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships”
And yet research shows that we only hear 25 to 50% of all that is said to us in conversation.*
What if that conversation is with a client or prospective client? Are you hearing the important bits? What if you’re not? Could you be losing out on client relationships before they even get started?
To become a more effective, active listener in conversations with clients, here are some techniques new business practitioner Catherine Allison recently explored with Lucy Mann of Gunpowder Consulting in the latest Small Spark Theory podcast. Simple steps which you can put into practice to help win more business:
1. Pay attention
How many of us are guilty of spending the time we should be listening, actually thinking about what we’re going to say next? Learning to give the speaker your undivided attention, is key to developing your listening skills. And when it comes to those early client conversations, it’s at the core of really getting to the heart of the issues they are facing. It’s also fundamental to building trust and ensuring your opinions hold weight and gravitas further down the line.
To actively listen and pay attention, put the focus wholly on the speaker and acknowledge what they’re saying through non-verbal communication. Make sure you:
- Look at them directly
- Make eye contact
- Put aside distracting thoughts and don’t be distracted by things going on around you
- Avoid constantly thinking about what you’re going to say next.
Note taking is important, so allocate one person to take notes and one person to ask questions. This allows the latter to truly listen to the answers so they can then ask pertinent, well-thought through questions off the back of these.
2. Show that you're listening
There are things we can do to show we’re actively listening. It may seem obvious, but something a lot of people actually struggle with is maintaining eye contact when listening.
Eye contact affirms to someone that you are listening to them. And importantly – especially in new business scenarios – it forms a much stronger bond with the speaker, develops trust and builds rapport.
Other techniques to show you are listening include things like nodding occasionally, smiling, subtly raising your eye brows and making sure your posture is genuine and open. Don’t fake or overdo these though – it will show! Inauthenticity erodes trust and respect. But if you’re paying full attention to the speaker, this type of body language should come naturally.
3. Constantly summarise back
Paraphrasing back to the client what they’ve just told you is hugely valuable and a great skill to develop. This can be done by saying something like “What you’ve just said, if I understand it correctly, is that you need x, y and z”. This gives the client the chance to confirm that you have understood them correctly, or to reclarify, or to contribute more if they feel there is something more to add.
Don’t be afraid to repeatedly paraphrase and ask for clarification. You’ll find you’ll get a real understanding of what it is they want from you as an agency and they’ll trust that you have a firm grasp of their issues.
4. Defer judgement
Interrupting someone when they are speaking is a waste of time, but again it’s another poor listening habit a lot of us are guilty of, without even realising we’re doing it.
Interruption is often fuelled by our desperation to get our point across/judge/disagree with what is being said. But it frustrates the speaker and limits your understanding of what they’re trying to say to you. Make sure you allow the client to finish making their point.
When you do respond, respond appropriately. It’s about being candid, honest and open in your response and asserting your own opinions respectfully. Make clear that you believe their opinion – although perhaps different to yours – is as valid as your own. And be on ‘receive’ rather than ‘broadcast mode’, remembering that big egos have little ears!
Check yourself before speaking. Is what you are about to say coming from the ‘listen to me’ ego or from your better ‘higher-self’? The former has little to offer whilst the latter has much more to contribute in a positive way to the conversation. It’s important to know the difference. Does what you have to say truly add value? If it does, speak. If it doesn’t, enjoy the silence. Pauses are powerful.
5. Ask the right questions
Active listening combined with asking the right questions is a potent combination. Be aware though that our questions will never uncover everything, so give the client the chance to help. A great way to do this is by rounding-off a meeting with a prospective client by asking one last question: “What other questions should I be asking you?” Then break eye contact, move your glance away to show you are thinking of more questions; sit tight and silent and wait.
This opens the door to the client sharing valuable insights that might otherwise have gone unaired. And importantly, because you’ll be paying full attention to their response, they’ll feel like they’ve been truly listened to.
Lucy Mann of Gunpowder Consulting and Catherine Allison of Master the Art are accredited members of the DBA Experts Register.
Lucy helps agencies optimise their new business performance. More about Lucy Mann.
Catherine provides bespoke presentation and communication skills training to help agencies win more business. More about Catherine Allison.
This article is an edited extract from Episode 33 of the Small Spark Theory Podcasts which talks specifically about listening – the benefits of active listening and some simple steps to make sure we are all making the most of our conversations, either with new business prospects, our existing clients, even out teams.
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*Study done by the University of Minnesota in the 1950s
“For several years we have been testing the ability of people to understand and remember what they hear. At the University of Minnesota we examined the listening ability of several thousand students and of hundreds of business and professional people. In each case the person tested listened to short talks by faculty members and was examined for his grasp of the content. These extensive tests led us to this general conclusion: immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, he remembers only about half of what he has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.
What happens as time passes? Our own testing shows—and it has been substantiated by reports of research at Florida State University and Michigan State University — that two months after listening to a talk, the average listener will remember only about 25% of what was said. In fact, after we have barely learned something, we tend to forget from one-half to one-third of it within eight hours; it is startling to realize that frequently we forget more in this first short interval than we do in the next six months.”