Sales Tip of the Month: Active Listening – An Essential Sales Skill
As discussed in a previous blog “Asking the Hard Questions,” the benefits of asking emotionally challenging questions are a) to help us to build the relationship with the prospect, and b) to uncover their needs. Doing so helps to move the prospect further along in the senior living sales cycle. We hope you tried it and found some success.
If you’re ready to take your sales skills to the next level, active listening is the next skill to learn and master!
Active listening is a technique first described in 1957 by psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson as “an important way to bring about changes in people.” As sales professionals in the senior living industry, being able to effectively bring about change in people can clearly be an essential skill for increasing occupancy, and active listening is the tool to use when applying that skill.
It’s probably accurate to say that we’ve all been in a miserable conversation on a date where the other person wasn’t really listening to us, they were just waiting for their turn to talk. You’ve probably had great conversations on a date too, where the other person likely said your name, made eye contact, linked their stories to yours, and empathized with you when appropriate. The difference between the miserable date and the bad date was probably active listening. Active listening at its simplest has three parts: comprehending, retaining, and responding:
Truly comprehending what someone is saying to us takes determined concentration. All of us communicate not just with words, but also through non-verbal means like facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Only by paying close attention to all of these communication cues can we truly come closer to comprehending what information the other person is trying to convey to us. On the part of the listener, comprehending involves positive signs of engagement, like making eye contact, nodding in understanding, and infrequently verbally acknowledging the speaker. Talking too much is going to interrupt the flow of information from them to you and turn it into a conversation, which is not what we want to happen. Interestingly enough, in this pandemic era of virtual meetings and facemasks, we’re missing out on so many of the non-verbal cues of communication, so it’s especially important to concentrate on verbal comprehension.
As sales counselors who talk to dozens of prospective residents each week, retaining the important details of every conversation might seem like a big task. Active listening, though, requires us to be conscientious in retaining the details communicated to us. Why? You’ll see in the next part. Simply writing down what the prospective resident said is fine, but noting their emotions that you observed is much more valuable! For example, an adult child who has been the caregiver of a parent with early stages of dementia might have verbally told you that her mom likes whole wheat toast every morning for breakfast. But she also conveyed to you non-verbally – through her facial expressions and body language – that ensuring that mom gets whole wheat toast every morning is pretty darn important to starting out mom’s day in a positive way. Retaining emotional details along with the verbal information is going to ensure that you are truly hearing all of what you need to know about the prospective resident.
Up to this point, you’ve been concentrating on comprehending what the prospect is telling you – verbally and non-verbally – AND you’ve been diligently working to retain the important details. The final part of active listening is responding. Responding can take place once the prospect has arrived at the point when they’ve told you all they are prepared to share. This can sometimes be an extended pause or a verbal cue.
The extended pause is something most sales people screw up by not waiting long enough to get a response, so they fill the void with a different question or clarifying statement. Pausing longer than you think is comfortable will make them speak more and give you a chance to continue listening. Try a mental count to 10-Mississippi before speaking again after asking a question or asking for feedback.
A verbal cue is something like “I feel so much better now that I’ve gotten all that out”, or “So that’s why I decided it was time to look into senior living.” Responding involves reflecting, summarizing, and testing:
Reflect back to the speaker a confirmation of their feelings by saying something like, “I can certainly understand why you are feeling stressed out by all of this.”
Summarize by briefly restating back to the prospect what they communicated to you verbally and non-verbally. For example, “It sounds to me like your mom’s daily care needs are getting to be a lot for you to handle, and it’s very stressful for you.”
Test by offering an opportunity, and see how it is received: “I think that bringing your dad in for a visit and seeing what living here is like might just change his mind about senior living. How does Thursday afternoon sound?”
Like every skill, active listening takes practice to master. It’s not just a sales skill, it’s a life skill. By incorporating the elements of active listening – comprehending, retaining, and responding – into your inquiry process when talking with prospective residents, you will gain much deeper insights into the needs of your prospects and be better able to help them to ultimately decide which decision is right for them.