Active Listening in Sales

Active Listening in Sales

Our Sales Manager, Matt Barr talks strengthening relationships throughout the crisis

22 June 2020

Starting out in the world of recruitment, I had the understanding that in order to be successful you needed to fit a particular mould; Wear an expensive watch, be hyper-productive and above all else, a slick talker. Fast forward several years and my experience would teach me that these things don’t matter and it was ‘Active Listening’ that would strengthen my client relationships 10 fold.


Why it is important…

My first ‘light bulb moment’ came about 4 months into my career when I couldn’t convince one particular IT Manager to work with me. He had been advertising the same job vacancy for months but was hesitant to work with me despite me doing everything right by the sales rule book…


I told him how amazing my network was, we’d gone over the number of available candidates on my database countless times and I’d called him 3 times a week to remind him of how many potential candidates were passing him by.


I couldn’t grasp why he (and several others) were not as enthusiastic to work with me as I was to work with them. It wasn’t until one of my colleagues started asking me questions about the vacancy and the business that I began to look at things differently.

‘What’s the rest of this guys team like?’ I didn’t know…

‘What projects are they working on in his team at the moment?’ I didn’t know…

‘Why have they struggled to find the right person for so long?’ I didn’t know…


It dawned on me that not only did I not know any information about the circumstances around the vacancy, I hadn’t even asked. I was busy trying to sell a solution based on assumptions.


This realisation about listening stung at the time and it stuck with me over the years like a bad heartbreak. Now, with the strange economic scenario created by COVID-19,  the importance of this lesson and its application within the recruitment industry is more relevant than ever.


Why it is even more important now…

Active listening promotes the idea of focusing completely on what someone has to say, fully absorbing the information and responding thoughtfully. At OQ, I have always been proud of our attention to detail and training modules that focus on actually listening to what clients and candidates want, putting their needs at the forefront of any conversation.


During the pandemic, we’ve seen many of our clients take a pause on certain vacancies, freeze recruitment altogether, pull job offers and in some cases, candidates haven’t even made it through their 1-month probation due to the economic chaos. The whole situation has really brought the importance of active listening directly to the forefront. 


What we previously knew about our client’s hiring processes, team structure and even growth goals were suddenly irrelevant. It was of zero use for us to make assumptions about what our clients needed, their hiring priorities, how they wanted to structure job offers and when they wanted contracts to commence. It was back to square one with every client, including the ones we’d worked with for years.


Identifying solutions through active listening…

Our strategy to combat the uncertainty and fear surrounding the job market was to listen, ask more questions and then listen some more. This approach helped us form a deeper relationship with many existing clients and allowed us to cooperate with new clients in a time when they were concerned they would be unable to hire.


The attention we gave to the information coming through gave us clear directions in which to pivot depending on pain points surrounding the pandemic.


For one client, there were anxieties around choosing incorrect candidates because they couldn’t see them in person. The fix to this was adding additional stages to their hiring process. We added an extra interview with a PO, an extra interview with the wider team, a personality test and a follow-up talk with the CTO.


For many others the pain points were around how the pandemic would affect them financially. We were able to sit down with multiple clients and reevaluate where their critical budget was going within hiring. 


This did mean we had to suspend or delay certain roles which we had spent a lot of time/resources/sweat/tears working on, but it did open up new hiring possibilities for us in different areas of the business. More importantly, it helped us to understand the needs and priorities of the client to a new level which we may not have approached in normal circumstances.


Gathering these extreme insights into a business’s motivations, concerns and challenges meant we genuinely understood their reasoning. This heavily benefited our candidates. We were able to give a much more in-depth picture of the companies we work with and if they could guarantee job security throughout the pandemic. It opened up a new level of transparency and information between the employer and potential employee.


Key takeaways…

Together with my team, we agreed upon 5 main takeaways throughout the pandemic:


  1. Anything you are not 100% certain about, ask. Even if it feels like overkill, it’s going to help.
  2. If someone says anything ambiguous, dive into it. Get to the root of what they mean and what is motivating them to say it. You might also help them unearth the words they’re really looking for.
  3. Make sure you’re talking to everyone who’s important to the process. Hearing all that everyone has to say and exploring it.
  4. With more information and understanding you can tell a better, more compelling and more accurate story about your candidates and your clients.
  5. Assumptions are always a killer in any sales job, now more than ever.


Listening is more relevant now than ever. In our fast and loud working world, be the anomaly that takes care and composure to truly absorb someone’s words through active listening.