Do you know why it’s so important to listen to your clients and prospects? For starters, consciously listening is the best way to uncover your client’s needs, and understand their pain points. This level of understanding helps you sell your services and be a better closer, since comprehending your client’s needs is fundamental to your sales pitch.
When you listen to your clients, they’ll feel respected, heard, and understood. This makes them feel more at ease with you and more open to your suggestions.
Have you ever heard the saying, “You were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason”? This expression, which can be traced back to Epictetus, the wise Greek philosopher, means that we should listen twice as much as we speak. After all, the act of listening strengthens a bond much more effectively than speaking.
The ability to listen to your clients isn’t as easy as it sounds, however. It’s undeniable that a consultant or salesperson requires excellent communication skills in order to be successful. One of the most difficult communication skills is the skill ofactive listening. If you think it’s easy to listen to your clients, then you’re probably not really listening to them, or you’re only listening passively.
It’s also possible that you’re focusing on their words, while ignoring their body language. Actively listening means you’re paying attention not just to their verbal communication, but to their non-verbal cues, as well.
Active listening is difficult because it requires focus, concentration, and being present in the moment so that your prospect knows you’re engaged and paying attention. Active listening is the only way to fully understand and empathize with your prospects.
Why is it that you can sometimes listen to your clients for hours, yet they still don’t feel heard? Probably because you were not listening actively, or you failed to hear what they werenot saying.
When speaking with a client, what does it mean to hear what they’re not saying? Well, when a client speaks to you, they’re giving you more information than you might be aware of. You can hear what they’renot saying by taking note of more than just the words they’re verbalizing. As I mentioned earlier, additional information might be hidden in their facial expressions, inflection, tone of voice and body language.
There may even be unspoken fears or desires that you’ll be able to detect if you’re paying close enough attention.
Remember that there’s a big difference between hearing your client speak, and listening to your client speak. Hearing is when you physically hear their words, as the sound of your client’s voice hits your eardrums. Hearing is a passive activity because your brain doesn’t need to be actively engaged in order to hear sounds. Listening, however, requires your brain to be active. The act of listening requires you to be engaged and focused on the words your client is speaking.
You can also hear what they’re not saying by learning how to read people. If you’re communicating with clients on a video call, using Skype or Zoom, for example, you’ll be able to see their facial expressions and their body language. If you know how to read people, it means you can get additional information about someone, without them telling you, simply by picking up on certain non-verbal indicators. These non-verbal indicators help you get a feel for who they are and what they truly want.
Did you know that over 50% of communication is non-verbal? Research from Professor Albert Mehrabian, the author ofSilent Messages, found that only 7% of communication is verbal. 38% of communication is paraverbal (meaning tone of voice and intonation) and 55% of communication is non-verbal (such as body language and eye movement).
Some people are good at paying attention to the words coming out of someone’s mouth, but forget to take notice of body language and tone of voice. Since only 7% of communication is verbal, you’re essentially only getting 7% of the information from your client if you listen to their spoken words only.
If you become naturally good at reading people, your potential to succeed will soar to new heights. Reading people means that you don’t just listen to your clients, you also read their body language and non-verbal cues.
From eye movement, facial expressions, and head position to tone of voice and inflection, the things peopledon't say can still convey mountains of information.
"Over 50% of communication is non-verbal. Someone’s body language can often reveal more about them than their spoken words."
- Dan Lok
We’re going to discuss body language and non-verbal cues soon, but first, let’s go over how listening improves client relationships and builds trust.
When a client feels listened to, it builds trust, loyalty, and a stronger relationship between the two of you. A solid relationship with your client can result in a higher level of trust, more sales, word-of-mouth referrals, and valuable client testimonials.
It goes without saying that if you want to sell your product or service to a client, your client first has to trust you. But why does listening to your clients help you gain their trust?
First of all, listening is a sign of respect. If, for example, you’re a consultant with a high hourly rate, your clients are going to expect your full attention if they’re paying your high fees. Actively listening demonstrates that you respect them.
Furthermore, active listening builds rapport, which fosters trust and helps you build a stronger relationship with your client. When your client feels confident that you’re truly listening to them, they’re better able to trust that you’re on the same page.
If your prospect has invested a lot of time explaining their problems to you, and explaining their business goals, they’ll now feel heard and understood.
Your prospects will often be much more open to hearing your proposal if you’ve taken the time to hear them out, first. l
Speaking of needs, how can you utilize the skill of active listening to uncover someone’s pain points and deepest desires?
Any expert closer or professional salesperson knows how much of an advantage it is to fully understand a client’s needs. This kind of clarity allows you to tailor your proposal to address the specific pain points of your clients thereby increasing sales. Why? Because your proposals will be based on what theytruly need and want, rather than what youassume they need and want. Why assume you know what they need, when you could instead listen to your clients andunderstand what they need?
Notice that the goal was not to “know” what your clients need, but to “understand”. The reason this distinction is essential is that amongst the needs of your clientsis to be listened toand understood.
Dr. Ralph Nichols, often referred to as the “Father of Listening”, completed a Ph.D. dissertation on listening behavior and was a pioneer in the field. Dr. Nichols once said, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”
Mankind’s ongoing need to feel understood is eternal. This means that deep down, your client has a desperate desire to feel understood. You can meet this need by listening to them from an attentive and supportive standpoint.
When you listen to your clients and you give them that space to open up, you can get under the surface and delve into the root of their problems.
In general, if you make a conscious effort to listen to your customers, and you put in the extra effort to try to hear what they’renot saying, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what they’re searching for.
Are you familiar with the Socratic questioning method? It’s a clever strategy that encourages the other party to do most of the talking so that they self-realize their needs. When a decision comes from a place of self-realization, it’s much more powerful than being told what to do.
Over 2,500 years ago, the acclaimed Greek philosopher Socrates implemented the strategy of using open-ended questions to help his students solve complex problems, develop new ideas, and come to their own conclusions.
So, how can you implement this method? By letting your client do most of the talking, and encouraging them to do so by asking open-ended questions and listening intently, they may come to their own conclusion that they need your services. Since nobody likes to be sold to, you’re in a better position to close the deal if your prospect comes to the decision to buy on their own.
By using the Socratic questioning method, you’re supporting your clients while they put their problems into their own words. They’ll verbalize their challenges and realize their core needs along the way. You’ll just conveniently be on the other end of the line, when they realize they want your services.
Interpreting what your client is saying requires even more effort than active listening, as interpreting is a form of critical listening.
Interpretation is when you derive meaning from your client’s words, inflection, tone, body language and facial expressions while also uncovering the deeper issues behind the surface-level issues.
Interpreting verbal communication along with non-verbal communication requires an empathic level of sensitivity. For example, let’s say your prospect is speaking to you about needing help shifting their business to more of an online operation. Are you sensitive enough to pick up on their unspoken fear of failure, or more specifically, their fear that they’re ‘too old’ to learn new technologies or master social media?
On the surface, it might seem like your client is telling you about their plan of shifting to an online business model, because their brick and mortar store is failing. A truly exceptional listener can detect what the deeper issues are, and what the client’s unspoken fears are. This is how you get to your client’s pain points, which is an integral component of a sales call. Perhaps you noticed a quiver in their voice, a long pause when you mentioned social media marketing, a nervous habit such as nail-biting, or a sunken head position.
If you want to be able to hear what they’re not saying, you’d better be paying attention. Your client probably isn’t going to say that they think they’re too old to thrive in the online market. They might not trust you enough to disclose their deeper fears. So, they might not admit that they’re anxious about younger generations having an advantage due to their familiarity with the technology and social media platforms used to advertise an online business. How, then, can you get your clients to open up about their true emotions or deeper issues, to uncover what they really need from you?
If you really listen to your clients, you might be able to “hear” their emotions. This is another example of hearing what they’re not saying. Their pace of speech, tone of voice, length of silences, inflection, eye movement, and head position can all help you decipher your client’s underlying emotions.
For example, speaking fast and loudly in a confident and upbeat tone, with their head tilted upwards, could indicate the emotion of excitement. Speaking softly with a quiver in their voice while looking downwards could be a sign that the emotion they’re feeling is fear.
"If you’re an exceptional listener, you’ll be able to ‘hear’ your client’s emotions."
Another way you can discover your client’s emotions, such as their deepest fears or greatest hopes, is to encourage them to open up by utilizing the skill of active listening.
Dr. Thomas Gordon, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, popularized the strategy of active listening. Gordon says, “Active listening gives the other person a chance to express their feelings and to move from a superficial problem to the deeper, more basic problem.”
As Gordon explains, “Active listening encourages the other person, who has the problem, to say more about it. Active listening is an empathic way of reflecting back both the words and feelings the troubled person has expressed, to ensure that you’ve understood correctly.”
Active listening requires your full focus, so make sure you’re fully engaged in the conversation. This skill also requires that you pay attention non-verbal indicators, such as body language cues, and that you nod, smile or react to demonstrate that you’re all ears.
A great way to show a customer that you’re actively listening, is to repeat what they’ve just told you, in your own words. This confirms that you understand what they’ve just said, and that you were listening.
When you fulfil your client’s need to be understood, you’ll strengthen your bond with them, and they’ll be much more likely to open up about their emotions. Since 85% of purchasing decisions are based on emotion, it’s always a good idea to be in tune with how your clients are feeling.
Eye movement is an important form of non-verbal communication that you should be observing. If you’re on a video call with a client, you can gather additional information from their eye movement, and learn something about your client without them telling you.
If they’re looking up and to the left, for example, they’re probably trying to remember something. They’re probably also telling you the truth.
If they’re looking up and to the right, they’re likely constructing an image or visualizing something. This could mean they’re coming up with a lie, but it doesn’t always mean they’re lying. They could simply be conceptualizing something.
If they’re looking down and to the left, they might be conflicted or having an internal dialogue. If you say something to them, and they look down and left, you might be challenging their existing beliefs. Or, they might not fully agree with what you said.
If they’re looking down and to the right, they’re getting in touch with their feelings. Perhaps you evoked some sort of emotion. They might be feeling an emotion such as fear, shame, trust, or anticipation.
Mirroring is a form of body language where someone will match, copy, or ‘mirror’ the facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language with which they're speaking.
When you’re on a video call with a client, pay attention to whether or not they’re mirroring you. Does your client smile if you smile? Do they mirror your body movements, such as leaning forward if you lean forward? Do they match your voice’s volume, inflection, or tone?
If someone you’re speaking with is mirroring you, this is a good sign. It means they are likely on the same page as you, and they want to bond with you and build rapport. If you want to build rapport with your clients, know that mirroring them is a great way to do so.
Another important form of body language that can tell you a lot about a person is their head position while they’re speaking.
If someone is looking down while tilting their head down, this could mean they’re hiding something, lying to you, they’re afraid, or they’re nervous.
A tilted head to the side could be a sign that they’re empathetic to you, or resonating with you.
If their head is tilted up and they’ve got their chin up, this could indicate arrogance or that they’re not that impressed by you.
When it comes to reading body language, you probably already know a lot. I’m sure you know that if someone nods their head, that likely means they’re receiving your message positively. It’s also commonly known that the movement of leaning forwards indicates the other person’s interest in your conversation.
If your client has their arms crossed, this could mean they’re not as open to working with you as you had hoped. Arms crossed is typically a bad sign.
If, however, your client is playing with their hands and rubbing their palms together, this is a good sign. This generally indicates that they’re feeling excited about the conversation.
On the other hand, tapping their fingers on their desk could be a sign that they’re feeling impatient or bored with the conversation.
If someone is biting their lip, they’re likely anxious, stressed, or feeling insecure. Pursed lips or tightened lips might be an indicator of disapproval or distrust.
People often tighten their lips when they don’t agree with you, almost as though they want to say something disapproving, and they’re trying to keep their lips locked to avoid saying something confrontational or impolite.
Someone stroking their chin might be evaluating something or thinking about something. If you notice this, give them a moment to finish their thought by pausing the conversation for a moment. Part of having good communication skills is knowing when not to speak.
By now, you’ve gained a better understanding of how to read people, including how to interpret body language. You now know how to be an active listener, and you’re clear on the importance of paying attention to non-verbal cues in addition to the spoken word. So you’re probably wondering,What are some other ways to improve listening skills?
The importance of being present cannot be stressed enough. Be mindful and present in the moment when you are speaking to a client. Listen to your clients by giving them your undivided attention.
The best consultants are the ones who are fully tuned in and engaged in the conversation, and are not distracted. In order to truly be listening to someone, you can’t be thinking about your last call, your next call, or thinking about your personal life.
Imagine that there’s something in your personal life that your mind is preoccupied with, but you have a consulting call with a prospect scheduled. It might require a lot of focus to set aside that personal problem in order to give your prospect your full attention. However, try to remember that while you can always attend to your personal matters after your client call, thinking about it during the call will hurt your ability to close your prospect.
Another way to be fully focused on listening to your client is to avoid thinking about your next question or your next statement, while they’re talking. Try to concentrate on what they’re saying, instead of thinking about your response. Be confident in your ability to respond off-the-cuff, based on what you’ve just heard. It’s not necessary to draft a response in your head while your client is speaking.
Before a client call on Zoom or Skype, be sure to close any open chats in Slack or Telegram, and put your cell phone on silent.
Don’t forget to show you’re listening by nodding, smiling, making eye contact and remaining engaged.
If you’re a consultant, entrepreneur, or salesperson, this article has hopefully confirmed why it’s so important to listen to your clients. But listening isn’t the only skill that improves your relationship with your clients. If you want to sell your services to your prospects, there are other skills you need to improve as well.
What are some other skills you need to master, in order to win over your clients? How can you impress your clients, stand out, and close more sales? For a full debriefing, click here to watch my training on “How To Sell High-Ticket Consulting Services and Programs”.
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