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February 18, 2019 The Rainmaker

How you listen impacts sales success

The Rainmaker by Ken Cook

Listening well is a foundational tenet for sales success. Therefore, being cognizant of how we listen is critical because it profoundly impacts conversations, relationships and results.

We have eight modes of listening:

Build – understand what another is saying in order to help expand thinking; to build on it. Listen for connections to what you know and how that may help.

Judge and find flaws – assess the accuracy or worthiness of what you hear and find flaws, and even opportunities to nitpick. Listen for what's wrong.

Absorb/learn – to gain new information and sometimes fit it immediately into our personal view of the world.

Solve – to find solutions; what makes this issue meaningful to the speaker, and how your insight might solve the issue.

Sympathize – provide comfort and presence. Listen and respond with full support, certainly with no judgment.

Forensic – deep listening, mustering all your senses; deep focus on words, tones and non-verbals.

Understand/empathize – share in another's emotions, viewing from their point of view. The key here is to keep your own self intact. There's a duality here: Feeling another's emotional state while maintaining your sense of self.

Manage a situation – we feel we're at risk and listen for ways to keep ourselves safe. Be aware when we're in this mode, our emotions are high and consequently, our hearing is low. We are likely to miss a lot of what's being said.

Being aware of the mode we are in makes a profound difference in what we hear. Each mode focuses our mind on different details and thus we hear different things – even though we thought we were listening and heard everything.

In sales, we often default to a few styles, depending on the context. A frequently used style is judging. We want to stay on track in a sales call, so we naturally judge what we hear to determine if it moves the process forward.

In judge mode, we're likely to miss information because our mind is busy analyzing what we're hearing, why we think it's wrong, and listing our points for correcting or rebutting. We think we're listening, but we're really moving in and out of listening.

You may find yourself saying things like, “Oh, I didn't hear that part.” Or, “Could you repeat that again?” Listening to find flaws is very useful at appropriate times, but don't fall into the trap of adopting the judge mode as a default.

In somewhat the same vein, salespeople frequently listen to manage the situation. When we are feeling unsure of our situation, our internal voice says things like, “Can I find a way to impress this person?” Or, “Where is this going?”

Being in this listening mode causes us to hear only information furthering our goals and objectives. What's frequently missed are insights profoundly impacting solutions and relationships.

Let's talk about the solutions listening mode. Our mind wants to find the connection and make our products and services valuable to the customer. Therefore, we are constantly on the lookout for places our solutions fit.

We acutely listen for solution friendly opportunities, and we frequently miss important information or opportunities to strengthen a relationship.

Our mode of listening strongly impacts what we hear. As importantly, our listening mode impacts what is said to us. The person with whom we're speaking can sense the listening mode we are in. Haven't we all sensed it when someone's judging us as they listen? It usually affects how and what we say.

When you are in a sales situation, think about the context of the call. What are you hoping to accomplish? In that context, ask the other person (or people) to use the listening mode you think is appropriate to the situation.

“I know this still needs work, so I'd like you to listen to build this further.”

Or, “I'm thinking this solution is almost ready to go, so please focus on finding flaws.”

Try to pay conscious attention to how you're listening. Tune into your emotions, and assess if the listening mode you are in is most appropriate for your situation. Remember, your listening mode not only impacts what you hear, it actually impacts what is being said.

Finally, be a savvy listener. Understand the context of the conversation. Pay attention to how you listen. Pay attention to how you are being perceived. If you are savvy about how you listen, it will open up productive conversation; people are drawn to savvy listeners.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, a program on how to build strong relationships and how to build business through those relationships. Learn more at

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