By Tom Hopkins

The human body has two ears and one mouth. To be good at persuading or selling, you must find out how to use those natural devices in proportion: Listen twice as much as you talk, and you’ll succeed in persuading others nearly every time. When you do most of the talking:

  • You aren’t finding out about either your customer or your customer’s needs.

  • You aren’t hearing buying clues or concerns.

  • You may be raising concerns the prospect may not have had in the first place.

  • You’re shifting your buyer’s attention away from your presentation.

  • You’re giving your buyer more opportunity to disagree with you, to distrust one of your statements, or both.

  • You’re taking center stage away from the customer.

  • You aren’t able to think ahead.

  • You aren’t able to guide the conversation.

  • You aren’t able to convince the other person of the best decision for him.

Most people don’t think they talk too much, but if you listen to very many sales presentations, you will develop a keen ear for how much talking is done compared to how much is needed — and the answer, all too often, is too much.

To develop your ear, try these two simple exercises:

  • Listen to a salesperson selling others or trying to sell you. Pay attention to what her words are doing. While you’re listening, ask yourself these questions:

    • Do her words paint positive or negative mental pictures?

    • Do her words say anything that may raise a new objection to her product or service?

    • Are all her words necessary?

    • Does she ask questions and then carefully listen to the prospect’s answers?

    • Does she move forward with questions, or does she get off course by talking about features and benefits the customer has not expressed a need for?

  • Record yourself when you’re talking with a customer. You may be shocked at how much chatter you can cut out. To detect what you need to cut, ask yourself these questions:

    • What is the quality of the questions you ask?

    • Are you asking information‐gathering questions to help yourself move forward with your sale, or are you just asking questions to fill a sound void? (Questions don’t mean much unless the answers are helping you get the information you need to help you serve your customer better and keep the sale moving forward.)

Watch and listen to others and to yourself more carefully than you’re used to listening in everyday conversation. Acquaint yourself with what good listening really sounds like. It should sound like the voice of others, not your own voice. As you discover more and more about selling well, the phrase “putting your foot in your mouth” will gain new meaning for you. After all, you can’t put your foot in your mouth if it’s closed. So close it, and listen more.