It’s Thursday and I’m meeting with a CEO of a wholesale company.

“Yes we have a very experienced sales crew, many of them with over 20 years of selling in the industry.” was John’s, the CEO, response.

“If that is so, why such a challenge in getting more market share?” I asked.

“Well, here is an example. I was traveling with one of the guys last week for a couple of days and had to physically kick him under the table to get him to stop!” John responded.

“Really! But he’s one of your experienced guys! He really should know better, shouldn’t he?” I exclaimed.

This you have to follow up on, it just goes to show that experience does not mean competence! Read the rest of the article to get the whole story! Hope you don’t have one of these……….

We’ll call him Tom, the 20 year veteran salesperson.

John was with him for two days making sales calls on existing and potential customers.

He was very annoyed when Tom continually interrupted the customer and went into a sales pitch.

Upon leaving the call, John brought it to Tom’s attention that he had interrupted the customer several times. Tom was unaware of such behavior, but promised to avoid it on the next call.

Guess what! Yep, next call, interruption once more, several times.

John again brought this up and discussed it with Tom.

This went on for the whole day and Tom just was not getting it! He continued to cut in on the customer and address what he thought they wanted to hear.

John indicated he could see the body language and the annoyance the customer was feeling from Tom’s behavior.

Finally on the second day they were meeting with a large customer and Tom was doing it again! John physically kicked him in the shin under the table and Tom stopped!

The customer finished what they were saying and Tom and John left the call.

“I have to thank you for kicking me John. I really did not realize how bad I was.”
“The really big point is that when I shut up, the customer ended up answering their own question and we got more business!” remarked Tom.

“Well remember that kick next time you want to jump in and interrupt the customer!” was Johns advice.

John and I continue our conversation about his sales team.

“So tell me how the rest of the team holds up against Tom’s behavior?” was my next question.

“That’s my concern”, replied John, “I really wonder how well they are listening to the customers. They continually tell me they can not get information for the contact people and they can not get to the VP’s much less the CEO!”

“We have some real benefits to offer these customers that no one else can! Yet these experienced guys keep resisting any training or trying something new! I know they can do better, I’m just wondering if they really are as good as they think they are!” was John’s frustrated response.

“Ok, John, how would your sales team respond to what we call the first law of Persuasion. That is ….It’s not about you, it’s about them?” was my next question.

“It’s not about you, it’s about them. Hum, I’ll say that in concept they would mostly agree, yet in application they would flunk big time. I think we are hitting on the core problem here.” John replied with a look of insight.

John and I continued our discussion with further questioning to isolate the key issues, the process that would have to take place and the decision process required to get something happening for the company.

By the way, the appointment was set up for about 20 minutes only and I got hung up, thus running a couple minutes late. I walked out 65 minutes later with John wishing we could talk longer. John did 90% of the talking! The power of listening!

Now one of the first questions I asked was about verifying my understanding of the company and if I had all my facts straight. Yes I had been on the web site, Google and some other sources.

John gave me a quick history, of which I already knew 80%. The key was the 20% I discovered and lead us to the above discussion. I’ll put it this way. From 1936 into the 80’s this company was King! The 80’s recession really hit them hard and they downsized big time! Ever since then they have been struggling to regain the throne!

I really doubt we would have gotten as deep as fast as we did had I not gained that information! I kept going back to the frustration the company was feeling and John was more than willing to unload everything!

Ok, you got the point!

Yep, the most basic rule of Persuasion is to truly listen! Listen to not only the words but the meanings, feelings, beliefs and values behind what is said!

Of course you realize that this means you have to do the following…
• Shut up the mouth and listen.
• Never interrupt, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot every time.
• Focus on what others are saying instead of thinking about your great rebuttal or answer.
• Lean back, relax, tune into the other persons body language, demeanor and voice.
• Be inquisitive like you were at 3 years old, ask “Why”.
• Keep thinking about the “kick” under the table when you want to interrupt.
• Ask plenty of open ended questions that make your customer think, then shut up and listen.
• Shut up and allow your customer to sell themselves!

Yes Harlan, I have heard this over and over again. I know all this!

Great, then hopefully you are not “Tom” and wondering why selling and persuading is so difficult!

The reality is we all can do better. The other day at a luncheon I caught myself interrupting a conversation before another person finished. Once I realized it, an apology was given to the whole table and the conversation went on in real earnest. (It was about toilet seats, really!)

The real key is to be continually focused on understanding the other party. You can always input your information in many ways and fashioned to be accepted better, especially if you have listened.

So to apply the Persuasion rule; It’s not about you, it’s about them, you need to really turn on your listening skills!

Till next week, keep the eyes and ears open!

Harlan Goerger
National Director of Training

© Harlan Goerger 10/2007

Author's Bio: 

With over 25 years of business consulting, training and program development, Harlan has developed new approaches to help business sell and manage in todays markets. The co-author of The Selling Gap contains many of these concepts. Contact Harlan at