As a sales manager you no doubt understand the importance of good listening skills. Active listening is one of the most valuable traits managers – and sales reps, for that matter – can demonstrate. Thus much has been written about how to perfect this critical skill. What no one mentions, however, is that once you’ve mastered it, you’re going to be faced with a new problem: reps who are so eager to talk with you that some of them overstay their welcome. “You need to have some tools in your managerial toolbox to wind up these conversations,” say Lorin Belker and Gary Topchik in the newest edition of The First-Time Manager (AMACOM, 2005). Here are some suggestions for ending a conversation without offending a rep.
1. Subtle verbal termination. There are three magic phrases that most people will understand to be cues that it’s time to move on. These are: I appreciate your coming in; it was nice talking to you; and let me think about that awhile and get back to you. These are polite, nonthreatening conversation-ending signals that will prompt most reps to stand up, thank you for your time and head out the door.
2. Gesture termination. If one of the magic phrases doesn’t work, try resting your hand on the telephone receiver. This gesture communicates the message: As soon as you leave, I’m going to make a phone call. Or try picking up a piece of paper and glancing at it periodically. As with the telephone, you’re communicating that you have something to take care of as soon as the rep leaves. You also can try turning in your chair to a side position, as though about to get up. And if that doesn’t work, stand up.
3. Direct verbal termination. Occasionally you’ll have reps who are enjoying their conversation with you so much that they miss – or ignore – all the signals to leave. In such cases you’ll need to be more direct. A direct verbal terminator that always works is: I really have enjoyed the conversation, but I have work to do – and I’m sure you do, too.
4. Upfront warning. When reps come in who you know in advance are not going to pick up on any of your signals to leave, tell them at the outset how much time you have and that if that’s not enough time, then you will need to meet them later on. “You will find this strategy works quite well,” say Belker and Topchik. “Your visitors will say what they need to within the allotted timeframe.”