The 7 Styles of Listening—and How They Can (or Can’t) Help You Close Deals
Whether you’re on a sales call or a blind date, listening is everything. For salespeople, being a good listener means closing more deals and meeting revenue goals—in fact, data from Gong shows the average top-performing B2B salesperson only speaks 43 percent of the time, letting their prospects speak 57 percent of the time. And, the reverse is true—underperformers tend to take up most of the conversation (65 percent of it to be exact).
But listening isn’t just about not talking. There are actually seven different listening styles, and you’ll need to know which to add to your toolbelt and which to remove if you want to be a cut (and an ear!) above the rest. Let’s dive into each one and see how the seven listening styles can help you become a top salesperson.
1. Informational Listening
This is the type of listening we use when we’re learning something new, especially something that’s important to us. Informational listening focuses more on the logic and critical thinking of what someone else is saying and less on the emotional aspect of it. This requires a lot of focus—you don’t want to miss any crucial details.
Sales reps should turn on their informational listening brains when learning about the products and services their company provides. This will help you pick up on the nuances of your offerings and answer tough customer questions in the future. Speaking of customers, informational listening will be your friend when your prospects are discussing the specific issues they need you to solve.
2. Discriminative Listening
The most basic listening style, this is a skill we start practicing the moment we’re born. Discriminative listening relies on tone and inflection to understand the speaker’s intention and meaning. If somebody’s yelling at you in another language, for example, you may not know what they’re saying, but their volume and body language will give you a pretty good idea that they’re angry with you.
As sales reps, we can use this type of listening to understand how our customers really feel. If you notice a prospect sounds particularly exasperated when discussing a certain topic, that’s your cue to jump in and explain how your product is uniquely suited to solve their problem. Picking up on someone’s feelings will help you determine their priorities and pain points, ultimately helping you make a sale.
3. Comprehensive Listening
This is another one we start practicing from an early age. Comprehensive listening should be the bare minimum; it simply requires basic language and vocabulary skills to understand what your speaker is saying. We rely on this type of listening the most in our everyday conversations.
The best way sales reps can implement this type of listening is through giving your customers time to speak without interruption. Make sure you’re giving prospects enough space to get everything they need off their chest.
4. Biased Listening
This style of listening can be dangerous in all contexts, not just for sales reps. A listener is biased when they’re only paying attention to or hearing what they want to hear, which prevents you from taking in all the information the speaker is communicating. Don’t project your own desires onto the speaker; enter every conversation with an open mind and be prepared to hear things that don’t always perfectly align with your needs.
Sales reps should avoid this type of listening at all costs. Our job is to hear our customer’s problems and find the best solution for them, not for ourselves. Biased listening can lead to strained relationships and miscommunication. Keep it out of your sales conversations.
5. Critical Listening
We use this type of listening to digest and evaluate complicated information. Critical listening is a two-step process: first, you have to take in what the speaker is saying; then you have to use that information to come to a decision.
Critical listening is, well, critical for salespeople at all times. You need to use the details your customer conveys to come up with a solution uniquely suited to their needs. Keep in mind that listening isn’t enough on its own—you need to synthesize the information your customers give you to help find the best way to solve their problem.
6. Sympathetic Listening
Sympathetic listening is driven by emotion. It requires the listener to process how the speaker is feeling and can help strengthen the relationship between speaker and listener.
For salespeople, this kind of listening is a must. We’re always trying to improve our relationships with customers and prospects, and making an effort to understand how they feel is a big part of that. Make sure you stay out of condescending, pitying territory and try to meet your customers where they’re at.
7. Empathetic Listening
This is the next step of sympathetic listening and involves a little more work. Empathetic listening occurs when the listener imagines themselves in the speaker’s shoes. This is, suffice it to say, the exact opposite of biased listening; an empathetic listener essentially removes themselves from the equation to understand the speaker’s point of view.
Salespeople should devote time and energy to honing this skill. Empathetic listening gives you the best opportunity to understand your customer’s woes and ask yourself the question, “What would I want to see if I were in this situation?” If you can imagine what your prospect is going through and keep their pain points top of mind, you have a better chance of offering them a solution that truly addresses their needs—and you’ll come out the other end with a stronger seller-buyer relationship.
You can’t be a top salesperson without being a top listener first. Mastering the seven styles of listening won't just help you close more deals; it’ll help you form stronger relationships with your prospects and customers, too. Next time you’re on a sales call, don’t just listen for buzzwords or twiddle your thumbs waiting for your turn to speak. Your customer is a real person with real problems—the most important thing they need from you is your ear.
Mark Jung is vice president of marketing at Dooly, the connected workspace pioneer. As Dooly’s marketing leader, he is responsible for driving the company’s brand and marketing engine and has a demonstrated history of building successful B2B SaaS brands.