Active Listening Exercises for Sales

What is Active Listening

If you want to go straight exercises click Exercise 1 

If you want to go to all the exercises.

According to Merriam-Webster, active listening is 'to hear what someone said and understand that it is serious, important, or true.'

Wikipedia … Active listening is the practice of preparing to listen, observing what verbal and non-verbal messages are being sent, and then providing appropriate feedback for the sake of showing attentiveness to the message being presented.[1] Active listening is listening on purpose. [2]Active listening is fully being engaged while another person is talking to you. It is listening with the intent to understand the other person fully, rather than listening to respond

So, active listening refers to listening to your prospects and customers with complete attention and intent to understand what they say, what their pain points are, what problem they are looking to solve, etc. And in that essence, active listening refers to concentrating on and comprehending the customer's words, remembering them with its context, and responding thoughtfully and with empathy.

It is about showing genuine care and a desire to help, rather than solely focusing on making a sale. By engaging in active listening, sales professionals demonstrate empathy and build trust with their customers.

Active listening involves listening with all the senses. It is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening - otherwise the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.

Interest can be conveyed to the speaker by using both verbal and non-verbal messages such as maintaining eye contact, nodding your head and smiling, agreeing by saying ‘Yes’ or simply ‘Mmm hmm’ to encourage them to continue. By providing this 'feedback' the person speaking will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly.

Click here for similar information about Effective Listening in Sales

The Biggest Mistakes Salespeople Make 

The biggest mistakes salespeople make are: 

  • we don’t listen, (“No one ever listened themselves out of a job.” Calvin Coolidge)
  • we don’t ask questions, 
  • we rarely ask the right questions when we do. 

Instead we tend to:

  • interrupt, 
  • respond vaguely, 
  • multi-task, 
  • fidget 
  • inadvertently show the customer that we really don’t care.

The Problems of Selling Without Listening

Too often, salespeople just launch into a sales pitch before learning about their potential customer.

This is a classic case of selling instead of solving, of pressuring and pigeonholing a prospect into a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t fit at all and doesn’t solve their real need.

When a salesperson doesn’t listen first (and listen actively), it sends these unfortunate messages to the potential customer:

  • Solving their true needs or curing their real “pain” don’t really matter
  • Their needs are not unique and therefore their account won’t be managed based on its individual merits
  • The salesperson wants to make the sale as quickly as possible and move on to the next “conquest”
  • The salesperson’s needs exceed the prospective customer’s needs

This customer perception is very likely the reality.
And it creates tension between salesperson and prospect, leading to wasted time and effort for both parties.
Even if, the inevitable protracted selling process does somehow result in a sale, chances are good that the solution sold doesn’t truly address what the customer needs. And that is the biggest problem of all because it frustrates the customer and damages the relationship with the selling organization.

Active Listening for Effective Selling

The most effective salespeople engage in Active Listening, allowing them to craft the most appropriate solution and win their prospects’ trust.

So, are you ready to take your sales skills to the next level? 

On this page , I’m diving into the world of active listening and how it can supercharge your sales performance. Let's get started with the essentials:

  • Effective communication and understanding your prospects' needs are vital in B2B sales.
  • Active listening is a crucial skill that drives meaningful connections and boosts sales.
  • Zig Ziglar once said, "You can get everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."  To help prospects get what they want, you must first understand their wants and needs. And you can’t really know what they want until you have listened to them. 
  • Active listening shows genuine care and empathy towards customers, going beyond a mere sales pitch.

Here's what active listening really entails:

  • It's about attentively understanding your prospects' words, identifying their pain points, and recognizing the problems they want to solve.
  • By truly comprehending their needs, you can respond thoughtfully and empathetically, providing tailored solutions that address their specific requirements.

The benefits of active listening are substantial:

  • Building rapport and trust because the prospect feels heard, respected and valued: Active listening also helps you pick up on subtle emotional signals, allowing you to steer conversations in a relevant and focused manner.
  • Saving time and reducing frustration: By quickly assessing the fit between your prospects' needs and your solutions, you can streamline the sales process and focus on qualified targets.
  • The prospect may offer fewer and softer objections if the emphasis is on their need to solve a problem rather than the salesperson’s need to make a sale
  • Improved sales performance: Efficiently understanding your prospects' needs translates into higher conversion rates and overall sales success.
  • It lets the speaker think out loud. 
  • It allows the speaker to get distance from their own thoughts.

Read below for active listening exercises that you can implement to enhance your sales skills and reap the benefits.

The Most Basic Active Listening Skill

Before we get into the exercises to practice some of the skills it’s important we get the most basic step in place. 

Here is the simple secret of improving your Active Listening skills and reaching those higher levels of listening:  
Turn up the value/care you have for the interaction

If you want to improve your listening skills yes it will involve some practice – if you hang out in pretend listening (where you aren’t listening at all to the other person and your attention is 100% on something else like your own thoughts, concerns, worries, work) and fact-finding listening (where you only pay attention to any facts that pertain to you and getting an order, and ignore the rest) all of the time your sales results will be mediocre.

Whereas, the more you employ Empathy (caring, listening “for them”, putting yourself in their shoes) and Focused Listening, (like having a conversation with the most important person in the world to you. Where you fully engage heart, body, mind with the interaction, without any investment in how you are seen, how you look or how you are being received because you are 100% here for them, not for you)  the easier it will be to do these active listening habits naturally. 

But, I stress,  more than anything else, habit or not, turn up how much you care about them and the interaction, and you will be on the right path.

Exercises to Demonstrate the Basic Listening Skill

[Note: The following exercises can be done with just two people but would work better with a third person as observer]

Here is an exercise to help demonstrate this.

Step 1: Get a partner

Step 2: Assign Tasks

Person “B” is the speaker. They share something about work they are passionate about. .
Person “A” is the listener. Their job is to do everything possible to ignore “A” completely and try as hard as possible to hear nothing that Partner “B” has to say.

Step 3: Do this for about 1 -2 minutes

Step 4: Reflect

If it’s just the two of you ask person B how they felt.

  • How did the speaker feel when the person just listened and did not exchange information?
  • How uncomfortable was the silence?
  • How did the speaker feel having complete freedom to say whatever he/she felt?

Ask the listener …
How did it feel to just listen without having the pressure to contribute?

If you have more people ask the group how they felt during the exercise and open the room up for discussion.

Now try this Exercise

Step 1:
Keep the same two people and keep them in the same roles
So “A” is still “A” and “B” is still “B.”

Step 2: Assign Tasks
Partner “B” is still the speaker. Their task is once again to share something they’re passionate about.
Partner “A” is still the listener.
But this time their task is to listen to “B”s story like it’s the most wonderful, amazing stuff they’ve ever heard in their life.

Step 3: Do this for about 1 -2 minutes

Step 4: Reflect
If it’s just the two of you ask person B how they felt.
If you have more people ask the group how they felt during the exercise and open the room up for discussion.

Be sure to note the difference between the two rounds!

As an old sales trainer of mine used to say, “You’ll make a lot more sales being interested than you will by trying to be interesting”

Having the intention to listen like your life depended on it will go a long way to making your prospect feel like they are being heard.

Click here for similar information about Effective Listening in Sales

Demonstrate That You Are Fully Listening

There are some things you could do to accdemonstrate that you are fully listening:

  • Don’t multi-task ! Don’t look at your watch (in fact I never even wore a watch)
  • Nod your head using clusters of three nods at regular intervals.
  • Head tilting is another signal that you are interested, curious and involved. The head tilt is a universal gesture of giving the other person an ear.
  • Have an open body posture: legs are uncrossed, and arms are open with palms exposed or resting comfortably on the desk or conference table. If the arms are relaxed at the sides of the body while standing, this is also generally a sign of openness and willingness to listen and interact.
  • Remove Barriers. Take away anything that blocks your view or forms a barrier between you and the prospect. 
  • Smile ... A genuine smile not only stimulates your own sense of well-being, it also tells those around you that you are approachable, cooperative, and trustworthy.  And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.
  • Lean In
    Leaning in is another way your body indicates your emotions.
    Leaning backward usually signals feelings of dislike or negativity or skepticism. We subconsciously try to distance ourselves from anything unpleasant or dangerous. In a seated conversation, leaning backward can also communicate dominance or disinterest.
    Leaning forward, especially when sitting down indicates interest in the subject. Research also shows that individuals who lean forward tend to increase the verbal output of the person they’re speaking with
  • Mirror Expressions and Postures
    When a business colleague mirrors your body language, it’s his or her way of non-verbally saying that they like or agree with you. When done with intent, mirroring can be an important part of listening ( and also build rapport). To mirror you first have to observe the other person’s physical gestures and then subtly take on the same postures. 

Specific Exercises

Exercise … Keep them talking

Have A & B like before

Person “B” is the speaker. They share something about work they are passionate about. or a problem they have or just tell a story .

Person “A” is the listener. Their job is to keep person B talking.

But they are only allowed to use 4 responses to keep B talking:

  • “Tell me more…”
  • “And” …
  • Just raise your eyebrows (you can use this in together with the verbal responses)
  • Take the last word or phrase of their sentence back as a question.
    For example, B says “things have been really frantic around here” and A responds “really frantic?”  

Exercise … Tell a STORY ... 1

Person B tells a story for about 2 minutes and then immediately after quizzes A. 

A is not allowed to take notes or record the story. 

Questions to ask A:

  • Question number 1 is always “what was the character’s name?”. 
  • Question 2 could be “Where did the story take place?”
  • Question 3 could be “When did the story take place?”

DEBRIEF: Discuss what it means to “actively listen.”

  • If they didn’t recall the name of the character, what did they remember?
  • How important are details in making someone feel heard?
  • How important is note-taking?
  • Ask A would they have focused more if they knew they’d be quizzed afterwards?

Exercise … Tell a STORY ... 2

Person B tells a story for about 2 minutes and then immediately after quizzes A. 

A is not allowed to take notes or record the story. 

Ask A :

  • “Did B mainly use words that were visual, or about sounds or about feelings or even words that were non-specific / factual?”
  • “Did B use mainly short sentences or long sentences?”
  • “Did B speak in details/specifics or generalities?”

Why is this important?

You can tell a lot by a person’s word choice, how they process information (e.g. with pictures or with feelings), whether they think in details or generalities, how well educated someone is, what their belief systems are.

Exercise … “So What I Heard Is..."

This exercise is better done with 1-5 people

The Roles: Speaker and the players

The Setup: Pick one player to be the speaker and the other players sit across from him/her.

The Goal: To summarize what the speaker says and ask a relevant follow up question.

How to play

The speaker pretends to be a prospect and talks about a pain point they're experiencing.

After the speaker is done the other players take turns summarizing what the speaker said and asking a follow up question.

No two players can use the same summary or follow up question.

Idea: 1 player variant: Watch a ted talk and stop periodically to summarize what they said and ask a follow up question.


Much of the information about active listening writes about paraphrasing.

While the intention is good it has some dangers. Whenever you try to restate what someone else has said in your own words there is a risk you will include some of your own biases or interpretations.

In the words of Richard Bandler, a communication expert with some sales experience … “It's like, maybe you've learned to paraphrase back to people things they say as a way of letting them know you understand them. What an insult! I mean if you think about something that's important enough for you to want and let's say you call it "Fun." Is "Fun" and "a good time" the same?”

I suggest you just concentrate on summarising and something I call “parrot phrasing”

Exercise - Reading their Emotions

B thinks about something they are interested in

A watches carefully. 

B then thinks about something they have absolutely NO interest in.

A observes them again. 

Do this several times 

A should be able to see a difference in A’s posture or facial expression or breathing.

Next, B thinks of different scenarios in which they are interested or disinterested without telling A. 

A has to get interested or not.

Keep practicing until you get good at it.

Why is this important?

Understanding the emotions of people you are listening to is part of active listening. And, if you are in sales it would be good to be able to recognise if your prospect is interested in what you are offering.

Exercise … Empathy

I found this the hardest thing to come up with an exercise for.
Let’s try this.

B thinks about something they are emotional about 

A watches carefully. 

A offers a SUGGESTION about what emotion they think B is experiencing
e.g. “”it seems you are worried about X”

If B gets it wrong then they ask “how are you feeling about that?

Keep practicing until you get good at it.

Exercise ... Avoid ...Yes, BUT

This time A and B have a conversation.

For two minutes each, have one start a conversation and then every response back and forth must start with ‘Yes, but…’.

Then repeat but this time every response must start with ‘Yes, and…’.

Compare the two experiences.
Which resulted in a more productive conversation, building off of each other’s ideas.
Which approach was more about ‘listening to respond’ (versus ‘listening to understand’)? 

Further Reading

10 Fun Active Listening Exercises 

Career Development, Active Listening

Active Listening