The Power of Listening – The 80/20 Rule

Landing a cold call is harder than it seems. From a voluntary source of raw data, I asked reps across the SaaS/tech sales industry how many cold calls are picked up on an average day of calling. The sample size came back with the following results: Between 3-7 dials out of 100 are answered to ears ready for a pitch. Those odds are staggering– you’re not more likely to get struck by lightning, but you get the idea.

So, you beat the odds and land a cold call– now what? Time and time again, cold call after cold call, sales reps fail to consider the most important part of gaining credibility and trust from their prospects. This aspect has nothing to do with delivery, or how well reps have prepared for the call, it doesn’t even have to do with what they are trying to sell. Okay, what is this overlooked piece of a rep’s arsenal that can be the difference between a quick hang-up, and a booked meeting that can lead to an opportunity? Just listen.

Yes, you read that right. Listening is the most crucial, yet overlooked part of an initial conversation with a prospect. Once the introduction hits the prospect, the biggest setback sales reps face stems from the desire to bog down prospects with too much information that they think is important.

To use myself as an example, I ran into this problem while selling (or trying to sell) financial software at a big cloud company. Luckily, at a neighborhood gathering, I ran into a family friend who was a senior executive involved with his company’s decision making process, and figured this was a perfect time to ask for advice– here’s what he told me:

Every phone call I get (from sales reps) has an exhausted trend which I identify within 15-20 seconds of the call. All they want to do is tell me about something, rather than ask how or if it could help me.

This hit home– I began to test out the strategy of asking a well-thought out question, and then letting the prospect do all of the talking. The results were staggering. Calls went from nerve-wrecking 15-second spiels, to genuine conversations with me in the driver’s seat. I took this to the next level by developing an 80:20 rule with the help of one of my managers at the time.

The rule is simple– you should be speaking 20% of the time, and let your prospect do the other 80% of the talking. This will lead you to uncovering their pain points much faster than if you were to word vomit what your product/service does.

Here are 3 quick ways to transform your talk track, allowing you to speak less and get to your desired goal quicker:

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Questions should only start with “How”, “What”, “Why”– omit sentence starters like “Do”, “Is”, and “Can” as these will lead to one-word answers.
  1. Label the situation, and go silent. By giving your prospect confirmation of a pain that you’re able to uncover with an open-ended question, you open the floor for the prospect to continue talking, therefore continuing the conversation. “It seems/sounds like…” is a great starting point.
  1. Mirror what your prospect is saying. Mirroring will grant you more time and lead you to your next question. By repeating what your prospect has said, this lets them know that you’re actively listening to what they just said and makes them comfortable to keep talking.

While talking less may sound counterintuitive, listening is what will pull the answers out of your prospect, getting you closer to that opportunity to do business.

-Tommy Ranucci-

Tommy Ranucci is a former Sales Executive and Business Development leader in the Tech/SaaS space, who currently works on negotiations and contract management with C-Suite executives across the industry. In his free time he loves to cook, travel, and run an occasional marathon. You can connect with him here on LinkedIn.

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