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TJ Tedesco

View from Mount Olympus

By TJ Tedesco

About TJ

T.J. is team leader of Grow Sales, Inc., a marketing and social media services company operating at the intersection of compelling content, clear vision and quality communication practices. In this blog, fire is a metaphor for print. Hang on, this ride will be weird...

Prometheus crept into Mt. Olympus, stole fire, returned to the lowlands, ran from house to house distributing it, got caught, was chained to a rock, lost his liver to a huge ugly bird and was rescued by Hercules. Leveraging his fame, Prometheus started Fire Enterprises Inc.  (FEI). Since fire was the hottest technology of the time, company success came fast and furious. Two generations later, fire isn't such an easy sale. Now led by Prometheus' grandson Org, FEI's growth is non-existent, competitors are pounding and prices are in the toilet.

Moving Up the Five Levels of Listening Boosts Sales Success

Last week, FEI sales leader Zoot educated young salesperson Ganymede on how asking for an order can help close the sale. This week, Zoot teaches Ganymede how becoming a “professional listener” can enhance his selling ability. Remember, fire = print.

It was lunchtime at FEI and everyone was heading to Demeter’s Cafe, but Zoot had to stay in his office to finish up some paperwork. Ganymede, one of FEI’s newest salespeople, brought Zoot back a sandwich and soup.

Zoot examined the sandwich and frowned.“Thanks for bringing me lunch. But I’d asked for no tomatoes!”

Ganymede smacked a hand to his forehead. “Sorry! I didn’t even hear that.”

Zoot decided to give the young salesperson a lesson. “You’ve been at FEI a few months now, right? How would buyers rate your sales performance so far? Please be honest—you’re not on trial.”

Ganymede shifted uncomfortably. “I’m a skilled closer. They say I’m good at ignoring the word, ‘No.’”

“But have you built relationships with these fire buyers by letting them know you hear and understand their concerns?” Zoot asked. “Or have you just plowed through their objections until they relent?”

“Probably the latter,” Ganymede admitted.

“I know why,” Zoot said. “It sounds like most of the time you’re only listening at level 3.”


“Salespeople can listen at five different levels,” Zoot explained. “As you’ll see, listening at some levels is more likely to lead to sales—and strong customer relationships—than listening at others.” He pulled a piece of coal from his toga and began writing on the office whiteboard:

Level 1 – Ignoring. Listeners at this level are very self-centered, and not likely to succeed in sales or customer service positions.

Level 2 – Pretend listening. This occurs when salespeople give the appearance of listening—nodding their head, looking the person in the eyes, etc.—but really they aren’t. If you don’t stay tuned in to what a customer says, you run the risk of not hearing valuable information that can help you close a sale. Plus, customers rightfully conclude that salespeople who dance around or don’t care about their concerns either don’t want to or can’t solve their problems.

Level 3 – Selective listening. This occurs when salespeople only hear and respond to some of their prospect’s concerns.

“For example,” Zoot added. “A level 3 listener might correctly hear that his boss wanted a pig’s head sandwich with celery soup, but not hear ‘with no tomato.’”

“Sorry,” Ganymede said guiltily.

“Selective listening is bad in most relationships,” Zoot continued. “Yet, this kind of listening is also what makes you so adept at not hearing ‘no’ and gradually turning that ‘no’ into a ‘yes.’ That’s why you’re succeeding at FEI, despite not listening at the level a top salesperson should.”

Zoot returned to the whiteboard.

Level 4 – Attentive listening. The salesperson is fully tuned in and paying attention to what customers are saying. Only those who consciously work on their listening skills are able to consistently perform at this desirable level. Attentive listening is the only trait that all good sales reps have in common.

Level 5 – Empathetic listening.
All salespeople should strive to listen at level 5. Salespeople who can listen emphatically can imagine themselves in the same situations as their customers and see the world through their eyes. Because these listeners are fully tuned in, they can ask engaging questions that can help draw out the feelings of those with whom they’re communicating. This kind of listening leads to strong relationships between the salesperson and customer.

“Now, take a guess at which levels the most effective salespeople usually listen,” Zoot said. “It’s difficult to consistently succeed in sales without listening at levels 4 or 5.”

“How do I reach the top level of listening?” The ambitious Ganymede asked.

“Most people can attain level four if they put consistent effort into the act of listening itself,” Zoot said. “Next time you’re talking with a prospect, forget about closing the sale or getting the order and just listen. Hang on each word that comes out of the prospect’s mouth. After attentively listening for long enough, it’ll become natural.

“Then, take things a step further by also visualizing being in the person’s shoes. Clear your head of your own preoccupations and paint a visual picture of yourself in the exact same situation as him or her. Ask yourself, how you would feel if this happened to you? This is how you improve your ability to empathize.”

“Good listening also involves asking good questions, right?” Ganymede asked.
“It does,” Zoot agreed. “Next week, we’ll talk about questions you can ask that will not only show the prospect you’re listening, but will help guide them toward a sale.”

“I can hardly wait,” Ganymede said. “Now, let me pick that tomato off for you.”

Today’s FIRE! Point
Salespeople who don’t know how to listen, or don’t bother to listen, don’t make much money. The best way to listen better is to understand the five levels of listening—originally developed by author Steven Covey in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective Families”—and work at improving your skills.

FIRE! in Action: Sales Success Is Simply not Possible without Good Listening Skills
A study by the marketing department of Memphis State University concluded that poor listening skills were the number one reason why salespeople fail (PDF).

Next week: Zoot and Ganymede continue their discussion on the art of listening.

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