Why Listening Is the Top Sales Skill

Published: Sep 20, 2017
Modified: May 20, 2020


Every great salesperson knows that listening is the most important of all sales skills. Most people think it’s the smooth talkers who make the best salespeople, but in reality it’s those who have mastered listening and identifying people’s true motivations who are most successful. Listening isn’t just something you should do when your sales manager is screaming at you; it’s also what will help you become the top salesperson at your company.

Why is listening so important in sales? There are several reasons. The first is that most people want someone to listen to them. In today’s fast-paced world, however, few of us get someone’s undivided attention for very long. The second reason listening is so important in sales is that since there are so few good listeners these days, those who are will stand out in the customer’s mind. This means that by being a good listener, you will differentiate yourself from your competition, and for once it won’t be because you’re the only one in your industry who can funnel an entire pint of vodka.

How most people listen

Most people are capable of listening to others to some extent. But few are truly great active listeners. Here’s what the majority of people do when someone else is speaking:

  • Think about what they are going to say next
  • Interrupt the person talking in midsentence to agree, disagree, or make another point
  • Daydream about Chipotle burrito bowls
  • Check their text messages and social media updates
  • Stare intently at one spot on the customer’s face and pretend to listen while not thinking about anything at all
  • Repeat the customer’s name over and over again in their heads to remember it

Even the people who are able to let the customer talk without interrupting usually don’t focus on what’s actually being said. For many salespeople, it’s surprisingly difficult to let people speak freely and to pay attention to not only what’s being said but to the true meaning behind the words.

Tips on how to become a better listener

You need to build your listening muscles the same way you built the muscles on your body before you started working in sales and stopped going to the gym. Here is how you can become a better listener:

  • Remember that everything the customer says can help you close a deal and make money, unless they say, “Please leave immediately.”
  • The more you listen to the customer, the more likely the customer is to listen to you and your pitch. Pretend that you’ll have to repeat exactly what the customer said to someone else. This will help you pay attention and remember details.
  • Always put your phone away when you’re having a conversation with a customer. You can take it back out when you’re having a conversation with your spouse.
  • Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. This will show that you’re listening and help you avoid getting distracted. Make sure to blink occasionally.
  • Summarize everything the customer said after he is finished talking. This will help you find out how well you understood everything and offer an opportunity for the customer to clarify if necessary.
  • Ask questions throughout the conversation, but only when the customer is finished talking. Tie the questions back to the original point of the discussion whenever possible.
  • Physically cover your mouth with your hand when the customer is talking, and don’t remove it until they have finished (do this only on phone calls, not in person).

The key isn’t just to listen to your customers but to listen and try to understand what they really want. If you can find out what a person or company’s true need or problem is by asking the right questions and letting people speak until they tell you, then you can also be the person who offers the perfect solution. Always remember that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and that’s to listen with both ears and guzzle energy drinks with one mouth.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Sales Survival Handbook: Cold Calls, Commissions, and Caffeine Addiction—The Real Truth About Life in Sales by Ken Kupchik. Copyright 2017, Ken Kupchik. Published by AMACOM.