When I was just starting out as an investment salesman, many years before computers and the Internet, I had a personal meeting with a prospect that proved much more valuable to me than the no-sale that resulted.
My company in those days invested heavily in return postcard advertising inserts in Reader’s Digest, perhaps the most widely circulated magazine at that time. The returned postcards were distributed to salespeople all across the country.
I followed up on one of the cards, setting an appointment at the home of a woman, who turned out to be an elderly widow. She was very gracious on the phone, and I looked forward to what I thought would be a profitable sales interview.
After she and I exchanged pleasantries, and before I had a chance to begin my presentation, she said something that surprised and shocked me.
“Young man,” she said apologetically, “I must admit that I’m not going to invest any money with your company. In reality, I don’t have much money at all, just my small social security check each month.”
She paused a moment, then said, “I’m just lonely, and I wanted somebody to visit me.”
I had regained my composure by then, and I assured her that was not a problem. “I’m happy to visit with you,” I said.
Before I could continue, she said, “I have a pie just out of the oven, why don’t we have some pie and coffee.”
I spent the next half-hour eating pie, drinking coffee, and listening to her tell me about her children and grandchildren.
At the time, I figured my pay was coffee and pie, but I was wrong.
When I told my sales manager about the interview, he taught me something I’ve never forgotten.
People are interested in themselves. They are not interested in hearing salespeople talk about their company, their product or anything else. They are eager to talk about themselves.
“Although you didn’t make a sale,” my manager said, “you made a friend. You gave a lonely person respect and courtesy, and that is priceless.
“If you will become a champion listener,” he said, “you’ll become a champion salesman, because champion salesmen are champion listeners, not champion talkers.”