How You Shoot Yourself in the Foot in Every Persuasion and Negotiation

To be good at sales, you have to talk a lot. If you don’t have the gift of speech, you probably won’t sell well.

This much seems obvious for all sorts of practitioners – from pickup artists through startup founders to phone marketers, copywriters and novelists.

If you need a good fictional example, I’d refer you to “The Wolf of Wall Street”. That movie is littered with sales pitches, some of them good.

Yet, the role of talking in sales is easily misunderstood and even more frequently misapplied.

Before anything else, written or spoken conversation is necessary to build familiarity and remove people’s natural distrust of strangers.

But that’s not the whole story. There’s another fact about talking that you have to keep in mind.

Talking more makes you less persuasive.

This is not just a theoretical claim, it’s an empirical observation. Before we get into the nuance and what it means for your sales, let’s look at sales practice.

Here’s how Mary, a supporter and business owner, describes her technique:

When I am approaching a potential customer in a social/professional situation, I am polite and slightly mysterious. This leads to increasing levels of interest and commitment as people desire to know more. Tell half the story in such a way that they ask for the rest.

People who talk with me sometimes feel like they’re being interrogated. Why?

  1. I’m genuinely interested in people, so I ask questions.
  2. I don’t want to say something stupid, so I ask questions.

Which is the point. There are a few types of talk which are useful for your persuasive purposes, and all the rest is gibberish that hurts your chances.

It’s not enough to know what the “good” talk is. You need the skill to do it right. Look at Mary’s template again. Do you think a lot of people, even experienced salespeople, would be able to apply it successfully?

Talking more makes you less persuasive.

Why? Because most people say the wrong thing, not necessarily because of the quantity of talking. They are just bad at talking and talking persuasively.

Unproficient talkers:

  • blurt out confidential information to the adversary
  • offend potential clients with clumsy remarks
  • reveal gaps in knowledge and preparation
  • appear needy and insecure
  • bore and annoy businesslike partners

But you can’t just stand there and say nothing, right? The client will walk.

Before all else, you need to master three basic types of talk that will help you in any situation: small talk, questions and the product.

Most business people value their time, so they are disinclined to engage in much small talk unless you’re at a party or other social event. However, small talk can be a big helper if you have nothing else to say or you’ve just met someone and want to build minimal rapport before you jump to the meatier stuff.

Mastering small talk is a big subject in its own right, but the first thing to remember is this: keep the small talk small. Don’t get to deep into anything and don’t spend too much time on it. Move on to the next thing quickly.

And be genuine. If you don’t care for sports, don’t small-talk about them. Listen, nod wistfully and change the subject to another small-talk topic that you do find interesting.

Questions are more powerful and useful than small talk because they have a lot more useful purposes. You can get actual information relevant to your goals. You can invite the target to talk about oneself. You can appear knowledgeable and intelligent without actually knowing much about anything. And so on. The most universal and generic prep before any conversation is to rehearse a list of questions you might ask. Incredibly simple, extremely effective if you don’t know where to begin.

Now, there’s an art to asking questions, too. But that’s material for another missive or several. If you don’t know how to ask smart questions, just keep your mouth shut to make people think you’re smarter and mysteriouser.

Finally, know your product and talk about it any chance you get. Without being obnoxious or needy.

The product could be anything, including yourself, as in job interview, for example. The most fundamental heuristic to remember when talking your product: benefits, not features. It’s great to know how the product works and why it works, but the single most important thing is to have a deep understanding of the benefits it can provide to the user.

There are reams of free sales resources on this subject and I strongly recommend you get into them, no matter what your occupation.