Over the last 2 years, we have interviewed hundreds of sales executives on a variety of sales topics including strategy, hiring, technology, sales process, sales messaging, motivation, sales meetings, training and others.
One question we always ask is, “What are the three most destructive habits salespeople get into that hurt their results?” Over 90% of the time, “talking too much on sales calls” is one of the responses. When asked how many salespeople they guess have this problem, the answer is always over 50% and sometimes as high as 80%. Every sales executive we have ever met or talked to agrees this is one of the biggest mistakes most salespeople make and is a primary driving factor of poor results.
Because this problem is so deep seated and hard to change, we are doing a series of articles and drawing from interviews with various sales leaders to present practical solutions that attack this results limiting problem. The number of sales that are lost to competitors because of poor listening and too much talking is, no doubt, in the billions every month. This series is about what you can do about it.
Bobby Graham, National Accounts Sales Director with Facility Solutions Group sums it well…
Every person you call on—your prospect—has a challenge. The great salesperson listens by asking probing questions to find solutions to help them overcome their challenge. -Bobby Graham, National Accounts Sales Director with Facility Solutions Group Click To Tweet
“Every person you call on—your prospect—has a challenge. The great salesperson listens by asking probing questions to find solutions to help them overcome their challenge. They listen, they learn, they discover the challenge. Then the great salesperson helps them develop a solution utilizing their network, resources, and business model to overcome the challenge. Ultimately they find a way to serve them well by developing a relationship that provides value.”
Listening with genuine curiosity opens doors like no other selling skill can. You simply cannot consistently uncover needs and develop trust if you don’t develop the habit of asking and listening. Elly Sherman, Sr. Director of Customer Success with CareerBuilder emphasizes just how important listening is to consistent success…
Successful sales reps have the mindset to determine if what they are selling is actually going to help the person they are selling to. -Elly Sherman, Sr. Director of Customer Success with CareerBuilder Click To Tweet
“Successful sales reps have the mindset to determine if what they are selling is actually going to help the person they are selling to. Those people have the genuine curiosity that is needed to ask the right questions and solve problems. This mentality creates salespeople who can win year after year at the same company.”
Many ways to attack this problem…
At SalesGym, we use 10 distinct approaches to coaching salespeople out of this bad habit and into better questioning and listening approaches and will focus, in this article, on a good place to start which is to train your salespeople how to begin each sales interaction with a simple, but effective agenda that increases their odds of more listening and less talking. When our clients ask us to listen to their salespeople on sales calls and give them an assessment, we often ask salespeople why they don’t use an agenda to start their calls (trust us, a lot of them don’t!). What we generally hear is:
This simply indicates the salesperson either doesn’t know how to use a good agenda to start a call or their understanding is so limited and confining, they can’t get past that. Truth is, an effective agenda is conversational, focused on the prospect or customer, and sets the tracks for a better interaction. Compare these two approaches:
John, to get us started, I put together an agenda that I think would work well for our meeting. I’d like to start by giving you an overview of our organization and what my role is, then I’d like to walk you through a demo of our new whiz bang platform that can reduce your transaction costs and then we can discuss ways we can customize it to your needs. How does that sound?
John, in thinking about our meeting and more importantly, how to make our time today as useful for you as possible, here’s an agenda I thought might be helpful. First, it would be great to hear from you the reasoning behind your desire to change your transaction software and systems and what you’re hoping to accomplish and also learn a little more about your decision making process. After that, we can take a look at how our systems can be customized and tailored to your specific situation. What else would you like to add to our agenda to make this meeting more helpful to you?
More often than not, salespeople that talk too much and listen too little sound a lot like Example A whether or not they even use an agenda. They make a big mistake of talking too much about themselves, what they do and their product/service up front in the meeting, which creates a dynamic of them talking and the customer listening and asking. They confuse the prospect’s questions with interest and it is easy for the prospect to end the meeting with a polite… “Well, that was super helpful and I think I’ve got a lot to think about over the next few weeks. Let me get back to you after I get together with my team and fill them in on what you shared with me.”
Example B was intentionally set up to get the prospect talking first and even the wording had less “what I’d like to do” and more “we” language. It ended in the most effective way possible with an open ended question to ask the prospect what else they would like to focus on.
Keys to a better agenda:
- Phrase in a way that is less about what you want to do and more about what will be helpful to the prospect. Phrasing matters!
- Position the first agenda item to LISTEN and LEARN something that is helpful for the prospect and you.
- After you listen and learn, the next agenda item is to share what you can do to help with the situation.
- Always ask what else the prospect or customer would like to add to the agenda to make the meeting even more helpful to them.
These simple four keys will have a dramatic impact on how salespeople interact on sales calls and you can train your team to do this. We find, in the training we do with our clients’ salespeople, that doing short, focused practice, one to two times a week for about a month will establish this new habit. Raising awareness of what to do and how to do it isn’t enough. Salespeople need to practice verbalizing this new and better agenda approach repeatedly so it becomes comfortable and less awkward.
Elly Sherman shared an insight that connects the right kind of curiosity with the agenda that puts listening and learning first…
Salespeople would be winning all the time if they were really just good at listening and learning what the customer needed and knowing how to communicate their unique value proposition. -Elly Sherman, Sr. Director of Customer Success with CareerBuilder Click To Tweet
“Salespeople would be winning all the time if they were really just good at listening and learning what the customer needed and knowing how to communicate their unique value proposition.”
The right agenda generates more listening…
When salespeople get skillful and consistent with starting more calls with an agenda like this, they will naturally start asking more questions. With more training, they’ll learn to ask better open ended questions that are relevant and they’ll pick up on the cues of how to ask better follow-up questions that uncover more needs. Bobby Graham explains clearly how top performers approach listening and learning…
“The mediocre salesperson sticks to what they know, ‘hey, we are selling light fixtures, are you buying? I’ve got a great price.’ Versus the great salesperson who takes an approach to understand a prospect’s need; ‘I understand from our conversation that you’re managing a lot of facilities, where is your biggest expense (challenge)? What does that include? Have you tried to reduce your operational expense by effective lighting solutions?’ If you’re selling stuff, you’re never going to go any further than that.”
This is where training and practice come in…
After working with thousands of salespeople, we know it takes practice and repetition for them to get comfortable and skillful with this better agenda approach. Here’s how we do it in the SalesGym with salespeople we coach every week:
- We ask the salesperson we are coaching to identify an upcoming sales appointment they have
- We ask for the agenda they would typically use
- We then go over the new process that’s more focused on listening and learning
- We give before and after demonstration that contrasts what they’re probably doing vs the better way
- We practice back and forth verbalizing the new agenda 5-10 times until it starts sounding natural
- We repeat this exercise over several weeks until it sounds effective, conversational and natural
- By then, the salesperson is using the new skill, getting better results and experiencing the magic of listening earlier in the call
We all need real-world practice to hone a skill. It's like football; you can’t learn how to tackle by watching a film, you have to put your pads on and go. -Bobby Graham, National Accounts Sales Director with Facility Solutions Group Click To Tweet
“To get good at sales requires practice. Most people pay to go to college only to find out when they start their career— they haven’t learned anything yet. We all need real-world practice to hone a skill. It’s like football; you can’t learn how to tackle by watching a film, you have to put your pads on and go.” — Bobby Graham
Practice coaching is the key!
Sales Managers need to either learn how to practice coach or partner with people that can help them in this area. Whether it’s learning how to use a better agenda, how to ask better open ended questions or how to share big, game changing ideas in a more concise and persuasive way, salespeople need training and ongoing practice. It’s no different than learning to hit a golf ball solid and straight or learning to play a guitar or how to swing dance … it takes practice. Consider how much practice and training an elite military unit goes through to master all the skills they need.
Holding a meeting to talk about it isn’t enough. Doing a highly focused half or full-day training on it isn’t enough. Doing one or two role play practice sessions isn’t enough. This is a habit that requires the kind of training and practice that elite athletes get. We’ll talk more about how to create an inspiring and challenging practice culture that continuously builds skills and breaks bad habits in future articles, but, for now, make a decision to turn your entire sales team into better listeners. We have lots of ideas on how to help you do this so contact us at the SalesGym if you need help.
“If I had 30 minutes to coach my sales reps, I would focus on asking good questions and listening and actually put into practice recommendations. That’s what cuts out the denial of, ‘I do everything perfect.’ People have a misaligned perception of, ‘I’m really good at that’, until they hear themselves. Only then can they admit they have something to practice and actually engage in practice. This allows you to get further faster with role-plays.” — Elly Sherman
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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