Taming the talker Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

I’ve told my sales rep that she talks too much on sales calls. But she responds with: “How will our prospects know what we can do for them if I don’t tell them?” Am I right or wrong?

You are right. A prospect who is listening isn’t a prospect. Most sales reps talk far too much on a sales call. My rule of thumb is that the prospect should be talking 70 percent of the time, and the sales rep should be talking 30 percent of the time.

Most of his or her talking should be in the form of questions. The biggest compliment your rep can pay to prospects is to really listen to what they have to say. Moreover, it helps the rep to understand true buying motives and shape the product or service to meet the prospects’ needs.

Your sales reps’ worth is determined by the information they uncover in a sales call, not the information they give. Their credibility is determined more by the questions they ask than by their answers. You can’t tell prospects anything without getting them defensive.

The sales rep’s job is to ask questions that will help prospects discover for themselves why they need what your company has to offer. I have trained hundreds of sales people over the years and, without a doubt, the number one thing most sales people can do to improve is to talk less and listen more.

As a new sales manager, what should I be doing when I go on joint sales calls with my reps?

The mistake most sales managers make when they accompany their sales reps is they take over the call. Too often, they rationalize this by telling themselves that the sales rep will learn from watching them handle the call. In reality, sales reps don’t usually learn this way.

I liken it to driving someplace you’ve never been before. The only person who remembers how to get there next time is the person who was driving. The person in the passenger seat simply goes to sleep.

When it comes to sales calls, the rep needs to be the driver; the manager should simply be an observant partner. The learning takes place in the pre-call and post-call meetings.

When it comes to making joint sales calls, the amount of time spent planning them is directly proportionate to their successful outcome. The pre-call meeting should be held in a coffee shop (not in the car and certainly not in the elevator on the way to the call) at least an hour before the call. At this meeting, you should review the following items:

History up until now;

Personal information that has been uncovered about the prospect;

The elements of what the prospect has agreed to do at this meeting;

The pain and pain indicators uncovered thus far;

What information is missing;

What needs to be accomplished at this meeting.

The manager and rep must define their roles. You must determine who will ask what questions or what each person will do on the call. In particular, choose who will be the team captain or quarterback. Here are the basic rules:

The team captain calls all the plays.

Only one person can speak at a time.

No rescuing. Both parties must keep their egos in check and resist the temptation to jump in when the other party is struggling.

Agree on how you will pass the ball — your silent communication strategy.

The next step is to rehearse. The team captain should rehearse the introduction, and the partner should rehearse the first three questions he or she will be asking the prospect.

Next in the learning process is the post-call debriefing. Do it immediately after the call. We typically tend to forget about 50 percent of what is said within 48 hours. Review your notes and look for holes. Determine your next step and identify who is responsible for whatever follow-up is necessary.

Be willing to let the sales rep fail. Sales people learn more from failure than they do from their successes. If you always rescue them, you will prolong the learning curve.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions via fax at (724) 933-9224 or e-mail him at LTLewis@totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.