In my 20+ years of helping businesses grow, I can count on one hand the number of times a company’s success did not come down to sales, regardless of the reason the owner initially called me.

In the end, it’s always about sales. I’ve watched as sales reps and business owners, seasoned and not, fail to make the sale (or lose it) because of this mistake: They don’t know when to shut up, say thank you, and walk away with the deal.

It may sound amusing but it’s not. This mistake costs time and money, and doesn’t help a company grow.

Anyone who has sold for a living knows that selling is a complex process involving many factors, but after you’ve done all the other things right, it always comes down to the critical factors of knowing when to listen, and when to talk.

And if you don’t know when to do which, you’re in trouble. The only person the customer really wants to talk about is himself/herself, and the quicker you understand that, the better you’ll be at selling, and the more sales revenue you’ll generate.

Yes, I know the customer said “tell me about yourself” or asked “why should I buy from you,” but trust me when I tell you they don’t mean it and they couldn’t care less. Don’t confuse courtesy with interest. Attempt to answer those questions and you’ll be staring into a glazed expression faster than you can blink twice. And if you try to move a conversation from “how about those Eagles” directly into your sales pitch, you’re done.

You have to earn the right to share information with your prospect at the right time, and you do that first and best by listening. REALLY listening, not nodding your head with your mind racing a mile a minute trying to think about what you’re going to say next. If you’re talking, you’re not listening, and as a result you’re not learning anything that you’ll need to reply in a way that progresses the sale. You’re not earning your prospect’s trust, and you certainly won’t earn the right to ask for the business.

Ideally, you should talk 20 percent of the time and ask questions and listen 80 percent of the time. Then, and only then, can you tailor your sales presentation to the prospect’s real needs, and in the process, earn their trust and the right to close the sale.

Keep your questions brief and concise. The more complex the question, the less likely you are to get the information you need. Simple sentences generate complex answers, and this is what you want to hear because the customer will be telling you how to solve their problem—but you’ll hear it only if you’re really listening and not multi-tasking mentally.

Until you know what they do, how they do it, where, when, with whom and why,  you have no business—or credibility—telling them how you can help them to do it better.

And this is key:  Know when to ask for the sale, and once you do, shut up and wait for an answer, regardless of how long it takes the prospect to formulate a response.

This is the most difficult part of the sales process, but mastering comfort in the silence is crucial to success. I’ve witnessed time and again an enthusiastic sales rep or business owner who hit all the right notes in the sales conversation, who listened, who had exquisite timing, knew how to summarize the relevant features and benefits, recognized and acted on the buying signals, asked for the sale…and then didn’t shut up and killed the deal in the process.

Here’s what happens:  There’s a moment in every sales presentation where the customer’s interest in what you’re saying is at its peak—the point of maximum attention when it’s time to ask for the business. If you miss that moment, and keep talking, the customer’s interest in you and your product decreases rapidly. Keep talking at this pivotal moment and you’ll lose the prospect and the sale.

Instead, stay quiet, even if it takes counting to 10 in your head, biting your tongue or just remembering you have sales to make and a quota to meet, knowing your next words will cost you money.

It’s human nature to want to fill the void, but fight the urge until you have an answer from the customer.

Once you do, your job is then to guide the prospect through this critical juncture of accepting their decision, by leading him or her with minor decisions such as “How will I ship this?” or “Does Monday or Thursday work best for delivery?” or “Can I teach your staff how to master this quickly?” You get the point.

Listen more, talk less, and shut up when it’s time to do so. You’ll get the sale, the respect of your new customer, and potential referrals down the line.

What do you think? Have you talked your prospects out of buying? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.