Going All Mary Beard

Socrates statue 2

“Because it’s two ears and a mouth, isn’t it…?”

If I had a penny for every time I’ve been told this by an applicant being interviewed for a sales job I’d be very rich indeed. In case you’re lucky enough never to have had this recited at you, it’s a pre-rehearsed answer to the standard question of what makes a good salesperson.

Thinking back to the many times I’ve heard it, for some reason, my recollection is always of a voice like Ronnie Barker’s in Porridge. Probably because it’s the kind of obvious understatement, made with a sniff, which would be typical of the Fletcher character.

Rootling around the web I have found that the quote – and others similar – can be originally attributed to no less than three ancient Greek philosophers, the earliest, not surprisingly, being Socrates (born around 469BC):

“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, but one tongue – to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”

Whether you like to picture an ancient thinker clad in linen robes as you roll your tongue around the original quote, or is someone who identifies more easily with the Norman Stanley Fletcher version, it’s an essential guideline. Two ears and a mouth is a sound ratio, an easy shorthand for a good salesman who listens more than he speaks. No one wants a salesman’s monologue; a recital of what could be looked up in the brochure or website anyway. Selling isn’t telling: it is asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.

As well as being cast-iron advice for selling, it’s also an excellent strategy for those first prospective client meetings when, let’s face it, more often than not, we go in with little idea of what is required and how we might help. Listening carefully will put us in a better position to match solutions to the prospect’s requirements  – and win the business.

Modern day EU member-state Greece may be an economic basket case, but her ancient philosophers’ writings still apply to so much today – even selling techniques.

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