Listening Skills: Active Listening Requires Open Questions
August 22, 2023 by Bill Rosenthal

Listening Skills: Active Listening Requires Open Questions

Listening skills are critical in every phase of your business, but there's a place where they have a dramatic effect on the bottom line: sales. Selling is not simple, but it is governed by a simple law: other things being equal, the sales professional who listens best sells the most.

But it's not enough to have good listening skills. You have to be good at getting the customer to give you something to apply those skills to.

How do you get the customer to talk so you can exercise your listening skills? Ask questions. But note that there are different kinds of questions, and you need to ask questions that will elicit substantive answers - answers you can follow up on, answers you can probe.

In a sales meeting, the kind of question least likely to put your listening skills to work is the closed question:

Are you concerned about costs?

That may sound like a substantive question, but consider this: the customer can answer "yes" or "no". Any question that gives the other person a simple choice for an answer is a closed question. And that answer stops the conversational process and gives you no opportunity to put your listening skills to work.

If a closed question gives the customer a choice of answers, an open question allows the customer to provide information. Is there a way to convert the closed question above to an open question? Just think about how you could begin it with "what", "why", "how", or "give me an example". Then you'll get a response you can use your listening skills on:

How have you been managing cost issues?

It seems like the same question. But instead of a simple one-word answer, this question is likely to elicit at least a sentence, or maybe a paragraph. And when the customer answers with a sentence or a paragraph, you can take notes, play back information, summarize, or reflect feeling. In other words, you can exercise your listening skills.

The Communispond solution, Socratic Selling Skills®, applies universally proven dialogue techniques to effectively maximize sales productivity. It teaches sales professionals to listen - really listen - to customers. But before you can exercise your listening skills, you must initiate the dialogue. And for that, you need an open question. Think about that before your next sales meeting. Go through the questions you want to ask the customer and figure out which of them are closed and which are open. Every closed question is a missed opportunity to use your listening skills. Convert it to an open question with "what", "why", "how", "give me an example", or something else of your own devising.