Know When To Listen

We have two ears and one mouth, and sometimes salespeople need to be reminded of those facts – it’s often a good idea to talk less and listen more.

And then there are some cases when it’s best to say nothing at all. Just keep your mouth shut – and presumably, your ears open.

Sometimes this is because a situation is none of your business, and this can cover a wide range of issues. Your relationship with your customer is a business relationship. Keep it to business.

There are other situations in which silence is golden, too. This can include many situations that don’t have a direct bearing on your business relationship.


My first time meeting Henry, the Owner and CEO of a large company making heavy equipment was an eye-opener. You couldn’t miss it – right behind Henry’s mahogany desk was a four-foot-high painting of a young woman – very tasteful, but very scantily clad. Although I’ll often remark on items in the office just to develop a relationship, but some instinct prompted me to stay away from that painting.

Henry and I developed a great relationship and over the years enjoyed many lunches together, and we did a substantial amount of business. But I never once mentioned the painting that was staring me in the face every time I sat in Henry’s office.

Years later, Henry told me he was retiring and passing the business on to the next generation, and said he’d like me to meet his successor, whom he called into his office so I’d get a chance to meet her. It was his daughter. She said she was glad to meet me, and that I should just go on dealing with the same people in the office.

As she turned to leave, I saw the resemblance. She was the subject of the painting. Why Henry would hang a revealing painting of his daughter in his office was a mystery. But this was getting way too complicated for me, and I was now really, really glad that I had never mentioned the painting.

Then Henry brought up the subject himself. He explained that his daughter had commissioned the painting of herself and was very pleased with it, and offered it to her parents as a gift. She was crushed when her mother said she had no idea where to hang it in the home, but Henry said that if it meant that much to her, he’d place it in my office, and he did.

Henry said that the painting had become a sort of test for visiting salespeople. The salespeople who stared at the painting and made a lewd comment about it, didn’t get any business from Henry.

I said that I hadn’t mentioned it myself, as I just thought it was a fine piece of art, and left it at that. Henry replied that this was one of the reasons he’d continued doing business with me – I hadn’t questioned or criticized the painting of his daughter.

So remember to follow your instincts or sixth sense…and know when to shut up!

A customer’s perspective

A salesman needs to be a good listener. If the salesman has asked good questions and understood the responses, he should quickly grasp the situation at my company and be readily able to determine if there is an opportunity to do business or not. If a salesman calls back after a meeting and asks the same question or requests the same information, the relationship is already off to a bad start.

Bridge-building steps

Listen to your instincts or sixth sense.

If you’re thinking of making a comment on a situation, particularly if it has nothing to do with the business at hand, ask yourself if it would help further the business. If the answer is “no,” then don’t say anything.

Recognize that you can’t right all the wrongs in the world. Even if you see behavior that isn’t right, remember your purpose, which is to meet the business needs of your customers. Don’t go into issues that distract from what you’re there for.

Being able to keep a confidence is an important part of being a good salesperson. So if you’ve agreed to keep a secret, keep that secret. Your customers will understand that you’re a person of your word, and that’s solid gold in today’s business environment.

Steve Gareau is the author of “Building Your Bridge to Sales Success” available at With more than 40 years of entrepreneurial and small business experience, Gareau now works as a consultant, speaker, and business mentor. Contact him at

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