We’re now in a time of global economic uncertainty. How do we maintain growth and adjust our strategies in the wake of the unique pain facing many sectors of the economy?
This question is on the top of CEOs’ list of business concerns. That puts significant pressure on sales organizations – always at the forefront of listening to customer pain points – to adapt and perform.
As McKinsey confirmed, the B2B sales process has changed, but 76 percent of buyers still find it helpful to speak to a salesperson when researching a new product or service. In enterprise sales, multiple conversations remain the norm. There is a great opportunity for organizations to improve what is referred to in sales as live call execution to accelerate revenue.
How Listening Influences the Sales Process
First, consider that the millennial generation, often referred to as “generation me,” is now the largest in the U.S. workforce and members of that generation have already become buyers and decision-makers at their companies. Better listening to the customers’ problems and focusing on them is a concept sales professionals would be wise to practice more. It’s “pull” rather than “push” selling.
New research by my company, ringDNA, backs this up. The 2020 Sales Prospecting Performance Report indicates that sales reps who talk a lot aren’t just annoying – they are also less successful.
Analyzing data from roughly 130 million conversations, ringDNA found that, for top-performing sales reps, the average talk streak – defined as an uninterrupted monologue – was just 12 seconds. Reps that went beyond the 12-second mark on average demonstrated a steep drop in won sales opportunities.
What The Challenger Sale Gets Wrong
The relatively short talk streak indicates the behavior of a rep who asks a lot of questions and provides clear, concise commentary. Among top sellers, individual monologues can extend up to 77 seconds when necessary but are always followed by extended periods of listening or short talk streaks.
The findings may be surprising for devotees of The Challenger Sale, the iconic book that still ranks among Amazon’s top ten bestselling sales books nearly a decade after its release. The philosophy at the center of the book, called “commercial teaching,” urges sales reps to take control of conversations in part by persuading prospects that they are experts in their business or industry. The book’s authors, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, go so far as to advise reps to avoid prospects who talk too much.
While The Challenger Sale contains irrefutable advice geared toward learning as much as possible about the prospects’ industry and business, critics have long argued that the six-part presentation pitches prescribed in the book may be interpreted as requiring long-winded monologues, while shifting focus away from listening to the customers’ actual self-perceived pain.
As JMReid Group president John Reid writes in his review, the book’s approach is counterintuitive to developing trust: “Instead of listening, talk at them about what you think is going on in their business. The Challenger Sale then wants you to drown your customer…People who are drowning cannot listen, they just want to breathe.”
How Much Do Top Performing Reps Talk on Sales Calls?
In terms of balancing talk/listen ratios during sales conversations, our research found that similar behaviors held true for top-performing sales development reps (SDRs) whose objective was to book meetings or product demonstrations.
Among SDRs, conversations in which a meeting or demo was booked lasted an average of about 14 minutes. The likelihood of setting a demo on a call increases as the call length reaches 14 minutes, with diminishing returns for calls that go for longer periods. This indicates that it takes only a few minutes to confirm interest and establish a demo on a call. After that is done, reps typically perform administrative duties like confirming dates and times, collecting email addresses, and gathering qualification information.
Does this mean optimal SDR sales conversations should be 14 minutes in length? Not necessarily. What’s really interesting about the call data is the average maximum talk streak of about 67 seconds for top-performing SDRs within the context of a relatively concise conversation.
Stop Talking So Much During Sales Conversations
In short, 67 seconds is the amount of time needed to succinctly and eloquently offer solution value in response to a real customer need. The data indicates that reps don’t need to control the conversation – or, at least, not through conversational dominance defined by long pitches.
The Challenger Sale significantly raised awareness about the importance of understanding the needs and business models of target buyers, as well as the value of introducing new ways of thinking about the problems they face. The data is clear, however, that reps who take “commercial teaching” to an extreme, like an impassioned professor in a lecture hall, won’t be as successful as reps who engage in a free-flowing exchange of ideas and dialogue.