Shut Your Mouth!

I like to talk. And I’m really good at it.

I suspect, as salespeople, most of you really like to talk, too. And you also think you are really good at it. Which is good, because having an ease with people and being able to talk to just about anyone at any time is a strong quality to have when you are trying to sell for a living.

However, there is a time and a place when shutting up is just as—if not more—important.

We think we have all the answers, and that if customers would just listen to us, we could make their lives easier, make their problems go away, and all would be right with the world. But here’s the thing…selling today is a complicated bag of tricks. So before we go putting words in our prospects’ mouths, we had better just shut up and let them tell us what we need to know in order to move the conversation closer to something that looks like a close for us and a problem solved for them.

The next time you ask a question, ask the question, take a deep breath, and listen to the answer.

  • I don’t care if that prospect stares at you dumbly and says nothing for 10 minutes.
  • I don’t CARE if you’re uncomfortable.
  • I don’t care if you feel like squirming.

Squirm. But damn it, let the dude tell you what’s on his mind.

Here are some examples of questions that you SHOULD be asking and that absolutely require your silence upon delivery.

  • Why is that important to you?
  • How will this decision impact your business?
  • What if you do nothing?
  • How will this decision ultimately be made?
  • When do you plan to make this decision?

You need to know your prospects’ answers to these types of questions; not what you think she’ll say or what you WANT her tol say, but what she actually SAYS.

Now working as a consultant, Kelly sold digital printing for 15 years so she understands the challenges, frustrations and pitfalls of building a successful sales practice. Her mission is to help printers of all sizes sell more stuff. Kelly's areas of focus include client recovery, retention and acquisition, and marketing communications projects.
Kelly graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and, among other notable accomplishments, co-founded the Windy City Rollers, a professional women's roller derby league.

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  • MelFamy

    I have found that even after the salesperson has been admonished by their manager to listen, their body language in a sales call looks like a thoroughbred trying to break out of the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Their posture communicates this overwhelming need to "say something" to the customer – even when the customer is talking. Active listening skills is an absolute must for a good salesperson. Surprising how many folks still don’t get that.

  • Gregg


    I have 2 nuggets from my sales mentors:
    1.Once you have stated your point, the next person that speaks – loses.
    Let the client sit there and think about what was just said …..For as long as it takes
    2. Don’t buy the order back.
    Once the client has verbally placed the order and is ready to go, get the approval signed and get out of there!
    I have more than once kept talking and the client wavered and I lost the sale.
    A comment on the comment
    I’m an owner/operator “male” salesperson and 80% of my cliental (dealing with the decision maker) is female.
    Our “female” salesperson? 80% of her cliental is male. My personal experience is “most” clients want to deal with the opposite sex more than not – that is why we both go on sales calls together to new customers so we cover all the bases and see who is the best “salesman fit” moving forward.

  • aspireforbill

    One of the first things I remember from my initial sales training was a factoid: When asked what their number one fault is, most sales people said, "I talk too much!" So, here’s my question to you: Do women make better sales reps than men because they are better listeners?

  • Team Building Seminar

    Thanks for this. This will be great for me!

  • Michelle L. Bracali

    Nice post, Kelly. Completely agree. Empathy and active listening skills are two key traits for success. Fifteen years ago when new to sales, when talking with prospects I would sometimes stumble over words. They didn’t seem to mind though because I listened well.

    Today, the more I listen, the more prospects and clients share with me. This allows me to better understand their companies and hence their needs. Especially nowadays with social media and email, it seems like it’s harder for a person to be heard. When someone feels that another person is really listening and responding appropriately, well then…that is how trust and respect is built.+