This is the next in my series on the biggest sales mistakes you can make—and we’re going to address a bad one: overtalking.
There are several aspects to this major error:
- Talking more than your prospect.
- Asking non-intelligent questions, and not listening.
- Talking only about the superior features of your product or service.
Talking More than your Prospect
If you really believe in your company, product or service, of course, you want to talk about it. You want to elaborate on it. You want to tell the world how great it is. And you talk…and talk…and talk. Some people talk so much they don’t even take a breath or allow the customer to intervene. They just machine-gun out their feature sets.
Some of that, I believe, can come from insecurity. So make yourself more secure in your product or service by learning all about it and what makes it superior. Then you can, with some deliberation, explain it to the prospect, taking the time to carefully listen and understand what they’re interested in.
Of course, when the prospect asks you for information, that’s a different story. You’re not beating down the door and flattening them with your explanation.
With many of today’s sales being conducted long-distance—online with video conferencing software (much of the time with the video turned off)—the dynamic is radically changed. Your prospect is not sitting across from you and it becomes a challenge to “read” them. None of us have been trained to interact with people we can’t see.
This is the first time in history that someone can sell to another person halfway across the world without being able to see them. Even back in the old days before the internet, when we only had the phone to talk long-distance, sales weren’t conducted that way except for small transactions. Big deals were only possible face-to-face.
That is now totally shifting, and today we have salespeople that have never actually seen their customers. They might meet them by chance at a trade show or conference, but the sales themselves happen online.
Because we don’t have a historical background for selling this way, we have no studies or statistics to support it. We don’t have handbooks for it, or courses. We don’t have a firm handle on what works well and what doesn’t. Selling this way is becoming widespread, though, so we’ll definitely have studies, statistics, and training for it in the near future.
Selling this way, you’re assuming a high risk because you can’t evaluate their reactions, can’t see anybody language. In fact, you don’t really know if the person is actually who they say they are. Fortunately, I believe that most people are honest, though, and are who they claim.
But it certainly can happen that a prospect isn’t being totally honest about their evaluation process. They might be lying about their company (saying they have 50 staff when they have only 2) to get a better price. Or they’ve already done a preselection and are simply using you to force another vendor’s price down.
Intelligent Questions…and Listening
Because so many of us are selling blind, asking intelligent questions and carefully listening to the answers becomes crucially important. As Carl Jung said, “To ask the right question is already half the solution to the problem.”
Asking the right questions, of course, qualifies your prospect and informs you of their actual issues. But it also informs you as the seller of whether or not you’re wasting your time chasing this opportunity. Nothing is sadder than a bad opportunity that you beat like a dead horse until you suddenly discover that what you’re offering and what your prospect needs don’t meet.
How do you figure out if you’re heading in the right direction with your sale when you’re “flying blind”? By asking very intelligent open-ended questions, and then carefully listening to the answers. As the prospect talks, you can properly evaluate how your product or service fits in with their needs.
Formulating open-ended questions is something you can learn. Here are a number of websites that demonstrate what these are, and offer great examples:
15 Tips For Asking More Effective Sales Questions
13 killer B2B sales questions to close more deals
10 Best Sales Questions to Ask on a Sales Call
Beyond that, I’ll give you a simple, basic lesson on creating such questions that will help you a great deal: instead of using the word “why” substitute “how.” For example, instead of “Why do you like those results?” ask “How do you like those results?” The word “How” is softer, kinder, and the answer to it will give you a clue to their decision process.
Avoiding Long-Winded Feature Descriptions
Lastly, you should understand, right at the outset, that a prospect isn’t really interested in “how a feature works.” A feature is actually an overall part of a solution, and your prospect wants a look at the bigger picture. They not only want to know how a feature works but how it interacts with everything. Just having a feature presentation, your prospect can miss the major point, which is how can your solution push their company to the next growth rate, or to its next plateau.
So in sales, don’t be an overtalker! Ask intelligent, open-ended questions, take the time to really listen, and avoid long-winded feature descriptions.
Awesome write up by Nikolaus. Listening and asking intelligent questions are key to uncovering prospect’s pain points.
To exhibit confidence and professionalism as a salesman, long-winded feature descriptions should be avoided.
Great article, lots of learning points that will certainly help in closing more deals.
I love this article. Thank you Nikolaus. The quality of the information and answers a salesperson will get is based on the quality of their questions. Even prior to COVID, buyer’s have more educated than ever, their time is limited and many of them battle cognitive fatigue through information overload. Research studies state that we speak approximately 100 words per minute and we can listen to about 300 WPM.
Additionally, research has proved we have approximately 30,000 thoughts per day and 90% of these thoughts are subconscious thoughts. Considering the average person is awake between 16-18 hours per day, this means that if an average sales meeting with a prospect is one hour, approximately 1,765 of the thoughts the prospect is having are subconscious and only176 are conscious during this sales meeting.
Let’s give our prospects the benefit of the doubt. Odds are they are in a position to influence or make an economic decision to purchase a product or service so there’s relatively good chance their conscious thoughts for the hour are higher than 176.
“Not so fast” as Lee Corso would say. The physiological reason our minds wander, even when we try to listen, is because the human brain is capable of processing words at a much higher speed than a person is able to speak. The average rate of speech for an American is about 125 words per minute; the human brain can process about 800 words per minute. Since our brains are absorbing words significantly faster than one can speak, it’s nearly impossible to not let our minds wander, get quickly distracted, engage in subconscious and subjective thinking.
One of my ongoing areas of improvement is exercising active listening. My mind is constantly running at 100MPH and I talk too fast. Here are some things that have helped me over develop my sales skills over the past 17 years.
Deep dive preparation before every meeting, regardless of whether I think I know their pain points like the back of my hand because from helping their competitors or others in their roles. That’s arrogant and ignorant for me to believe that because no single human is the same. They may have nearly identical tangible business pain points as other prospects I have met with, but what about the intangibles they are missing. Will working with me reduce their stress, anxiety, communication with employees, improve their sleep patterns, mental health and overall well being?
I hope it helps with all of the above and more because performance increases when intangible benefits are reaped. I am not advocating for a salesperson to dive into questions that may sound intrusive, too personal, irrelevant and off topic.
Skilled sales professionals and leaders know how to build rapport, be authentic, articulate their knowledge and business acumen in a humanistic way. This is done through with body language, eye contact, not interrupting (that’s a hard one for me when I’m passionate to help) authenticity and telling the prospect what they need to hear vs what they want to hear AFTER asking though provoking questions.
Thought provoking questions slows down the WPM they are processing and causes them to consciously think, thus giving quality information to the salesperson.
“People hate to be sold to, but they love to buy.” This happens through great questions that are relevant, insightful and when a buyer believes you truly have their best interest first. Selling educating. It’s a dialogue not a monologue.
Selling is self-awareness like I am experiencing right now. My comment has turned into a rough draft of an article. I will end with this as a reminder of the importance of preparation – “Those who say there is no such thing as a stupid question have clearly never worked in sales.”