“Talking too much on sales calls” is the #1 mistake salespeople make on sales calls, based on over 150 interviews with sales executives who collectively manage over 250,000 salespeople. 92% of them agree that over 50% of all salespeople experience reduced results as a result of this limiting habit.
Interestingly, it’s been this way for decades. 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 reducing 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.
We’ve included some relevant thoughts in this article on coaching and talking too much on sales calls from Dr. Samuel C. Rindell, COO – Cigna Talent Management and Emilie Maheu, SVP Regional Field Sales-Medical Industry.
Emilie sums up well the core benefit when better questioning and listening skills are developed…
More sales reps would be successful by asking those really good questions and listening and then keep asking and keep listening, keep asking and keep listening, without solving the problem right away. -Emilie Maheu, SVP Regional Sales-Medical Industry Click To Tweet
“More sales reps would be successful by asking those really good questions and listening and then keep asking and keep listening, keep asking and keep listening, without solving the problem right away. A lot of reps hear one thing and then they want to just jump in and start their pitch before they finish listening to the whole situation.”
What causes this problem is the reality that a high percentage of salespeople are “people-people extroverts” that are more comfortable talking than listening, but what allows this stubborn habit to root and take hold in a selling context is very simple .. poor training, coaching and not nearly enough practice. At the SalesGym, we’ve come up with 10 practical ways to break this habit and in this article, we’ll focus on a simple exercise we use in the SalesGym in practice sessions every week that coaching-oriented sales managers can also use.
Practice is the solution
Sales Executives and managers need first to understand that talking too much on sales calls is a habit that can be changed and the following approaches, although helpful, are simply not enough:
- Condensed 1-3 day intense sales training programs - they can create the awareness but cannot provide enough practice and repetition over time to break this habit
- Raising awareness and talking about the problem in meetings and coaching sessions will not break this habit
- Showing salespeople how to ask better questions and sharing best practices is a great step, but it will not break the talking too much habit
To be fair, all three of these approaches can help and actually work with a very small percentage of salespeople. But there’s a reason why sales executives tell us repeatedly that 50-80% of all salespeople talk too much on sales calls and listen too little. These approaches, with hundreds of thousands of salespeople have been tried repeatedly … and haven’t worked.
We’ve found there is only one way to break this habit permanently for most salespeople. It’s the same approach that turns a 20 handicap golfer into a 10 handicapper. Same approach that allows a child to learn a new song on a piano or a new dance for a talent show. It’s the same approach that elite athletes use to prepare for competition. Practice, ideally with effective skills building drills, is the most reliable and permanent way to break this habit. If your salespeople are not getting this practice, then they are blowing deals, week after week.
Practical drills are essential
Just as a golfer needs a well thought out practice routine to learn to hit all the clubs in the bag consistently with specific drills for each different shot, sales managers need practice drills they can use so they can get beyond simply giving their salespeople advice, pointers and ideas on how to improve. Practice is much more proactive. Michael Jordan said “it is easy to have the will to win. What is more difficult, is to have the will to practice each and every day. In the quiet moments outside the limelight, we need to have the will and the determination to strive for constant improvement.” Far too much sales coaching time is spent talking about improving and trying to ignite the desire to win… but what is really needed is thoughtful practice with a practice partner that takes your game to the next level.
In working with thousands of salespeople every year and asking them how many of them get 1-2 hours of practice … and we mean REAL PRACTICE with their manager or someone else on the sales team every month? Over 90% say they rarely, if EVER get any practice. This has to change if you want to build a winning team.
And it all starts with drills … drills you do over and over until your team achieves mastery. You don’t do drills once or twice then move on because everyone wants “something new” … no … you stick with drills until the team clears the bar … consistently … with increasing levels of difficulty. Start easy and clear the bar. A little more difficulty and clear the bar. Dr. Samuel Rindell adds…
Sales leaders should do their best to do far less talking, a lot more listening, and adapt their style to the needs of the individual. -Dr. Samuel C. Rindell, COO - Cigna Talent Management Click To Tweet
“Sales leaders should do their best to do far less talking, a lot more listening, and adapt their style to the needs of the individual.”
If sales managers don’t have time to practice, then the sales executives in the organization need to re-think what the purpose of sales management is all about.
This is one of the best drills we have ever seen to instill the habit of asking, listening and really paying attention.
“Summarize to Suggest” Drill
Pre Exercise Preparation
- Identify a prospect the salesperson had an appointment with that is stalled
- Write down 5 open-ended questions they’d like to ask this prospect
- Make a list of important and relevant things they’ve learned from this prospect about their needs, concerns, buying criteria and decision making process
- Write down 2-3 possible BIG IDEAS that could be helpful to this prospect that might fit their needs
Step 1 – Summarize
The drill begins with the salesperson giving a summary of the relevant information, pain points and concerns learned in previous meetings. The list from the pre exercise planning form is used to organize this. The Sales Manager plays the prospect.
Step 2 – Ask and Listen
Then, the salesperson uses the five open-ended questions they’d like to ask this prospect. It’s important for the Sales Manager playing the prospect to be cooperative and helpful. There is zero value in being difficult and combative. The drill is designed to help the salesperson ask, listen, ask some more and take notes. The salesperson must work through all 5 questions before responding with any selling responses. Ideally, the Sales Manager notices opportunities for better follow up questions to create a better flow, but should stay in character all the way through the drill. It is important for the person playing the prospect to throw out some real needs and pain points the salesperson can uncover and respond to.
Dr. Rindell sums it up well…
From a training and development perspective, what most salespeople need to get good at out of the gates is listening. We probably all think we're good at it and are not. -Dr. Samuel C. Rindell, COO - Cigna Talent Management Click To Tweet
“From a training and development perspective, what most salespeople need to get good at out of the gates is listening. We probably all think we’re good at it and are not. The ability to be consultative in terms of offering solutions that meet the customers needs, customer centricity, requires you to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and help them in whatever way you can, and adjust the presentation based on the customers needs.”
Step 3 – Summarize
The salesperson, after having worked through all five open ended questions and follow-up clarifying questions without stopping to sell, then pauses to summarize back to the “prospect” what they have learned and ends the summary asking the prospect to add any important details or information they might have missed that would help clarify their situation and concerns.
Step 4 – Suggest / Recommend
In the final step, the salesperson should present a big insight-rich idea that is a good fit for the prospect based on what they learned
Debrief: Work through these 5 key areas
- How effective was the opening summary and how could it have been even better?
- How could you have asked better follow up questions and done a better job of not overreacting to opportunities when they came up?
- How could the 2nd summary have been made even more effective?
- What were the strengths of the big idea and how could it have been even better, more relevant and more specific to the prospect’s interests?
- How could the salesperson apply what they learned in this drill to get better results on sales calls?
It is important to REPEAT this exact scenario until the salesperson absolutely nails it. They are learning extremely valuable selling skills here:
- How to summarize, which is one of the most important communication skills
- How to patiently listen to needs and selling opportunities without overreacting and launching into selling and responding mode
- Using follow-up and clarifying questions that are relevant and engaging
- How to use a summary to springboard into a big, game changing idea
If you put your salespeople through this drill 10-20 times, over a period of 2-3 months, they will make significant progress toward breaking the stubborn “too much talking” habit and will identify more selling opportunities and build more rapport. As they get better, raise the degree of difficulty, but be extremely cooperative at first until they can perform well with a highly cooperative prospect.
Different ways to do this drill…
There are several ways to assign and run this drill that can be effective. It’s also helpful to put together best practices demonstrations of perfect execution. Our Sales Coaches in the SalesGym can demonstrate exactly how to do these skill building drills and help you set up the demonstration recordings that dramatically accelerate the learning process. “Talking too much” is only one of the 4 Bad Habits that salespeople get into, but it’s a great place to start as it’s the one that causes more salespeople to fail than all the others combined.
Bottom line is that practice like this will build a stronger sales team the same way that strength and speed drills build a strong basketball team. The idea that we can just give the sales team data, incentives, directions, pointers and feedback is enough to create a significant skills and habits shift is naive and unrealistic. It’s practice with demanding drills that will really move the needle when it comes to breaking bad habits and building the sales habits of top performers.
Dr. Rindell leaves us with an important insight into top performers…
“Those people with a growth mindset who are coachable and willing to listen and learn, and have that drive and fire in the belly, those are the people that really succeed as compared to someone with a fixed mindset, who knows everything, and is the best no matter what they do mentally.”
And Emilie adds…
The best sales reps want to win for the sake of winning, for the sake of being the best. Those are the best at sales because no matter what, they want to be first. -Emilie Maheu, SVP Regional Sales-Medical Industry Click To Tweet
“The best sales reps want to win for the sake of winning, for the sake of being the best. Those are the best at sales because no matter what, they want to be first.”
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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