“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” – Albert Einstein

Do you talk too much?

A study conducted at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine found that – to forge closer relationships with the people they treat – some physicians reveal personal information to their patients. Stuff like details about their health, family members, travel, politics, hobbies, and other interests.

You’d think this would help establish a bond between them. But guess what? According to an article in Rochester Review, the study showed that these disclosures “have few demonstrable benefits.” In fact, doctors chatting up the people they’re treating may even “disrupt the flow of important patient information.”

The lesson?

Other people care more about themselves – their worries, their concerns, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, even what movie they saw last weekend or where they went for dinner last night – than they do about you. Therefore, if you want people to like you, you have to stop talking… and start listening.

I am introverted and not social. But people who meet me at business and social functions often report a positive experience.

The reason is simple: I ask them questions and listen to their answers. I don’t interrupt them, but let them talk as long as they want. When they are done, I don’t switch the topic to me. Instead, I keep the conversation focused on them – by asking another question.

When do you stop catering to the other person… and start talking about yourself? Well, if you’re a businessperson trying to make a sale, the answer is never.

Perhaps you have heard the saying, “You have two ears but only one mouth – so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” That ratio is tilted in the right direction, only not far enough. One of my mentors, the late Howard Shenson, once told me that, to be successful in business, you should listen 80 percent of the time and talk only 20 percent of the time.

A common misconception many salespeople share is the compulsion to – at some point in the conversation – get their prospect to stop talking long enough so they can finally make their “presentation.” Their mistaken belief is that the presentation – an orderly recitation of the features and benefits of their product – is necessary to make the sale.

In fact, if you listen, your prospects will tell you exactly what you have to do – and say – to get them to buy. Just follow their lead… and forget about your “presentation”… and you’ll close more and bigger deals, more often.

The more the prospect talks, the better it usually is for the salesperson.

People are happiest when they can talk to someone who is paying attention to what they are saying. On the other hand, if you launch into a “presentation,” they may become bored and lose interest.

I once watched a graphic designer sitting in a marketing director’s office talking about designing a brochure. The marketing director was interested and ready to sign on the dotted line. But instead of letting her do so, the graphic designer said, “Let me show you some of the other things we’ve done” – and began unzipping one of those big simulated leather portfolio cases.

“That’s not necessary,” said the marketing director, clearly pressed for time and ready to issue a PO.

“But I want you to see our latest work,” the designer insisted.

Before the marketing director could protest further, the graphics person opened the portfolio and began flipping pages.

The marketing director was clearly bored – and in a hurry. She tried to end the dog-and-pony show, but the designer was oblivious, droning on about minute details of this catalog layout or that printing challenge.

Finally, the artist got the message. But it was too late. When the marketing director saw me observing the scene through the door, she shook her head, as if to say, “What a blockhead!” And I later found out that the project was awarded to another firm.

Yes, by talking too much, you can actually talk yourself out of a sale.

A good rule for selling: Say only as much as you have to. The more you talk, the greater your chances of saying something that the prospect will find objectionable or disagreeable. Result: sale gone.

The same “put the listener first” principle works not just in selling, but in virtually every interpersonal situation – from an employee persuading his boss to tackle a task in a certain way to two spouses debating what color tile to use in the new bathroom.

[Ed. Note: Master copywriter and best-selling author Bob Bly is the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business. Sign up for Bob’s free monthly e-zine, The Direct Response Letter, and get more than $100 in free bonuses.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.