What is Active Listening?
Active listening is a communication technique that helps to develop understanding and rapport between the speaker and the listener. Rather than passively listening to the person who's speaking (or not listening at all), an active listener both listens to his words and observes his body language, then rephrases and repeats back the most crucial points of what he believes the speaker is trying to say.
Active listening is extremely helpful in building rapport between yourself and a prospect (or anyone else), because by following the basic pattern of listening and then stating the important facts you show the other person that you are respectfully paying attention to them. It's particularly good in a sales scenario because many prospects believe in the stereotype of the salesperson who talks constantly and never listens, and will often expect to be ignored or talked over. By showing that you value the prospect's opinions, you can quickly build trust and rapport as well as showing that you're not like that particular stereotype.
This mode of listening is also an almost perfect way to avoid misunderstandings. Since you repeat back a summary of what you heard, the speaker then has a chance to correct anything that you didn't pick up. This nips confusion and misinterpretation in the bud before it has a chance to throw your sales cycle completely off track.
The most obvious use of active listening is during the qualifying and answering objections stages. When qualifying, correctly interpreting the prospect's responses will help you to eliminate unqualified prospects before you waste your time and theirs; when answering objections, since the prospect already has a concern, showing that you understand and care helps a great deal in soothing those fears. But don't close your ears or your brain during other parts of the sales process. Often your prospect will reveal helpful information about himself and his needs without being asked, and these bits of information are critical to identifying his "hot button" benefits.