From the October 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

One of the best baseball coaches I've seen in a long time has the amazing ability to get every kid on his team to stop in their tracks and listen to what he has to say. I figured out why: Every time he says something, it's a valuable lesson, a critical point. It also might be because he played pro ball for nine years. But what it really comes down to is his knowledge of and passion for the game--and only opening his mouth when he has something important to share. After a while, people start to listen to these types of people. Ever notice how some people are very quiet, but when they talk, people really listen? It's because they usually possess these two qualities:

  1. They have an uncanny ability to turn the conversation back over to the other person. Oftentimes, prospects and customers will ask you questions that you would love to be able to answer in a way that shows them how much you know about your business. But next time, think about the question the person is asking. For example:

    Prospect: "What programs can you offer us?" (At this point, some salespeople will go through their entire presentation and product line.)

    Sales Rep: "We have a variety of programs that are designed specifically for your industry, but before I take you through some of them, could you please tell me what you want to accomplish with them and who the audience would be?"

    I'm sure you can provide them with a more detailed description before you turn the question back over to them, but the point here is that you want the other person to talk about their goals and what they're trying to do. Even if it's not a product-related question, by turning the conversation around so that the other person does the talking, you'll build a stronger relationship, be able to understand their buying criteria, communicate a better solution and generally make the prospect feel at ease because you're really listening to them and showing that you care.
  2. They don't need to talk to be in control. They have what someone once described to me as quiet confidence. They look like they are powerful and knowledgeable without saying a word. Have you ever watched someone who feels like they have to tell everyone they meet who they are and what they've accomplished? I don't have to tell you what most people think of that person. If you are as good as you say you are, your actions and understanding will back you up later on. Good salespeople know that asking the right questions and really listening to the answers are what keep them in control of the conversation and make them regarded as an expert.

    This morning, I introduced two companies to each other that could mutually benefit from the other's services. I ended up being the mediator to keep both parties on track and prevent them from talking too much about what they do. And boy, do people like to talk about what they do. Why? Because customers want to know how they are going to benefit from the relationships they build. Once we realize that understanding others' needs and goals means turning the conversation around and not talking, we end up strengthening our selling position and closing more deals--not to mention learning a few things along the way.