Laurel Bernstein | How Active Listening Can Help You Sell More Effectively

On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we sit down with Laurel Bernstein, Founder and President of Laurel Bernstein and Associates, a consulting and training firm providing performance and leadership skill training for business professionals. Laurel has an extensive background as a facilitator and trainer and aims to be able to help and advise business owners on their business models and team development.

“I spent the first 25 years of my life as a painfully shy person; in groups I rarely had anything to say. But, I started to study listening skills and learned that you don’t have to be born a good listener, it’s actually a skill you can learn. So, I became a student of listening, and as a result, I would hear and observe things that people didn’t even realize. I realized that I knew a lot more about what was going on in a room than the people who were participating,” says Laurel.

We chat about what sets Laurel apart from others in her field, as well as:

  • How active listening can help you sell more effectively
  • Her tips for keeping sales skills sharp
  • Why every conversation is a negotiation
  • What makes someone successful in sales
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:



Nancy Calabrese: Hi everybody and welcome to Conversational Selling. It’s the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today. And it all starts with the human conversation. I’m your host, Nancy Calabrese, and it’s fantastic to have with me today, Laurel Bernstein, the founder and president of Laurel Bernstein and Associates, a consulting and training firm providing performance and leadership skill training for business professionals.

She has an extensive background as a highly effective facilitator and trainer. Laurel advises many companies helping owners evaluate their business model and team development. And she has the astounding ability to listen in ways most of us don’t. And I can’t wait to hear more about that. Laurel is a staple here at One of a Kind Sales. We couldn’t live without her. Thanks so much for joining us today, Laurel.

Laurel Bernstein: Well, Nancy, as I said, I’m honored because you have a high standard.

Nancy: Oh, okay. Well, I guess I’ve been accused of worse before, right?

Laurel: No, but thank you. I’m really delighted to be here. And I’m really delighted to talk to you more about the importance of listening, especially in sales.

Nancy: Sure. You know, you and I have gotten to know each other over the years. And, you know, I’m always amazed at your successful career and in your wealth of knowledge. I mean, any question I have, you have an answer for, you’re my go-to for everything. I’m just curious, you spent many years in corporate. What made you leave to become a certified executive coach?

Why Laurel Chose to Leave Her Job and Start Her Own Coaching Firm

Laurel: The reason I left is that two or three years before I actually did leave, I started to think about what am I going to do next. And I had made an entire career of being in charge, always in charge of something. And I really wanted to think about my next act. And I didn’t want to be let go like people were being let go after long careers.

So I wanted to plan my own exit. And so I had always been advising senior leaders, so decided to go to business school to become a certified executive coach. And fortunately, the company that I was working for allowed me to have five or six internal clients so that I could get good at what I was doing. And once I got good, I decided I want to do, instead of saving the company I was working for millions of dollars, maybe I wanted to go out on my own and make millions of dollars.

Nancy: Hey, I like that thinking. And I’ll take that any day. Now that, you know, obviously, when you hear the word executive coach, what comes to my mind is you work in a highly saturated space. And again, I know firsthand, you’re amazing. But what unique idea, sets what you do apart from the others?

Laurel: So to be very honest, I spent the first 25 years of my life as a painfully shy person. I would be in groups of even as little as three or 33 and I would never say anything. I very rarely had anything to say. And I wasn’t even uncomfortable about it. But because I was watching and listening and hearing, seeing people roll their eyes and I became so good at listening.

So I started to study listening skills and learned that you don’t have to be born a good listener. It’s actually a skill you can learn. So I became a student of listening. And as a result, I would hear things that weren’t there and I would hear and observe things that people didn’t even realize. And I realized that I knew a lot more about what was going on in the room than the people participating.

Nancy: Wow. You know, and in sales, as you know, it requires a lot of skills. But one of the most important skill, I think the most important skill is the people’s ability to listen. And you’ve often told me and my team that I’m trained to listen differently. How is that? You know, I want to know more. I’m sure my audience does.

A Different Approach to Listening

Laurel: Okay. So this is really important to understand. And I’m going to give you a little background story. I went to a networking event. We were sitting around a big table and there were 17 people, including myself. And when I have people introduce themselves, I like to go first because otherwise, I’m sitting here at the table, practicing what I’m going to say and practicing what I’m going to say and then I’m not listening to anybody else. So I sat in the spot where I could go first.

But unfortunately, the leader started elsewhere in the room. So I decided I was going to write one thing down about each person in the room. Just one thing that was outstanding that I would want to remember. And then when it got to me, I was the last person, I went around the room and I said to each person, I’m going to tell you what I remembered from your presentation and then you’re going to tell me if that’s what you want to be remembered for. And if you don’t want to be remembered for that, you get to do a do-over.

So, out of 17 people, there were nine people who did do-overs because truthfully, I was the only one in that room that was listening. Everybody else was preparing what they had to say. It was pretty obvious when they said what they had to say but they hadn’t heard anything that happened before. And I really, as a result, wound up with two clients in that room that signed up to my active listening workshop.

Nancy: Wow. I mean, that’s pretty amazing. So can you talk to us more about that workshop? What’s it like?

Laurel: All right, so I’m going to give you sort of like an intro so that you can feel what the workshop is like. One of the first things that I do is I said, say, we’re not going to introduce ourselves. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about our favorite room, and it needs to have texture and color and function. And why you love it, why it is your favorite room. It doesn’t even have to be a room in your home. It could be your deck, it could be a room that you stayed in at the Biltmore Hotel.

It could be any room that just was perfect for you that you love. And so we go around the room and everybody does that. And what I then do is I asked them one at a time to tell me one thing that they know about every other person in the room without repeating something they said. So in other words, if they said, I have a red couch in my living room that’s so furry and comfortable, and I stretch out on it every night after dinner, you can’t say any of those words.

You have to say something about the person you learned from hearing the things they said. So what we’re looking for is, well, you know, she knows how to unwind because lying on the couch was unwinding. It wasn’t about that Nancy has a red couch, it was that she got a place to lie down in her favorite room where she knows how to unwind. And so all the attributes of a person come out when they’re talking about something they care about. And if you’re really listening, you can know them.

Nancy: Wow. So how long does it take to develop a skill like that?

Laurel: My workshop is nine sessions. They’re an hour and 15 minutes each. Usually, you press to really materialize around session number four. And I have to admit that there are occasionally some people that get all the way through the program and they still are unable to listen to cutely. They are better, but they don’t really learn how to listen with a third year.

Nancy: Right. So let’s talk about what you do and how it would benefit people in sales.

If You’re Talking, You’re not Learning

Laurel: So, people in general like to talk about themselves. They are, if you ask somebody tell me something about yourself, they like to do that. And so if you’re talking, you’re not learning anything about them because they’re not talking. I would think that in a sales situation, the more you knew about a person, the better the conversation will be. And if you really want to know, you have to listen.

And you have to keep prompting them. One of my favorite books of all times, Tell Me More. And that was just something that in a conversation, a woman would say over and over again, tell me more. And it would really allow somebody to really tell you what they need. And then from a sales perspective, then when you hear what they need, you can then tell them you understand that and that you can provide that for them in a way that they can receive it because they’ve just told you they need it.

Nancy: Yeah. So is this the kind of training, you know, I know, there were a training programs people invest in, and then maybe they’ll do it, right? For a period of time. What is your recommendation to keep your skills sharp? Again, in sales, I think it’s the most important skill. So do you have any techniques or any go-to places you would recommend people spend time each week and just, you know, revisit or learn new techniques?

Laurel: So what I can explain which can be recreated very easily at the end of the workshop, we define what areas of listening people are still struggling with. And then what we do is we have one final videotaping of each person’s listening skills test. And we have them do it over and over and over again until the skill is built. We’ve provided a way for them to do that on a regular basis until it gels for them. The listening skills requires another person to practice and that’s what we provide.

Nancy: Okay, and you do this, you can do this virtually?

Laurel: Oh, yeah, it’s better done virtually, actually because then you can record the visual.

Nancy: Okay, so generally speaking, what do you think makes a person more or less successful in sales?

Every Conversation is a Negotiation

Laurel: So I think that one of the things that is one of the most important things is that they don’t ever sell, they need to know that every single conversation you have with another human being in a negotiation. So you want to go to a movie with, or you want to choose a movie to download with a friend. So you say, What do you feel like watching? Do you want to do a rom com? Do you want to do a shoot em up?

You want adventure? Do you want to do sci-fi? You’re negotiating, right? Well, I really thought I wanted to do this. Well, I heard that wasn’t so good. And it goes back and forth and back and forth as a negotiation. Every conversation that any two people have is a negotiation. So I think salespeople from listening, can benefit so much because they are hearing what they need to hear to negotiate effectively.

Nancy: Yeah. And, you know, when you really pay attention and understand what they need, they are pretty much telling you how to sell them, right? by listening and letting them talk. And we love that phrase here, tell me more. We use it all the time and just try to keep quiet. I think there’s a stat 70% of the time, prospects should be talking, 30% of the time we should be talking. So I think this is really amazing. And frankly, I haven’t heard of a program like this. You may have just answered this, but I’m going to ask you this anyway. Tell me something that’s true that nobody agrees with you on.

Laurel: Well, that every conversation is a negotiation. It’s hard for people to think that they’re doing it all the time. And I’ve never really gotten anybody to say yeah, I guess you’re right. But I did, you know, I did think it through and it really, that’s how it comes out. Every interaction.

Nancy: Wow. I know that you and I spoke earlier about how you quote your father, and it’s endearing. And I saw something on your LinkedIn profile talking about the forcers and the unforcers. And I wonder if we could just tie it into what we’ve been talking about.

Forcers vs Unforcers

Laurel: Well, absolutely. Let me give you a quick summary of the story that I wrote. My father believes that the room, the dichotomy that he lives by were the people who forced things and the people who were patient and would keep things calmer. And his example was that if you are trying to get a light bulb out of the ceiling lamp, and doesn’t come out easily, the person who is a forcer, is going to grab it and turn it and the bolt could break in their hands.

And more than not, they get hurt. But the person who is patient and waits, wiggles it a little bit, turns it off, thinking maybe if it pulls down a little bit it’ll come out easier. And they almost never make a mistake. And I think in sales, it’s the same kind of thing. If you’re trying to force a sale, uh oh, I don’t, nobody likes to feel that. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of something that’s being forced at them. But if you’re gentle and you’re listening, and you’re waiting to see what a person needs and you really hear them, the patient person will come out on the right side of the sale.

Nancy: Awesome. Yep, I completely agree with you. So what’s the one takeaway you’d like to leave the audience with?

Laurel: Alright, so there’s this program called StoryCorps, started 17 years ago by a fella named Robert Isay. And what you can do is go into a booth, they started in Grand Central Station in New York, and you could go with a grandparent or a parent or spouse and interview them. And the interview would be stored in the Library of Congress. And after 17 years, now you can do it online. You can do it with your cousin in California.

And these interviews are golden. They’re just beautiful. And they interviewed Robert Isay about on the 10th anniversary to ask him what he learned from starting StoryCorps, and he said, first of all, I learned that listening is an act of love. And then he said, I also learned that when you’re talking, you’re only telling people what you know. But when you’re listening, you’re learning something new.

Nancy: Oh, wow. Laurel, I’m sure my audience wants to reach out to you. How can they find you?

Laurel: They can find me at or

Nancy: Wonderful. Another great conversation with Laurel Bernstein. I highly recommend to any of you out there, if you have interest in what we’ve just discussed and she shared with us, be sure to reach out to Laurel. My team and I are going to participate in this active listening workshop. We can’t wait to get started. And additionally, for those that might have an interest in relying on a professional to turn to who’s got the answers for everything, I highly recommend. Laurel. Thank you so much for coming on today.

Laurel: Well, thank you. I really had fun. This is great.

Active Listening – it’s more than just ‘hearing’ what your prospect is saying!

At One of a Kind Sales, we spend a LOT of time training our people to ACTIVELY LISTEN. Picking up the phone and dialing MAY get you to the right person but active listening is the real secret to setting qualified appointments and sales success! 

Can you hear me? 

A basic Cold Calling requirement is being able to HEAR the prospect. That means setting yourself up so there is no background noise or music to distract you and having a headset with adequate volume controls. Close all your extraneous browser windows and shut off your personal phone so you are not tempted to check email, texts or social media.  

It’s not just hearing them… 

ACTIVE listening involves more than just HEARING what your prospect is saying. It means UNDERSTANDING what is being said, and oftentimes, being able to hear and understand the UNSPOKEN context. Actively listening will enable you to ‘hear’ the prospect’s body language through the tone, volume and words they are using. It means noticing shifts in that tone or changes in the volume and then modulating your own tone and words in response. 

Active listening involves paying attention to what is said and using the prospect’s responses to formulate your own statements.  

Active listening tactics 

We recommend a number of tactics to do this: 

  • Paraphrasing – which is where you restate some of the prospects replies but in your own words.  
  • Summarizing – where you provide a summary of the process or discussion to give an overview and context. 
  • Clarification – where you restate and/or explain things to make sure you are all on the same page. ASK for clarification on a point or statement to keep the prospect talking about their issues. 
  • Reflection – where you reflect the prospect’s words back to them to help them understand what you are hearing. 

Note that ALL of the above require you to have HEARD not just the prospect’s words but the intentions behind those words. Pay attention, listen carefully and you will be rewarded with valuable insights and you will, more importantly, earn their trust! They can tell when you are listening and will appreciate that you have HEARD them.  


Because we know that ACTIVE LISTENING is such an important skill, we have collected many useful resources on this topic. Here are a few articles and videos we think can help YOU improve YOUR active listening skills: 

How to Create an Effective Cold Calling Script

At One of a Kind Sales, we LOVE Cold Calling. And I am a huge fan of Cold Calling Scripts. Here are some tips on how to create an effective Cold Calling script for yourself.

First, any salesperson who says they don’t need a script should reconsider because I am confident that they are leaving money on the table. I stand by that 100%.

The truth is that many people who “wing it” on the phone, sound like they’re winging it. And they are less effective because they don’t have a structured process to follow.

An effective script grounds you, providing you with the words you need to work your way through a conversation and allows you to think ahead while speaking with the prospect.

Here’s an outline of an effective Cold Calling script:

  • An Introduction:this should be unique and non-salesy.
  • Ask Permission:ask them to give you 30 seconds to explain the purpose of the call. 
  • Introduce your Company:provide a brief description of what your company does. Focus on value you deliver. According to a study by HubSpot, 96% of buyers say a focus on the value your company can deliver, impacts their purchasing decision.
  • Offer three examples of problems you solve:these ‘case studies’ allow people to relate and see how you can help them.
  • Ask a Question:something like: “Is any of what I stated compelling and worth a conversation?”
  • Then… shut up!

Memorizing this will allow you sound more natural and less ‘salesy’. And it will free you up to address and overcome any objections.

The truth is that you really won’t know what the objections will be until you have this conversation, but you should prepare for those by having scripts for the ones you usually hear. (Check out this post for more on overcoming objections on Cold Calls)

Shut up and Listen!

An effective Cold Calling script will include questions which elicit important information. When they start talking about their pain points, your role is to listen, empathize and allow them to express their issues in detail.

The key is to actively listen and probe to keep them talking about their problems.

Set an Appointment or Move On?

The information you gather will help you determine whether or not you can fix their problem. If you can, great! Go ahead and set an appointment.

If not, no problem. Thank them for their time and ask them if they know of anyone else who might need your services. Ask them to keep you in mind if their situation changes or if they learn of anyone who might be a good fit. 

Then pick up the phone and dial your next number!

Consistency Is Key

Developing scripts for everyone on the team ensures consistent messaging and branding.

The Conversational Selling Script™ , like the one outlined here, is for when you speak with a decision-maker. You will also need to develop voicemail scripts and email templates that match the voicemail scripts. 

How to Create an Effective Cold Calling Script

Here is the process I recommend for developing scripts.

  • Develop five case studies on past clients. Think about what their issue was– that’s the title of the case study. Talk about what their problem was, and how you helped them resolve it.
  • Each case study should cover a different problem that your prospects may also have. Those case studies become the ‘meat’ of your script.
  • Extract the “pain” from those case studies and put it into your script.
  • Adapt the right case study to the prospect you are calling.

You don’t have to know everything about that client. You don’t have to be an expert. You’ve got your script. You’ve got your pain points. Go!


Don’t go into sell mode on a call when your goal is just to have a CONVERSATION and, if they are a good fit, to set an appointment.

That’s it, never sell. You are there to uncover information. And this information then becomes the ‘meat’ of your appointment conversation.

Rinse and Repeat

Once you have an effective Cold Calling script, it should be reviewed and updated periodically but it should serve you well for hundreds of calls.

And yes, there is an art to creating an effective Cold Calling script. It isn’t easy and can take years of practice. If you don’t want to wait years to reap the benefits of an effective Cold Calling script and need one NOW, call us – we can set you and your team up with the scripts YOU need to set appointments that close more deals. Call us today at 908-879-2911 to learn more and to get started setting more, and more qualified, appointments.


This is an excerpt from a chapter of my book, “The Inside Sales Solution“. Click here to buy a copy from Amazon or here to download a FREE digital copy.

What is Conversational Selling?

At One of a Kind Sales, we call our proprietary approach to Cold Calling ‘Conversational Selling’. 

We approach each call as a conversation and an opportunity to discover two things: 

     1. Are we speaking with a decision maker?  


     2. Are they experiencing problems now, or in the future, that we can solve? 

We do that, in conversation, by asking a lot of important and pointed questions. 

Sales 101 

Take for example, the classic sales exercise where you are asked ‘sell me a pen’.  

Most people launch into ‘sell’ mode, listing all the features and benefits of owning this particular pen.  

With Conversational Selling, we deliberately take a different path. We need to know what is motivating the person’s need for a pen before we know if this is the best pen for them.  

Rather than going directly for a sale, we pause and spend time asking important questions to determine if this pen is the best fit for them, or if another might be better. 

Build Trust 

This approach does a couple of things. First, it earns you the trust of the prospect. They can see that you are genuinely curious to learn about THEM and THEIR needs, as opposed to just selling YOUR product.  

Qualify the Prospect 

It also provides you with the opportunity to decide if this buyer is a good fit for you!  

Don’t Rush 

This approach also forces you to SLOW DOWN.  

Many salespeople are guilty of approaching each prospect with an attitude of ‘ let’s close this deal and move onto the next’.  

When you do that, you often miss important details and information which is key to determining how to best sell this prospect.  

You need to learn how THIS prospect wants to buy. Listening and drawing information out through questioning provides you with this info.  

Equal Stature 

When you approach a sales call as a conversation you create equal stature that allows you to determine if this prospect is a good fit. And to determine whether you can solve their problem.  

This takes the pressure off of the salesperson AND the prospect.  

A Proven Track Record 

We have been practicing this method for over 29 years, refining our approach, and messaging as needed. Not only has it been successful for us and our clients, but it has also worked well for the salespeople that we have trained.  

In addition to making you a better salesperson, our Conversational Selling training will benefit you across all areas of your professional and even your personal life by helping you become a better LISTENER.  

Be Deliberately Different 

At the end of the day, Conversational Selling will set you apart – people remember people who are different.  

As you know, I love this quote from Coco Chanel who famously said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” 

Being deliberately different, by design, will improve your sales, fill your pipeline and relive you and the prospect of the pressure of a hard sell. 

Invest in Yourself 

Sales training benefits individual salespeople and companies as a whole, by sharpening their skills, increasing the knowledge base, keeping the company competitive and growing revenue.  

Ongoing sales training should be a part of every employee’s weekly schedule, at every level. Yes, even management! This keeps people involved, up to date on the industry best practices and engaged with their team and their prospects. 

If you need help shifting YOUR mindset from selling features and benefits to Conversational Selling, give us a call. Our ‘Call Center in a Boxand ‘Close the Dealprograms provide the ongoing sales training you and your team needs to succeed! 

Cold Calling is Networking

I have noticed that many salespeople are quick to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on live events, claiming that they offer networking opportunities that they cannot afford to miss. That time and money would be better spent on Cold Calling. Cold Calling IS networking!

When done correctly, Cold Calling provides all the benefits of networking at a much lower cost and in a shorter time frame. 

Cold Calling vs Networking

Here are some of the most important reasons to network professionally:

  • To build and nurture your professional network
  • To stay visible and top of mind with your community
  • To stay on top of industry news and advancements
  • To help others and build good will

 Cold Calling provides the opportunity to do all of these, and more!

  • Cold Calling helps build and nurture your professional network. When making Cold Calls, you are introduced to new people and have the opportunity to touch base with older contacts. And since you are speaking with them, one on one over the phone, instead of across a table with numerous others – some of whom may be competitors – I would argue that the conversations you have during a Cold Call are more advantageous. 

But the key word there is ‘CONVERSATIONS’ – when done correctly, a Cold Call is a conversation! 

  • Cold Calling helps you stay visible and top of mind with your community. Again, when Cold Calling, you are ‘touching’ the prospect – even if it is only to leave a voicemail. These ‘touches’ help establish a sense of trust and by maintaining a regular delivery cadence, you will stay top of mind.
  • Cold Calling helps you stay on top of industry news and advancements. While you may not be gaining information from your prospects, a good salesperson will be sure to stay on top of industry news in order to be able to provide that on calls if needed. Cold Calling incentivizes salespeople to be in the know!
  • Cold Calls provide opportunities to help others and build good will. A good salesperson will be listening, on a Cold Call, for problems they can solve. If they cannot provide an appropriate solution, they will offer a referral. This not only helps the prospect but serves to build good will.

How much time should you spend networking?

According to Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Network International, which claims to be the largest business networking organization in the world) people should spend 8 – 10 hours per week networking. To achieve this by attending networking events, you need to then add the commute time, factor in the costs of the event and the lousy coffee and hope that your target audience will be there.

Yes, attending some live networking events can be helpful but I say, cut to the chase! Pick up the phone and make a call. And start thinking of your Cold Calling time as ‘networking’ – making and building new connections. I bet this shift in mindset will you’re your calls become more conversational and productive. Let me know how it goes!

Do you need help shifting your mindset out of ‘selling’ mode and into ‘conversation’ mode? Check out our Call Center in a Box program where we train you and your team in our time-proven Conversational Selling technique. OUR SALES TRAINING gets YOUR people delivering real results!