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Talk Less, Sell More
Glenda Rueger - Editor

Enthusiasm is an important and necessary ingredient in successful salesmanship. But passion is not always good. Sometimes your very excitement about the product you sell can be a hindrance. “What?” you might protest. “What about all those motivational messages and quotes I've been saving?” Well, don't throw them away. But too much of a good thing can leave you without a sale, wondering what happened at closing time.

What went wrong? “Many sales executives don’t take time to hear what a client is saying,” says Thomas D. Zweifel, CEO of the Swiss Consulting Group. "They don’t know that the magic of a successful close happens when you are silent."

Silence, however, is not exactly dominant in our culture, unlike in the Finnish culture, for example. Finns often use long, strategic silences while Americans rush to fill uncomfortable pauses with pep talk. Listening shows the other person that you care and helps them feel safe. This builds trust. “Precisely when you feel as if you cannot bear to listen for another second, listen for one minute longer than is comfortable,” Thomas says. In the room afforded by your silence, clients might seize the moment to express themselves. Instead of waxing enthusiastic on the benefits of your product, allow clients to fill in the silence. You may receive insights about them that will help you better fulfill their needs.

Silence and listening can be the key to a partnership that leads to major accomplishments. "When you listen for the gold, you can hear what the client is saying as the solution," says Thomas. When you let customers speak, when you really pay attention to what they are saying, they feel recognized. They might tell you a secret, a concern or a dream that will be vital in your ongoing relationship. This is when the closing "gems" start popping up. What often emerges is the way to a successful close that is far better than the one you devised yourself.

Thomas encourages you to wait for this information to reveal itself. If you hear for example, "my husband is against this," you've just discovered who holds the power in the house. You may never have uncovered this strategic knowledge had you filled all of the silent spaces with the pat reasons of why your product is so valuable.

Sounds good in print, but how do you make it happen? Here's an example of how Thomas put listening to work in his own leadership consulting company. During one strategy meeting, "I sat on my mouth for a change, and I was amazed at the creativity pouring forth. What people came up with without my interruption was far better than what was on my own agenda." Thomas says it's easy to lose sight of this subtle, yet important technique if we focus only on producing the results.

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