Every week we interview top performing salespeople, managers and executives and one question we ask them all is, “What is the number one mistake salespeople make on sales calls and what do top performers do better than everyone else?” For years, the answer has remained very consistent:
Average and poor performers talk too much on sales calls and the top performers ask better questions and listen more.
90% of the successful sales professionals we meet and interview agree that this is the #1 problem salespeople need to fix. So, how do you do it? In this article, we’ll include the thoughts on this from two successful sales professionals that we recently interviewed: Amy Geltner, Director Organizational Development with American Hotel Register Company and Kelly Myers, SVP Sales with Sunrise Senior Living.
We’re going to share three very effective strategies to immediately break the habit of talking too much on sales calls.
- Better listening begins with a better up-front agenda
- The best way to prepare for a sales call
- Break the habit of asking too many closed-ended questions
Amy Geltner has observed this as well in terms of the most common mistake…
You could sell a ketchup popsicle to an eskimo in white gloves, if they needed it, but you have to ask the right questions... -Amy Geltner, Director Organizational Development with American Hotel Register Company Click To Tweet
“I would say not questioning enough up front and then not actively listening back. It sounds like basic communication 101, just listening, but so many people fail at that. They are so eager to get to the conversation about the best deal they have to offer, that they are missing what the customer really needs. For example, you could sell a ketchup popsicle to an eskimo in white gloves, if they needed it, but you have to ask the right questions to help them discover they may have a need for it first.”
Begin with a better agenda
Every sales call/meeting should begin with a good agenda. This is basic Sales 101. Most salespeople know this, but often, the agenda is improvised or forgotten in an effort to be more conversational and spontaneous. The right agenda can set the stage for more listening and less talking. A poorly thought out agenda can lock the salesperson into a lot of up front talking. For instance, in this example agenda, which is very similar to how many salespeople start their meetings, all three agenda items involve the salesperson talking:
“Bill, the agenda I’d suggest for us today is…
…I’d like to walk you through a demo of our new security enhancing software
…I’d like to address some of your concerns about pricing and delivery
…I’d also like to answer any questions you may have
…Does that sound alright?”
Look at the contrast with this agenda that is focused on asking and listening:
“Julie, in thinking about our meeting and to make it as useful as possible, the agenda I’d suggest for our meeting today is …
…I’d love to hear more about your analysis of your primary security vulnerabilities?
…We can also discuss your take on the analysis your team recently completed on this…
…then we can talk about what we’re hearing from a number of IT directors we’re listening to in terms of how they’re addressing similar challenges
…And finally, we can address any concerns or questions you may have about our ideas when it comes to closing these vulnerabilities quickly…
…In addition to this, what else would you like to add to our agenda to make this meeting even more useful and relevant for you?”
In the second example, the agenda gets the salesperson immediately into asking and listening mode. This seems obvious, but from observing thousands of salespeople over the years in live selling situations and simulations, it’s remarkable how many fail to execute effectively on a conversation opening agenda. It’s an easy fix you can make immediately.
Even if you sell a simple product with a 15 minute sales cycle, you can easily start your sales calls with a listening oriented agenda:
“John, before we get into how our various bundles work, it might be a good idea…
…To start with hearing a little about how you currently use the internet…
…And some of the problems or challenges you’ve had in the past with your internet connection, and…
…Then we can look at the best, most cost effective option for you.
…Does that sound alright and is there anything you’d like to add to our agenda today?”
This salesperson is selling a simple product… an internet service…a sales call in a contact center that might only take a total of 15 minutes to close from start to finish. This simple agenda, however, will start the call off with questions and listening and will generate better results.
Kelly Myers explains that we need an agenda, but we also need to be flexible and listen for signals that can lead the call to a more successful outcome.
It’s genuine interest and active listening skills that allow you to have relevant discovery. Some salespeople have this beautiful written pre-call plan, with all of these wonderful questions that they want to ask, and because they’re so focused on their list of wonderful questions, they miss an obvious cue to go down a path that’s going to be more relevant to the customer because they lack that active listening.
A Better Way To Prepare For A Sales Call
We’ve seen many different pre-call planning forms and processes, most of which do a good job of preparing for the sales call. We have found, for most salespeople, that these four steps will help them guide the call more effectively and lead to more listening and less talking. On a simple pad of paper, write down:
- Your overall objective for the call
- The 3-5 open ended questions you are going to ask on this call
- The 2-3 questions YOU HOPE you’ll be asked in this meeting by your prospects
- The ideal next step you’ll recommend at the end of the call (closing)
Put these notes right on your notepad so they’re visible and in front of you when you’re meeting with or talking to your prospect/customer. There’s more to good listening and improving your ability to connect with prospects on sales calls, but this is a great place to start.
Some salespeople find it very helpful to develop a master list of the 10-15 best open ended questions and keep them pinned up at their desk and tucked in their notepad for easy reference. Remember, open-ended questions guide the sales process and lead to less talking and more listening.
Amy Geltner has some good advice on this…
“A lot of good questions up front will help sales reps uncover what customers’ needs really are and possibly some they may have not realized they even had. This skill aligns them with what top performers are doing, and that is being a true problem solver not just a product pusher at the first sign of a perceived need.”
The closed ended questions that shut down conversations
Many of our clients over the years have asked us to observe their salespeople in action. More often than not, what leads to a lot of talking and minimal listening is the bad habit of asking too many closed-ended questions. For example:
“Is that something you’d like to hear more about?”
“If we could do that for you, would you be interested in hearing more about it?”
“Does that answer your question?”
“What other questions can I answer for you?”
Every one of these questions are likely to cause the prospect to respond with a yes or no and a question for you which…you guessed it…will get you talking. A lot of salespeople are more comfortable when they’re answering questions so they invite them. The problem is, when you’re answering questions, you’re not learning anything about your prospect and it’s very easy for the prospect to end the meeting before you get a chance to recommend a closing next step.
Kelly Myers explains what happens when you don’t ask good questions up front before recommending a positive next step that moves the sales process forward.
Patience in the discovery process can be really hard for sales people because they're so excited when they hear a problem which is something for which they have a solution. -Kelly Myers, SVP Sales with Sunrise Senior Living Click To Tweet
“Both experienced and inexperienced sales professionals have gaps in their abilities or just thoroughness in the discovery phase. Salespeople in general are very eager to jump right to providing a solution and by not having the patience in early discovery, so much relevant information, that’s required, is missed…information that is needed to tie the benefits of the solution to the customer need. Without that, often the cost of the solution doesn’t make sense to the customer. Patience in the discovery process can be really hard for sales people because they’re so excited when they hear a problem which is something for which they have a solution. That can lead them to leapfrog over everything else and the larger problem can be missed all together.”
Examples of good open ended questions
Open ended questions:
“Could you share with me what you consider the be the most important problem this upgrade must solve for you?”
“As you listen to the various people that are involved in this decision, what are the concerns you feel are most important to take into consideration?”
“What are the results you are most interested in achieving with this redesign project of you website?”
These are the kind of questions that open up the conversation, lower resistance and increase receptivity. The more questions you prepare in advance and the better you present an agenda that is structured to get your prospect talking, the better your results will be.
So, if you want to break the bad habit of talking too much on sales calls, it begins with a few basic fundamentals:
- Start with a listening-oriented agenda
- Have good, relevant open ended questions prepared in advance
- Break the habit of asking closed ended questions
With these three improvements, you’ll be in a position to talk less and start listening more. Listening is an art and noticing the cues that lead us to better, more relevant questions is the next stage, but before that can happen, we simply have to build a selling approach that generates more talking from the prospect or customer and these are simple strategies we can use to get better at it.
One exercise we strongly recommend that our clients tell us helps build more sales awareness is to use this self analysis tool CLICK HERE. If you analyze yourself, we’ll send you how you compare to other sales professionals along with some ideas on how to improve. The first step to improvement is to become aware of our strengths and weaknesses and this tool will help you in this area.
The SalesGym is a research, consulting and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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