Are You Listening?

By John R. Aberle | Relationship Selling

Jul 24
Active listening meme created with a picture of a stethoscope and red heart

Are you really listening to me? Failing to listen is a major problem for salespeople. Failure in communications probably causes more lost sales than anything else. And for small business owners, the problem may be multiplied because you don’t have a lot of money to invest in proper sales training of your sales reps. Teach them active listening.

But even with large companies, this problem persists. Truly listening is rare. Truly listening is means listening actively.

Discipline Yourself to Listen Actively

It takes discipline to set aside what you want to say while listening to the other party. It is natural for sales people to jump to the sale prematurely. One cure is to listen actively. This means that you think about what your prospect just said and wonder about what was implied or not said or about the implications.

Look at the typical sales call. Your prospect just said some key word or phrase that registered on you as the salesperson. From what she said, you are now sure you have the solution to your prospect's problem so you stop listening to fully understand what her perceived needs and wants are.

For Your Prospect to Buy, She Must Trust You

Remember that as the sales person, your job is to get the prospect to know, like and trust you. This is where relationship selling comes into its own. Focus on actions to build that trust, like asking relevant questions and probing more deeply into what she says.

Trust comes from experience with your actions so your prospect will likely “test” you before she buys. She may throw out a red herring, such as a real problem, just not the most important one right now. Had you asked for more information about the problem and how serious it is to her, you would have discovered that she’s not ready to invest money to solve it yet.

Nobody Cares How Much You Know…

There is an old expression in sales that "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." By trying to “sell” her on the solution to that red herring, you proved what she suspected. You are the typical sales person who only cares about getting your sale, not working in partnership to solve the real problem that she has.

It's hard to discipline yourself to focus on what the prospect is saying when you are ready to sell. But it is vital to your success that you probe as deeply as you can to uncover more about the issue she just gave you.

Examples of Questions for Active Listening

Ask questions like the following:

  • Tell me more about that please.
  • How big of a problem is this… to you?
  • What does it mean to you if you fix it?
  • What happens if you just let it continue as it is right now?
  • How much does it cost you to have this… (problem she described)?
  • Is this keeping you up at night or is there some other thing that bothers you more?
  • Could you explain what you meant by…?

The Dangers of Jargon, Cultures and Languages

This last question is really important. Unless you are familiar with an industry and its jargon, common words can lead you astray. For instance, in construction, flooring would refer to the material that you have put down on your floor, like carpet, tile, and laminate. In the automotive industry, however, flooring is the financing that major manufacturers provide their dealers so that they can have a lot full of new cars. This becomes even more complicated when you have different cultural backgrounds and languages. Typically, your tip off will be when a word is used that doesn’t sound right in the context you expected it.One of the ways the best ways to minimize these communication problems is to periodically ask your customer or prospect to let you confirm your understanding of what she said by describing in your own words what you heard. Avoid parroting back her words.


Customers want to know if you are listening. Are you going to be a partner helping them to solve their problems or if you are just a typical sales person who wants to rush into the sale without understanding their uniqueness? Discipline yourself to actively listen then engage in asking meaningful questions before making a sales pitch.

As a small business, you may feel like you are at a disadvantage because you can’t afford all of the sales training that major corporations can pay for. However, the truth is that if you really understand their prospects potential needs and listen actively, you can win the prospect’s trust so that you can help your customer buy.

Open your heart in selling,

John's signature in Rage Italic script

John R. Aberle

Aberle Enterprises

Image of How Relationship Selling Rewards Small Businesses book cover for 12 Types of Content Marketing’s #12 Books


Do you love taking care of your customers and prospects? If you yearn to build more long-term business connections with your customers, get your copy of the Amazon Kindle eBook: 

How Relationship Selling Rewards Small Businesses


​Additional Articles by John R. Aberle

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About the Author

I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.