The Power of Listening Skills for Enablement Leaders
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To be in the sales enablement field is to be deeply human. Communication, connection, and empathy play a significant role in achieving success, and these all rely on listening skills to share information effectively, give feedback, and solve problems.
While many may think they are great listeners, research shows that the average person will only remember about 25% of what was said and will often forget half of the information within as short as eight hours.
In today’s world of business, with remote work and the “Great Reshuffling”, listening as a skill is needed now more than ever before. Active listening can help deepen understanding, convey interest and engagement, and ultimately help comprehension.
“The most important thing, and sometimes the hardest thing to do in enablement, is to listen for things that are not said,” said Terri Petion, director of revenue enablement at MaestroQA. “Paying close attention to areas where reps need support the most, but maybe they don’t recognize it on their own, is critical. You have to be able to read between the lines in some cases, and in others where it is more explicit, you can create programs that are tailored to the specific needs of the organization and of those reps.”
To be a good listener is to hone that skill throughout a lifetime. For enablement professionals, the power of listening can translate into invaluable buy-in for enablement initiatives and aid in navigating through organizational change. Here are two ways that excellent listening skills can help set enablement leaders up for success.
Gain Stakeholder Buy-In and Support Through Empathetic Listening
To listen well is to be an active participant in any conversation, but this can be particularly difficult if the goals of the exchange are not agreed upon outright. Gaining stakeholder buy-in from an enablement perspective is a core component of any practitioner’s job. Still, it can be met with uncertainty or require a level of education around why enablement should be supported.
“I think some of the best advice I actually received from one of our senior salespeople is to approach our plan in the same way they need to approach our customers,” said Dagmar Eisenbach, director of sales enablement of Central Europe at Salesforce. “You’d always need to start with a customer-centric discovery. In my mind, it’s the observing what is needed, listening on the more people side, and understanding the numbers on the more direct business side.”
Empathetic listening can be a gamechanger when it comes to stakeholder conversations. Engaging in active listening helps to build trust for both parties and enables a sense of psychological safety that can go a long way in communicating effectively and efficiently. Consider the six techniques below to enhance active listening:
- Pay attention: Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and more can help build context for the motivation behind the words. Attention can also come in the form of allowing the other person time to respond to respect and leave space for thoughtful conversation.
- Minimize distractions: An active listener is more open to new ideas and perspectives. Minimizing external noise or interruptions can help re-focus the conversation to ensure the topics discussed are a top priority.
- Repetition and reflection: Repeating the last few words from the other person can go a long way in signaling to the participant that they’re being listened to and helps keep the conversation on track. Paraphrasing critical points throughout the conversation can build mutual understanding and avoid miscommunication. For example, ways to reflect could be saying, “what I’m hearing is” and “sounds like you’re feeling.”
- Comprehension: Listening to understand, not just to be heard, requires the listener to clarify as much as possible when some points or issues are ambiguous and unclear. Asking questions that are open-ended invites a more collaborative approach to the conversation.
- Regulating emotion: If conversations get to a frustrating point, as a listener, it can be helpful to monitor and self-regulate one’s feelings to slow the pace of the conversation. This can activate the ability for more repetition and encourage more intentional engagement from both participants that doesn’t devolve into arguments.
“For a sales enablement practitioner, I think we should start with the adage of listen and learn,” said Jill Guardia, executive director of sales enablement at TriNet. “Spend some time listening to your clients, to your customers, to the sales organization across all levels, and be curious. Verify and validate what they’re saying to you. If one person says it, is it gospel? Do you need to hear from other people? Where is the trend so that you really know that you’re putting your energies into the right places?”
Guiding Organizational Change Through Listening
Enablement practitioners are often tasked with driving the adoption of their initiatives and projects, requiring a certain level of attention and dedication to achieve results and avoid disruption. These initiatives at times require significant organizational change, which means it is important to take particular care in ensuring that those impacted feel heard and supported throughout the process.
As a first step in approaching change initiatives, enablement practitioners can employ active listening to better understand where to start and understand how the change directly affects the workflow and structure of the various teams with unique challenges.
“I would say the first step is listening and understanding the dynamics of the environment and the people you’re working with,” said Crystal Thompson, senior vice president of business enablement at AmerisourceBergen. “Meeting people where they are is such an important component when you’re asking people to change.”
For example, suppose an enablement team is implementing a new tool to help revamp an onboarding program for multiple sales teams. The first step in defining the approach is to meet with the teams and listen to what is working well in their current workflow and what could be vastly improved. To have people, processes, and technology work together is to ensure that all impacted by the change feel supported and heard throughout the transformation and that the technology converges seamlessly into their existing business processes.
Understanding the pain points or challenges certain teams face when experiencing a transformation initiative requires listening more intentionally. The act of listening, particularly as it relates to business communication, is critical but often overlooked. Enablement leaders are often responsible for retaining a whole host of information and accurately communicating that to various stakeholders. Active listening can be complex, but it’s a soft skill that is persistent throughout every conversation and one of the first steps behind any successful initiative.
“When I think about the art of asking good questions, it’s the listening skills that become really key because that helps to drive where the conversation goes,” said Tisha Garza, head of field enablement at Kong.