Salespeople have been taught over and over to talk less and listen more. And yet they still have trouble zipping their lips. Acccording to one study, the average salesperson talks over 81 percent of the time in a selling situation.
It’s not a lack-of-knowledge problem. It’s an impulse-control problem. Most salespeople understand why it’s bad to blab on and on about themselves, their company and their product. They just can’t help themselves — even when there’s money on the table, according to a series of studies from Harvard University.
Researchers offered volunteers money for answering questions about well-known people — for example, did they think a certain movie star like snowboarding? Was a given politician smart? Did they like mushrooms on their pizza?
Or the volunteers could choose to answer similar questions about themselves and get paid nothing.
It turned out that people would give up between 17 and 25% of their potential earnings to talk about themselves rather than others.
Isn’t that what salespeople do every day? They leave money on the table for the privilege of talking about themselves.
Binging on me
To find out why this urge is so powerful, the researchers used MRI tests to track brain responses while subjects talked about themselves. They found that such talk triggered the “meso-limbic dopamine system” — the same part of the brain associated with feelings of reward and satisfaction from food, sex or money. The reason we can’t stop talking about ourselves is because it feels so good.
The research also found that self-talk is self-perpetuating: The more you do it, the more you want to do it. What we end up with, in effect, is binge talking. Which is understandable, because the brain’s meso-limbic dopamine system – the part activated by self-talk – is involved in compulsive and binging behaviors.
What’s a trainer to do?
So are chatterbox salespeople above your pay grade? Instead of sales training, do they need therapy? Or a 12-step program?
Things aren’t that dire.
Because the behavior is driven by automatic and often-unconscious processes, you can train salespeople to break thorough the cycle of self-reinforcing self-talk — with techniques that force them to stop and pay attention to what they’re saying.
We recently added a learning module on this topic to our Selling Essentials learning platform. It offers three techniques you can teach salespeople to get them to slow down and shut up:
The 30- to 60-second rule. The speaker talks freely for about 30 seconds, then starts looking for a place to stop before they get to 60 seconds. This is a great technique to practice with role-playing. Reps may be surprised by how short a minute seems when you’re talking, and how long it seems when you’re listening.
Single-sentence responses. Salespeople naturally assume that if a buyer asks a question, they must want to know more — a lot more — about the topic. So the question becomes an excuse to launch into a long monologue. Instead, train them to answer questions with one sentence, then stop and ask for the customer’s feedback before continuing. If customers wants a more elaborate answer, they’ll say so.
Speak, stop and ask. This technique is similar to the single-sentence response. After you say something, stop and ask for feedback before continuing. For example, you’ve just pointed out a key feature of your offering. Instead of overexplaining it, stop and invite the buyer into the conversation by asking, “How might that be helpful to you?”
Source: Tamir and Mitchell (2012). Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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