The opposite of selling

The most important thing you can say in a business conversation is not what you’d think. It’s not a certain phrase or magic combination of keywords – it’s actually nothing at all.

Think of the last time you received a sales call. Did it go something like this?

You pick up the phone, hear your name mispronounced. You begrudgingly confirm that yes, you are the correct person, have this title, manage that responsibility. After working through a checklist more thorough than the time you agreed to have your appendix removed, the salesperson finally gets to the point of the call: pitching you on something you really don’t want or need.

What’s worse is that throughout the pitch, you can’t get a word in edgewise to politely turn down the offer. You’re stuck listening to the salesperson and dodging buzzwords left and right. “Positive,” “effective,” “multi-level,” “expert,” “competitive.”

You feel like you’re stuck in the middle of a dramatic reading of a high schooler’s resume – and definitely not the Broadway version. More like the basement-theatre-below-the-bowling-alley version.

Not only are you being pitched on something you don’t want, but now you have horrifying images of what that theatre might look like in your head. Ripped green felt and the smell of bowling alley wax are not thoughts you want swirling in prospective associates’ minds, so don’t let the conversation go that way. You really do want prospective clients and business colleagues to understand yourcompetitive, expert solution, but how?

When was the last time you tried not talking and listening instead?

Relinquishing control and putting others in charge of the conversation can feel uncomfortable; you’re used to promoting your business’s agenda. But all of the pushing, prodding, and persuading you can imagine won’t convince business associates of anything if you don’t understand where they’re coming from.

Try first to learn about and truly understand associates’ business, their industry, and the specific problems they face. Until you have full knowledge of the unique circumstances of their businesses, you can’t begin to develop a relationship with them, let alone align your company’s goals with theirs.

Listening is the key to achieving this, so give your undivided attention no matter what medium of communication you’re using. Try to listen 80% of the time and speak 20% of the time. It may feel unnatural at first, but focusing on your associates will help you contribute something more educated and profound when your turn to share comes around. You’ll learn more about your associate than if you’d spent 80% of the conversation talking about yourself; and you’ll end up showing (not telling) them much more about yourself and your business values.