Anas Assil Anas Assil - 1 August, 2019 - 8 ’ read

All you need to know about listening if you want to succeed in sales.

Selling is about talking listening.

Five years ago, when I shifted my carrier from a technical field to sales, the first three pieces of advice I got from my manager at Imagicle puzzled me a bit.
They were: listen, listen, and listen.
Think it’s pretty obvious? Well, it sounded obvious to me at that time. After all, how can you sell something if you’re not prepared to be silent and listen to your customer? 
When you really have to do it, though, things are very different. You realize that listening is a habit, an exercise that we don’t practice that often.
In fact, it requires a lot of efforts to improve this soft skill, be present and mindful during the meetings and reduce the assumptions implicit in any communication.

In short, I soon realized that three things taken for granted as
  • asking questions
  • let the client speak
  • listen mindfully
were not as simple as I imagined: they were goals to be achieved!
There is no need to be supported by high-sounding scientific or anthropological theory, here.
Listening is simply a key for salespeople, as it allows collecting information and requirements to be able to propose the right solution for the client pain, and let the client feel comfortable. 
People like to speak about their opinions; making them feel understood and welcoming their needs is essential to build trust with the client, and trust is the only road that leads to closing the deal you’re working on.
However, remember: interest in other people is something that cannot be faked. Either you have it, or you don’t. To be successful in this work, in fact, even before the art of listening, there is a true passion for people.
As for me, joining the Imagicle sales team was my chance to start thinking about how I could enrich my communication skills (and consequently my all-round interpersonal skills!) with my clients and colleagues. In short, with people.

The bad listener’s loop (and a monkey called Julio).

But let’s start from the beginning. 
The question of the million is: why am I not a good listener?
To better understand how habits are leveraged in our brains and why we keep doing what we are doing, we need to understand the way such habit is triggered (and learn about the story of a cute little monkey!).
Let’s take a look at the figure below.
All you need to know about listening if you want to succeed in sales.

What you see above is the basic pattern of
the habit loop, developed by Charles Duhigghas in his 2012 book The Power of Habit”, through an interesting experiment with a monkey called Julio.
The scientist put him on a chair in a room with a screen monitor and a lever. Julio’s job was to touch the lever whenever some colored shapes appeared on the screen. 
Once Julio touched the lever, a drop of blackberry juice would run down a tube onto the monkey’s lips.
In this study, the cue is the colored shapes on the monitor. The routine is touching the lever, and the reward is blackberry juice. Whenever Julio received his reward, his brain activity would spike in a certain manner, as if it was saying, “I got a reward!”.
The graph below shows what happens in Julio’s brain.
All you need to know about listening if you want to succeed in sales.
The “I got a reward” signal appears after the monkey receives the blackberry juice.
Having verified this, the scientist begins to repeat the experiment many times to create a new habit for Julio, hence scans his head again and gets the graph pattern below.
All you need to know about listening if you want to succeed in sales.
As you can see, once the monkey has interiorized a new habit, the “I got a reward” signal starts appearing after the cue and before the routine. 
The shapes on the monitor had become a cue not only for touching a lever, but also for the pleasure response triggered in the monkey’s brain. Now Julio is expecting his reward as soon as he see the shapes.
At this point, the scientist breaks the loop by preventing the blackberry juice from being dropped in the tube. Now, when Julio sees the shapes, he keeps touching the lever but gets no blackberry juice. So he gets angry.
Bottom lines, the habit only emerges once Julio begins craving the juice when he sees the cues. Once the craving exists, Julio will act automatically.

Trouble is, listening can be very difficult.

As we mentioned above, without credibility and trust, a salesperson will likely lose the interest of their prospect (or never really gain it). The only chance is to listen (thoughtfully), since there’s no other way to build relationships, uncover buyer needs, and let the prospect know you care about them. Trouble is, listening can be very difficult.
But let’s see what happens to us sales guys most of the time. 
According to the pattern we have seen before, we can identify three moments in the activity of listening.
1. There is always a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and suggests you a habit;
2. then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental, or emotional.
3. finally, there is a reward, that can be physical, mental, or emotional, which helps your brain to figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Now let’s take the poor listening habit, reflect it into the loop mentioned in Figure 1 and try to cover all three points by asking ourselves questions.

1. The routine.

What can be the routine of this habit? What are the specific thoughts, feelings and actions that make up the routine we’re trying to change?
The routine thoughts, feelings and actions could be:
  1. This person is too boring. I know exactly what he wants to say: it’s always the same story (sometimes this is so true, and I can picture you nodding your head). smiling face with open mouth & cold sweat 
  2. You start thinking about something else, like “I should answer that email in my inbox, I shall prepare myself for the important topic the CEO will discuss with me tomorrow, etc.”
  3. You start looking into your mobile, checking notifications as he/she keeps talking.

2. The cue.

This brings us to the second question we need to address in order to develop a good listening habit: can you tell what types of people, situations, thoughts and/or feelings have triggered the routine?
See, this question contains a cue. For example: thinking of a guy as a boring person might be a routine thought that I can change, but at the same time it may be a cue, an indication that he/she is effectively a boring person, and I can’t skip this fact while planning to change this habit.
What I can do, then, is to consider this fact as a cue, or keep it in the routine part based on the situation.
Following our example of the bad listener, cues can be:
  1. When my manager calls me to review the pipeline.
  2. When a specific person in my company (who is actually boring) starts talking about his family and his weekend picnic I am not interested at all in.
  3. After the lunch break, where I can’t make any efforts to listen.
  4. Friday at 5 PM.

3. The reward.

And so we get to the last point, the reward. Let’s see: what drives the bad habit loop? What rewards do you get from doing this routine?
Some rewards for bad listening can be:
  1. Feel productive thinking about something else rather than hearing a boring story.
  2. Getting rid of boredom.
  3. Reduce the mindware effort by skipping hearing the conversation while you check on your mobile.
Once these three things are identified, we are half the way, and we have understood how our brain is encouraging this bad habit.
Now we need to break this loop and change the routine.

Wanna be a good listener? Hack the pattern.

We all have habits. Someone depends on them more than others, but I’m pretty sure that if you have a coffee every morning at 8 am and you are suddenly asked to start taking the same coffee at 11 am, you would be very annoyed, at least at the beginning.
So, you know what I mean when I say that changing habits is not a joke: it’s an inside job, and a very serious one. 
Before even starting, then, you need to find some patience (believe me, you have it somewhere inside you) and accept that you will fail many times along the way.
Let’s go back over the three steps of the habit loop for the last time trying to find solutions.

1. Build a new routine.

Before starting the call, you can focus and keep these things in mind:
a. It is interesting to hear how other people spend their free time. Maybe they’ll give me some ideas.
b. The other tasks are on my to-do-list. I don’t need to think about that now.
c. Remove distractions and put your mobile away , so you stop checking things.

2. Play with those cues.

First of all, we must understand that cues can’t always be changed, but that’s okay, because sometimes we can play with those cues.
For example, you could try to do all your meetings before noon, when you have the required energy to focus and avoid meetings on Friday at 5 PM.

3. Find yourself new rewards.

Try to identify new, longer-term rewards to help you overcome the rewards you were getting for your bad habits. For example, you could focus on the fact that careful listening:
a.    will get the person loyal to you.
b.   will give him/her a great impression about yourself.
Overall, a very useful thing you can do is to explicitly communicate to those around you that you are committed to improving your poor listening skills.
They will find it odd if, out of the blue, you start remaining silent when they talk, while you used to be distracted, or interrupt them: instead, if you tell them what you are doing, they will probably be the first to help you improve.
Socialization is an effort that, by itself, leads you to be a better listener: to get in touch with your peers, indeed, you need to know and understand them, and if you want to understand them you have to listen to them. 


If you’ve come so far in this post, I’m pretty sure you agree with me on why listening is the top sales skill. Perhaps you also agree that good or bad listening is a habit, and that habits are difficult to hack.
If you work in sales, though, you certainly are a determined person, and you will have no trouble reaching your goal.
Now you know how it works. You just need to start.
In conclusion, the first three tips I received when I entered the sales field 5 years ago are the same that I keep applying every day: listen, listen, listen.

Sharing this practice among the sales teams spread in our offices – in Italy, Miami and Dubai – is what allows the Imagicle sales team to grow year after year, covering more and more countries and speaking more and more languages.
In the last 3 years, sales have increased by 78% worldwide. We have grown in many countries, such as the US and France, and I am happy to have played my part in the Middle East, where sales have increased by 38%.

It seems like listening is a good thing in every part of the world.



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