Despite significant technological breakthroughs, the almighty telephone is still where business gets done. In fact, over 90 percent of customer interactions take place over the phone, be it VoIP or hardline.
Despite this fact, all too few customer-facing professionals know how to actively listen to prospects and customers. The best professionals realize that success comes from close listening instead of slick “objection handling” or de-escalating talk-tracks. Only by understanding the needs and wants of the prospect or customer can professionals understand how best to communicate with them.
In an effort to help customer-facing professionals of all disciplines better communicate with prospects and customers, this article will review a few proven strategies to follow in order to start actively listening.
Use technology that allows you to focus on the customer
Professionals should opt for technology that blends into the background, rather than obfuscates. The best platforms are those that put human interaction front and center by handling the routine tasks that might otherwise make it difficult to be fully attentive to a prospect or customer.
Consider the all too frequent scenario where a sales rep, or customer support professional must wrangle field after dependent field in a CRM while speaking with a customer. The rep is usually so busy taking notes, or checking boxes that she loses the forest through the trees during the conversation.
Using technology that automates the routine, will empower reps to focus on better serving the customer. Take Jog.ai as an example. The platform uses voice recognition software to convert phone calls to full transcriptions.
Rather than needing to take notes, reps can simply flag important areas of the conversion for review later. In so doing, reps are able to focus on communicating with the person (or people) on the other end of the phone, knowing that all of the information they might need to refer to later is available.
Put the smartphone down
Cal Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and is the author of several books that focus the link between focus and professional success. Newport argues that new technologies like smartphones and professional instant messaging platforms are hurting office productivity.
Rather than focusing on what Newport calls “deep work,” professionals are forced to instead focus on (at best) second order work that requires less thought. Otherwise, they are checking their smartphones for personal reasons, a report cited in the New York Times found that 46 percent of smartphone owners checked their devices roughly every 6 minutes.
For those in customer facing roles, the deep work to be done is related to forming meaningful relationships with prospects and customers. This is the primary reason for customer facing roles in the first place.
So, in order do the deep work of relationship building, reps must learn to turn their smartphones off. Put the phone on silent and face down when on a call with a customer in order to begin conversations from a more mindful position.
Listen with an objective in mind
While reps should hold conversations with an open mind, some may find it beneficial to speak with prospects and customers with a clear objective in mind. Before starting a call, the rep should think to herself “what is it I need to learn by the time this call is over?”
Using a sales framework like MEDDIC may be helpful for reps working with prospects. The framework was constructed for reps dealing with complex sales, and thus encourages professionals to dig deep when speaking with prospects.
Using a platform like Jog, reps can focus on developing a conversation that naturally reveals qualification criteria, rather than needing to ask abrupt questions outright. Then the rep can simply review areas of the conversation tagged by Jog’s machine learning platform to surface insights from the call.
A similar framework can be created for those in non-sales roles to encourage reps to listen actively for specific areas of interest.
Be mindful of nonverbal language
Much of communication is nonverbal. A report in Psychology Today indicated that only 28 percent of communication is verbal, the rest is related to tone of voice and body language.
For those who are communicating with prospects and customers strictly over the phone, this means that listening to tonality is all the more important to understand the full picture of what a prospect or customer is communicating. This requires reps to be fully present when listening, distractions will make it nearly impossible to listen both for content and for tonality.
Reps who communicate via two-way video calls have an advantage, as 55 percent of communication is said to be related to body language. As an article in the Harvard Business Review indicates, the secret to close listening and thus successful negotiation is being able to read nonverbal cues.
Those fortunate enough to hold video calls with clients should be sure their computer screens are clear. Showing only the client’s face in a window will make it considerably easier to focus on nonverbal cues.
Learn to send value-adding follow ups
Though prospects and customers have more power than ever, Forrester contends that business reps can still play a significant role in influencing the buyer’s journey. Depending on the industry, some clients indicated that reps were the single most influential component of the decision to purchase a B2B product or service.
For reps, that means sending a remarkably good follow up email is a critical component of being able to successfully influence prospects and customers. In order to do this, reps will need to practice active listening and will need to do so with objectives in mind.
Those who are able to understand the motivations of the buyer, and the decision making process within an organization will be better positioned to provide relevant supporting material.
Being able to rely on thorough notes will help reps to create personalized follow ups that speak to individual clients. On the other hand, sending a canned follow up response is a great way to drive prospects and customers into the arms of competitors.
Active listening isn’t just for married couples interested in building a better relationship. The practice of listening closely to prospects and customers is the best way for reps to understand and even anticipate the needs of clients.
To practice active listening on the job, reps will need to listen with an objective in mind, and should focus on nonverbal forms of communication. Reps must eschew technological distractions, while embracing platforms that automate tedious tasks like note taking. Finally, reps must learn to send thoughtful follow up emails in order to fortify client relationships.