“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.”
– Ram Dass

By most measures, this meeting was very unimportant and should not have earned a place in my long-term memory. However, I still remember many details of this meeting, even though it happened about 20 years ago.

I was vice-president of resort marketing for Hyatt Hotels. When you work in a job like this, you quickly realize that lots of people want to sell you things. People are constantly trying to get appointments with you, because they have discovered the secrets to filling hotel rooms, attracting big-spender golfers or becoming THE place for destination weddings. I was on many people’s list of promising leads.

I agreed to this meeting because the person who asked to see me had an intriguing marketing idea and came highly recommended by a colleague. I greeted him in the lobby, and as we walked back to my office he began talking, telling me about his idea and how he had developed it. He was passionate about his idea and was clearly very excited to be talking about it. As we sat down in my office, he kept talking and, without missing a beat, opened his briefcase to pull out a bound presentation book that described his company, his product and his novel idea. He started walking me through his presentation when it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t spoken one word since we first said hello in the lobby.

Normally, this kind of situation would make me antsy and impatient, but this time I decided to go with the flow to see how long he would keep talking. As he continued, I noted that his idea was very interesting, but it was clear that he didn’t understand my business or the issues I was facing. He was telling me how he could help Hyatt Resorts, but he didn’t know what Hyatt Resorts needed from him. I began to lose interest.

After about 25 minutes of non-stop talking, he finished, asking, “So, what do you think?”

“Well, I’ll have to think about it. Why don’t you leave your materials, and I’ll show them to my team and we’ll get back to you.”

He looked disappointed. “Did I miss anything important?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered. “Let me think about it.”

Here’s what I could have said (but didn’t): “The only thing you missed is the target. If you walk into a dark room and throw a dart, it’s a one in a million chance you’ll hit a bulls-eye.”

With only a little bit of information from me, he could have adjusted his story and made it more relevant for me. But he wasn’t interested in getting information from me, only in giving information to me. So he missed the target.

By missing the target he missed the chance to connect with me and my business. My reaction was “I’ll have to think about it” and “we’ll get back to you,” because his monologue didn’t help me see how he could help me.

As anyone who has read this newsletter will have noticed, I am fascinated by the lessons that salespeople can learn from stage improvisers. I am writing about this in my forthcoming book, Ditch the Pitch. Recently I asked Charna Halpern, the founder of the iO theater in Chicago and Los Angeles (formerly ImprovOlympic), what makes for great improvisation, and the first thing she said, without hesitation, is, “The ability to really listen, actively listen, and build on each other’s ideas.”

Notice that she didn’t say anything about being funny, or clever, or witty. She talked about input, not about output. Charna Halpern, a highly-successful comedy entrepreneur, explained that the key to one of the most interesting forms of comedy is listening, not talking.

Imagine if this sales person had understood Charna’s wisdom. He would have ensured that I talked more than he did, and he would have listened intently to what I said, seeking out the reasons that I would want to use his product. He would haveditched the pitch to create a unique conversation with me, based on the unique way that he and I could work together.

If he had said less, not only would he have learned more about how to sell me, I would also have enjoyed the conversation more. Peter and Susan Glaser write in their book, Be Quiet, Be Heard, that people who speak more than 51% of the time during a conversation tend to be more satisfied with the conversation. You can notice this principle in your personal life: Watch people on the receiving end of a monologue. How many of them are enjoying themselves?

Every moment you are talking during a sales conversation is a moment you are not listening to your customer. You are listening to yourself. You are missing the chance to be alert and notice things that customize the conversation to this customer, at this very moment.

Our voices get in the ways of our ears, as the Ram Dass quote above suggests. “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” And, the more you hear, the more you can sell.

1 Comment

  • MTI Vacations graduate
    Oct 04, 2011 - 02:29 am

    you were a pretty good teacher. I still use your style frequently. You were, however, a pain in the ass! But cool!

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