I was recently sitting in a very cramped seat at 35,000 feet on my way to Daytona Beach, Florida to address the National Senior Photographers annual convention.

Everyone who has ever flown knows that shortly before takeoff the stewardesses (Whoops, sorry — Flight Attendants) show you where the exits are, something about floatation devices, how to use the seat belts and other safety features of the airplane. As the plane rolls away from the terminal and they are going through this demonstration, I am observing the other passengers. Most are already deep into reading their books, newspapers or engaged in idle conversation with each other.

As a frequent flier, I too fall into this disinterested group. Having heard the talk many times, I could probably recite it verbatim as well as they can. The only people truly absorbing the information are the first time flyers, who are easily identifiable by the look of shear terror on their faces. So, the question becomes, why don’t people listen to this life-saving information?

Why Don’t We Listen

The simple answer is, we are so absorbed with our own lives, that we usually have very little interest in any information that we don’t feel is important at the time. But, as a business owner, adopting this attitude will negatively affect your bottom line.

I don’t believe that poor listening skills are a conscious, intentional attitude, as much as a bad habit developed over a period of time. No business owner I know goes to work saying, “I’m not listening to customers today.” But, as a business owner’s, you want to sell products and services. While the customer is talking, you are often not listening, but planning what you are going to say to try to make the sale. You desperately want to tell the story of your products and services in the mistaken impression that the products will sell themselves. You recite this story to customers as though you already know the solution to the customer’s dilemma without actually hearing it.

Business Owners Need a New Mindset

The police department normally videotapes interrogations and confessions of criminals. Why?

So there is no question as to what the defendant said. When you are talking to a customer, you don’t have that luxury. There is no rewind or replay. Once you don’t hear something, it’s gone for all intents and purposes. This happens most often with the customer’s name. Find some way to always remember your customer’s name and use it often.

My rule of thumb is: “Give me enough information to prove, to myself, that I can’t help you.” If I get the information that I can help, then there is a selling opportunity waiting to happen.

Developing Listening Skills for Fun and Profit

The most important part of any selling situation is the information gathering process. It’s like going to the doctor. The doctor asks you questions about your aches and pains and listens to your responses and prescribes a form of treatment. The doctor starts with a list of things that might be wrong with you, and through questioning and tests, narrows your problem down to one or more possible solutions.

Your customers are in pain. It may not be physical pain, but certainly emotional pain. They have problems and are in your place of business because your marketing and advertising has convinced them you can solve their problems. You are no different than the doctor. How can you diagnose a pain reliever unless you first find the cause of their pain?

Learning what to ask

You should be asking, “open ended questions.” These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” They encourage customers to explain their particular aches and pains in greater detail.

Then you might say, “Let me make sure I understand…” and restate their problem and wait for confirmation from them that you fully understand their needs. Once they respond positively, you have the information you need, to not only help them, but to also begin to build value into the products and services that you have decided to recommend.

Don’ t Talk Unless You’ve Done The “Four Things”

Now you are in a position to say, “Based on what you told me, here is the course of action I recommend,” and move toward closing the sale.

You have done four important things customers expect from you. First, you have ceased to be a salesperson, and are now an “assistant buyer or product adviser.” Second, you listened as they explained their problem. Third, you restated their problem back to them to confirm that you fully understood what they told you. And lastly, you didn’t recommend some “cookie cutter” solution, but rather a solution based on their specific needs. To the customer, a customized solution is always much more powerful and personal.

Some Final Thoughts on Developing Your Listening Skills

Talking is a skill. So is listening. Both require skill and practice to do them well. We all develop bad habits and are often unaware of them. Make a conscious effort to improve your give and take with customers. Take the time to develop your listening skills and watch your bottom line grow.