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One Thing Top Sales People Get Right (and How to Stop Talking So Much)

One Thing Top Sales People Get Right (and How to Stop Talking So Much)

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Written by John Doerr
Co-Founder, RAIN Group

"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."

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

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 salespeople talk too much, they generate too few customers. “Listening to me” was the third most influential factor in buyer purchase decisions according to our recent study. Sixty-eight percent of buyers are highly influenced by sellers who listen well. But sellers don’t deliver. Buyers report that only 26% of sellers are effective listeners.

Why do we talk too much?

Let's start there.


Why Do You Talk Too Much?

There are many reasons sellers talk too much in their sales conversations. Consider these:

  • I need to pitch my product or service: Of course you do. How else will the buyer know if you and your products are any good? However, buyers first want to know whether you’re a good fit for working with them as much as they’re 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, but after a few minutes, he or she may look for the door. If you look around the room (or video conference) and your prospects' eyes are glazing over, your melodious voice has lost its luster.

    When selling via virtual meetings, your attentiveness to buyer engagement is even more important. It’s easier for buyers to become distracted and it’s harder to regain their attention. Stop and check in more often to keep buyer engagement high.

  • I get nervous, so I talk: If this is the case, explore why you’re nervous. Are you uncomfortable starting new conversations? Are you uncomfortable talking to senior-level buyers? Do you not know your products and services very well and the value they provide?
  • I have no plan or objective: There’s a saying in sales, "If you don't have a plan, stay in the car." When you enter a sales conversation and aren’t 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’re trying to communicate. Any new topic that gets introduced in the sales conversation can lead down time consuming and fruitless paths.
  • I don’t like silence: Silence is powerful. If you can become comfortable with a certain amount of silence, you’re likely to learn more about the buyer. It gives the buyer an opportunity to collect their thoughts and build upon the discussion topic. Especially when selling virtually, don’t feel the need to fill the air. When on a virtual meeting the silence will feel longer than if you were meeting in person. Embrace the silence.
  • I don't talk too much, I’m 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 buyers 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 feel the need to cover perceived objections, they want to impress the buyer with their deep product knowledge, 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 or service to sell and I know my stuff. Isn't it important for buyers to know what I know so they can understand what I can do for them?"

Perhaps, but here’s what you miss when you do too much of the talking:

  • Opportunity to build trust and rapport: Buyers buy from people they like. They listen to people they like. They take advice from people they like. If you’re doing all the talking, you won’t pick up on the signals that indicate what’s important to the buyer. You miss the connection—the rapport—you can build.

    Eighty-eight percent of sellers say developing relationships and 87% of sellers say building rapport are top challenges in a virtual selling environment. Don’t make your job even harder by doing all the talking.

    Everyone loves to talk about themselves—to tell their story. If you don’t give buyers a chance to do so, they often feel ignored, overwhelmed, and most importantly, unheard. This isn’t a good way to start a relationship.

  • Uncovering needs: When salespeople enter initial sales conversations, many have strong knowledge of what they can do for their buyers, but understandably only a vague notion of what the buyer truly needs. The most influential factor in buyer purchase decisions is a seller’s ability to lead a thorough needs discovery (71% of buyers rate this as highly influential).

    If you’re doing all the talking, you can only guess which components of your products and services will offer the greatest value. You miss the chance to craft something special for them. And if you don't know all their needs, you miss out on building larger solutions (and thus generating the most revenue possible).

  • The chance to demonstrate what it’s like to work with you: What better way to engage potential clients than to have them experience what it’s like to work with you as their trusted advisor. When you listen, show interest in their issues, and ask insightful questions, you provide the prospect with a glimpse into what it’ll be like to work with you.


How to Stop Talking So Much

Assuming you'd like to break the habit of talking too much, 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 buyer’s world before going forth and building a solution for them, how would I approach it?"

    Approaching the conversation this way versus thinking, "I’m now selling a new 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 buyer 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 airtime you take to impart it.
  • Ask open-ended questions: The goal is to get the buyer to start talking. So when you ask questions, avoid asking closed-ended questions like, "Do you do X?" 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 this?" or, "Tell me about the most difficult aspect for you when..." (Try out these 50 must-use sales questions that get buyers talking.)
  • Become overly conscious of your airtime: 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, "OK, I started discussing this and it’ll take me 10 minutes to explain...how did I get here?!" Avoid letting this happen, but if you start down the path, get off as quickly as possible.
  • Practice: We heard recently from a participant in one of our sales training programs who said, "I hate role playing, but it was helpful and useful. I learned where I need to be careful in those conversations." Nothing is better for developing skills 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 salesperson gave us a piece of advice that made a significant difference in our sales approach and success. Seek out this coaching.
  • Be genuine in your approach: Selling is about developing relationships with buyers that lead to fruitful business interactions. Whatever style you use, 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 customers, the more we can find out how to help them. So listen to your buyers before they become your customers.

If all else fails, just remember: "Charlie's a man of few words, and they respect him."

RECOMMENDED READING >> 5 Things You Must Do in Every First Sales Conversation
Last Updated July 28, 2023

Topics: Sales Conversations