People like talking. Especially about themselves, but mostly people just like talking. It’s very effortless.
You’ve probably experienced the following phenomenon before. You’re talking to someone and realize that you don’t actually remember what you’ve just said. You remember what you were talking about, and it seemed to get the point across because your counterpart has responded in the way you intended, but for the life of you you can’t remember how you actually arrived at this point in the conversation. Of course, this realization isn’t ever paralyzing. You don’t backtrack and apologize to your counterpart because it would probably be a little awkward, and you’ve experienced this before, fairly frequently, actually. So you carry on, focusing a little more on your words for a while, until you’re back in the regular flow of conversation and your mouth takes over from your brain once again.
It’s almost like going under anesthetic. The thought forms in your mind as if the doctor has asked you to count backwards from ten. You consider the direction you’re going and the objective you want to achieve. Ten numbers, in descending order, one after the other until you arrive at one. Your brain tells your mouth to form the word ten. The orders are sent and you hear it happen. The word has escaped and a moment later you’re in the recovery room with four less wisdom teeth. You can’t remember how you got there, or what really happened, and especially not in what order, but you know that the objective was achieved. Talking is just that easy. That’s why people like it.
People also like talking because it’s far easier than listening. Listening requires your full attention. You can’t listen and talk, certainly, you can’t even properly listen on the phone and walk down the sidewalk without missing your turn, or missing something in the conversation. Given the option, most people would rather talk than listen.
Sales professionals know this. People’s propensity to talk, to not pay attention to their exact words, and the natural disposition people have towards carrying on the conversation rather than letting it die, are all very useful tools in sales. Especially the latter. Just as when you avoid awkwardness and carry on a conversation when you realize you haven’t properly been paying attention, so too will most people carry on a conversation if their counterpart drops the ball.
Sometimes this will be innocent. If I’m speaking to you and stumble over my words, or have difficulty concluding a thought, you may conclude it for me. Perhaps I’ve lost a word to properly summarize the thought, so you kindly provide it. In other cases I may have experienced that very phenomenon of forgetting what I’ve just said. Not quite the linguistic artist, I stumble into the end of my sentence and say “right?” as if asking you to confirm that what I’ve just said wasn’t insane. You respond, repeating back the heart of the subject at hand and carrying on with your own input or thought.
But what if I’m trying to sell you something? In this case it’s very likely that we both know the stakes of the conversation. I’ve approached you unsolicited and asked a question, and not to be impolite you’ll certainly respond. It’s like a game of checkers. We’re not negotiating, it’s not remarkably complex, and the stakes aren’t very high, but I’ve still been strategic enough to not make an easily countered opening move. I’ve asked an open-ended question.
“What’s your opinion on this matter?”
Not wanting to be sucked into something you answer quickly with a reasonably satisfying, honest, and short answer. Truth is quick and easy, and it’s a good countermove. But, expecting this, and ready for it, I come back simply with:
And time passes. The conversation is exposed to open air. You realize that this is quickly becoming an awkward silence and you feel the need to step in, the urge towards keeping the conversation alive is very strong, and I’m looking at you as if there’s more to say. Suddenly, you’re invested, you elaborate your response, and your mouth takes over from your strategic mind to control of the conversation. Without thinking, you’ve started to speak, and will soon end up in a position again where you don’t remember exactly what you’ve said because your brain is too focused on the fact that it needs to fill the silence.
All the while, I’m taking notes, listening intently, and identifying the features of your response that will make selling something to you later much easier.
People love talking. You just need to offer them the opportunity to do so. This is an excellent sales tactic. You may have had it used on you recently. If you’re comfortable listening, then you can use this in almost any conversation, and you won’t have to talk. But, if you’re like most people, you might not want that.
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