Willy: I don't know why - I can't stop myself - I talk too much. A man oughta come in with a few words. Charlie's a man of few words, and they respect him.
Linda: You don't talk too much, you're just lively.
Arthur Miller - Death of a Salesman
We all have sympathy for poor Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman. He knew he talked too much, but he couldn't figure out why. And he couldn't stop talking too much even though he wanted to be like Charlie, a man of few words, who was respected by all.
Let’s face it. Salespeople talk too much.
And when sales people talk too much, they generate too few customers. So why do those of us trying to grow our pipelines constantly find ourselves in this position? Perhaps because, we do not understand why we talk too much.
Let's start there.
Why Do You Talk Too Much?
- I need to pitch my product or service: Of course you do. How else will the prospect know if you and your products are any good? However, prospects at first want to know whether you are a good fit for working with them as much as evaluating your level of technical competence. Remember, “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
- I like to hear myself speak: Your prospect may even like the sound of your voice for a while, but after a few minutes, he or she may be looking for the door. If you look around the room after a while and the prospects' eyes are glazing over, your melodious voice has lost its luster.
- I get nervous, so I talk: If this is the case, explore why you are nervous. Are you uncomfortable starting new conversations? Are you uncomfortable talking to senior level managers? Do you not know your products and services very well and the value they provide?
- I have no plan or objective: There is a saying in sales, "if you don't have a plan, stay in the car." When you enter into a sales conversation and you are not sure where you want to go or what you want to accomplish, the conversation meanders every which way and ends with neither clarity of purpose nor helpful action steps.
- I easily get distracted: Much related to the previous point, if you don't have a plan, you can't be sure what you are trying to communicate. Thus, any new topic that gets introduced in the sales conversation can lead down time consuming and fruitless paths.
- I don't talk too much, I am lively: You may have a dynamic, effervescent personality that springs forth in every conversation. That’s fine. You don't have to hide your personality; just learn to share it in easy to swallow doses. Your prospects will appreciate your liveliness even more.
These are just some of the reasons we tend to talk too much when we enter into a sales conversation. Other reasons salespeople talk too much are they don't like silence, they feel the need to cover perceived objections, or they simply have too much to say.
The key for you is to understand why you, specifically, talk too much. That way you can develop a personal plan to cut down on the soliloquies.
What You Miss When You’re the One Doing all the Talking
You may be thinking, "So what if I talk too much. I have a great product to sell (or service to discuss), and I know my stuff. Isn't it important for my prospects to know what I know so they can understand what I can do for them?"
Perhaps, but here is what you miss when you do too much of the talking:
Opportunity to build trust and rapport: Buyers tend to buy from people they like. They listen to people they like. They take advice from people they like. If you are doing all the talking, you will not pick up on the signals that indicate what is important to the prospect, besides your expertise or product. You miss the connection - the rapport that you can build.
Plus, everyone loves to talk about themselves -- to tell their story. If you do not give prospects a chance to do so, they often feel ignored, overwhelmed, and most importantly, unheard. This is not a very good way to start relationships.
Uncovering needs: When salespeople enter initial sales conversations, many have strong knowledge of what they can do for their prospects, but understandably only a vague notion of what the prospect truly needs. If you are doing all the talking, you can only guess which components of your products and services will offer the greatest value for that particular prospect.
You miss the chance to craft something special for them. And if you don't know all the needs, you miss out on building larger solutions (and thus generating the most revenue possible).
- The chance to demonstrate what it is like to work with you: What better way to engage potential clients than to have them experience what it is truly like to work with you as their trusted advisor. When you listen, show interest in a client's issues, and ask insightful questions, you provide the prospect with a glimpse into the real you.
5 Keys to Talking Less and Generating More Customers
Assuming you would like to break the habit of talking too much in your sales conversations, what next?
Approach sales conversations like, well, conversations: Before you engage a sales conversation, think to yourself, "If I needed to get a full picture of the prospect's world before going forth and building a solution for them, how would I approach it?"
Approaching the conversation this way, versus thinking, "I am now selling a new client or customer," will help the conversation move along more naturally, keep you from talking too much, and help you avoid missing key signals.
- Balance advocacy and inquiry: While you don't want to talk too much, you don't want to give the prospect the third degree with question after question. A good sales conversation should have the prospect talking more than you, but buyers are also looking for your insight. Just make sure you wisely and appropriately choose how much wisdom you impart, and how much air-time you take to impart it.
Ask open-ended questions: The goal is to get the prospect to start talking. So when you ask questions, avoid asking closed-ended questions like "do you do this or that." Instead ask questions like, "tell me about what you do in this area" or "what expectations do you have" or "how do you go about" or "tell me about the most difficult aspect for you when you..." (Try out these 21 Must-Use Sales Questions that Get Prospects Talking.)
You'll be surprised at how much you will find out, how much it will help you generate more clients and sales, and how much it will help you be the best provider for them.
Become overly conscious of your air time: If you've gone on for more than two minutes (yes, 120 seconds) without a very good reason, simply cut it off. Sometimes we head down a path and we think to ourselves when we start talking, "OK, I started discussing this and it will take me 10 minutes to explain...how did I get here again?!" Avoid letting this happen, but if you start down the path, get off as quickly as possible.
- Practice your conversations: We heard recently from a participant in one of our sales training programs, "I hate role playing, but it was helpful and useful. I sure learned where I need to be careful in those conversations." Nothing is better for getting good at something than practicing. Find a way to practice, and you'll find yourself talking and listening the right amount.
- Seek coaching: Many of us can point to a time when a more senior business developer, after seeing us lead a sales conversation, gave us a piece of advice that made a significant difference in our conversation approach and success. Seek out this kind of coaching. Either from someone at your firm or an external business development coach, the right feedback can help you win more clients and sell more, sometimes immediately.
- Be genuine in your approach: Selling complex solutions is not about learning old-style 'selling' techniques, but about developing relationships with clients that lead to fruitful business interactions. Whatever style you use in your business development talking approach, make sure it fits you like an old shoe. The best conversations you will ever have are those you have when you are really being you.
We all know, the more we listen to our prospects, the more we can find out how to help them. So listen to your potential buyer far before they become your client or customer.
One last tip: The simplest way to tell if you’ve done a good job of balancing your listening and talking? Next time you take a prospect to lunch, about ten minutes into the meal, look down at your plate and then at the prospect’s. If you have done a good job of balancing your conversation, then he will have plenty left on his plate and you will be nearly finished. If you still have an entire plate of food, you have a lot less talking to do.
If all else fails, just remember "Charlie's a man of few words, and they respect him."