It’s a Good Time to be a Good Listener


It’s a Good Time
to be a Good Listener


If you really want to help clients, just listening to them is not enough. You need to ‘hear’ what they are communicating, which takes empathy and energy. This concept is very well-explained by a Panalitix client based on his own experience. For more on Effective Listening, read on…

We work with many accountants trying to sell ADVISORY services to clients. This is one way to grow an accounting business… provided you can build client trust, understand the client’s needs and clearly demonstrate value. 

Along the way, effective listening is REALLY important. Rather than telling the client how much they need your services, you’ll have more success asking probing questions and hearing what the client says, to understand what they really need. 

This is very eloquently explained by a UK-based Panalitix client who shared his thoughts as follows:

I find it extremely difficult to listen. But because I’m aware of this, I’ve been able to be an effective listener when it really counts.  My effectiveness as a consultant improved one hundredfold once I discovered I had difficulty listening to people.  

Before I learned how to listen, my inclination was to endeavor, through the process of logical argument, to bring the client around to my way of thinking.  The way I did this was to listen for weaknesses, my opinion, of course, in his comments.  Then often, even before he’d finish speaking, I’d set him straight.  

I can vividly recall a turning point in my consulting life.  I’d been courting a potential client who I believed could be outstandingly successful.  I had visited him on several occasions and had done computer analyses of his financials.  I’d given him some useful ideas on how he could improve his profitability, but he still wouldn’t bite.  My work-in-progress was well over £1,500, and I was looking at an obvious write-off.  I knew what I could do for him, but I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he couldn’t see it.  So I decided to go back over the various conversations I’d had with him; literally to mentally relive them.  I still couldn’t find the answer.

That day I arrived home from work rather late and hadn’t called my wife.  She wasn’t at all happy, having gone to great trouble to prepare an excellent meal.  In the ensuing discussion I said to her, “What you’ve got to understand is…”  Before I finished she responded, “I don’t have to understand anything.  I’m your wife and if you want that to continue, you’ll have to start understanding me and what I want from our relationship.  It hit me between the eyes.  I recalled how, with the client, I constantly used the phrase, “What you’ve got to understand is that’s the way it is and we have to work around that.”  I’d then bring the conversation back to specific issues, e.g., you have to raise your prices or put in a Key Performance Indicator monitoring system, and so on.  

I thought I’d give it one more shot.  I stopped at his factory on my way to the office.  As always, he was happy to see me.  I said something like this: “I’ll be honest with you, Mike, I’ve been trying to get your business for the past couple of weeks, and I couldn’t understand why you didn’t jump at the opportunity for us to work together, so last night I tried to look at it from your point of view.

“It occurred to me that the suggestions and recommendations I’ve been making to you, while sound, are not really dealing with your key concern.  Mike, am I correct in saying that what’s frustrating you is that your business is not living up to your expectations, that you aren’t getting the satisfaction you expected, not to mention the income you thought you’d make?” 

He interrupted me at that point and said, “You’re dead right.  And there’s more.  It’s taking me away from the people I like to be around and the things I like to do.  I’m sick and tired of it.  I’m sick and tired of always having to fix things that go wrong around here.  No one understands or cares”.

I replied, “That being the case, Mike, if you and I could work together to create a business that gave you time, personal satisfaction, money, and control… am I correct in assuming that’s what you’re looking for?”  He replied: “You’ve got it exactly.  When do we start?”

This conversation gave birth to his first Planning Session and the realization that you have to listen to learn.  Or as Stephen Covey says, “First seek to understand, then be understood”. It also taught me the most important lesson of all, that clients are not really interested in our technical skills or the soundness of our advice unless and until they know we understand them and their aspirations.  Once that empathic bond is established, then comes the time for the application of our technical skill.  Of course it goes without saying that empathy is not a substitute for technical skill.  Ultimately you have to deliver the goods.  But you’ll never be given the chance until the door is opened.

So, effective listening is important in all walks of life, business and personal! And the importance is probably heightened in challenging, unpredictable times. We’re committing to being more effective listeners… and perhaps you’ll benefit from this approach too? 



Mark Ferris

Mark Ferris is an entrepreneur who has founded, built and 'exited' numerous businesses realizing success for shareholders, employees, customers and acquirers. He has a particular interest in software, solutions and service businesses and frequently writes on related topics.

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