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Talk time is critical to get right in sales calls.

Talk Time In Sales: What’s the Optimal Talk to Listen Ratio?

People make a lot of fuss about talk time in sales calls. But there’s a good reason for it. Those sales reps that ramble on forever aren’t making as many sales as they’d like. The ones that monitor their talk time, adjust their talk to listen ratio, and use their listening time to actively understand and empathize with the prospect… they’re the ones making the sales.

Not only are they making sales, they’re establishing rock solid foundations for professional relationships. Want to know how you can do the same thing? Let’s get to it.

Table of Contents

Talk Time: What Do The Experts Say?

Measuring talk time is a fairly new concept and the means to do it have only become available over the past few years. With the rise of call analytics, we’re seeing sales teams delve deeper into the inner workings of their sales calls, including talk to listen ratio. It’s important to remember that research on this front is still new and/or ongoing. It varies from industry to industry, as well as which stage of the sales funnel the customer is in.

1:10

Before these technological advancements, communication experts blew the LisTEN rule horn and believed if we truly wanted to understand the person we are conversing with, then our talk to listen ratio should be 1:10.

There may be some truth in the idea of talking less than your prospect. For example, it’s been found that the least successful sales calls were from sales reps that spoke for over 60% of the time. However, 1:10 is certainly on the extreme end of the scale. You’d need some pretty talkative prospects to pull that off!

80:20

Another common axiom of sales is to follow the 80/20 ratio. Listening is paramount when selling, and this often-cited sales rule suggests that listening for 80% of the time and talking for just 20% is optimal.

Execvision investigated this axiom further, but after analyzing over 2000 conversations over the course of a month, the largest measured outlier was 35:65 talk to listen ratio. They openly state that the 80/20 rule for talk time is “nonsense”. Even worse, they said the inverse of the 80/20 rule is more common, where sales reps belligerently talk for 80% of the time and scare their prospects off.

Execvision does advocate for a higher listening ratio, but they suggest that 80/20 is completely unfeasible.

43:57

In 2016, Hubspot used Gong’s conversation intelligence to analyze 25,537 sales conversations from over 15 different organizations to delve deeper into the ideal talk to listen ratio. They found the highest number of successful sales calls followed a 43:57 ratio

This one study has made its way all over the internet as the go-to talk to listen ratio. This isn’t because it’s a definitive fact, but because it’s the only sizable study using sales call analytics that’s ever been performed. Keep that in mind if you find your sales calls are successful at a slightly different ratio. There are lots of variables at play and one study doesn’t account for them all.

Having said that, it appears that speaking time analytics will be incredibly useful over the coming years for getting your sales calls pitch perfect. That’s why tl;dv is now including it as a feature, along with their multi-meeting intelligence, so you can measure the talk time of your own successful calls, empowering you to get the most accurate information for your niche.

All three ratios presented above reveal the same wisdom in different (and sometimes flawed) reasoning. Listening is key!

Let’s take 43:57 as the most factual ratio: what are the benefits of limiting your talk time to 43%?

Benefits of 43:57

There are plenty of advantages to talking less and opening your ears more. Let’s take a look at some of the best.

Greater Empathy for the Prospect

The longer you listen, the more time you’ll have to gather information concerning your customer. Keep these things in mind when listening:

  • What are your customer’s goals?
  • How can you help them achieve their goals?
  • What are your customer’s fears and pain points?
  • What do they like about your product or service, and how can you continue to provide it?
  • What’s the biggest hurdle stopping your customer from making the purchase right now?

These questions should be on your mind when listening to your prospect and when choosing which questions you ask. When you’ve answered these, you’ll be one giant leap closer to understanding and empathizing with them.

Fewer Errors

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. By listening more than talking, you’re opening the conversation up for further input from your customer. When you listen intently and retain key information, you minimize the chances of making a mistake during your pitch.

Stronger Levels of Trust

By actively listening and demonstrating respect for your prospect’s opinions, you’ll be rewarded with their trust. Sales reps who pay attention and show genuine interest in a prospect’s concerns lay the foundations for a long-lasting customer relationship.

Stand Out

Sales callers get a bad rep. They’re thought to love the sound of their own voice, to be overbearing, and a little pushy. By listening more than you speak, you’ll stand out from the crowd. When a prospect feels heard and valued, they remember it because it’s so unusual in today’s world of scammy cold calls.

Quicker Resolutions

When you listen effectively, you’ll solve conflicts much more quickly. Customers will have more time to explain the details of their problems and you’ll understand them on a deeper level. If you understand your prospect’s objections you can address issues faster and find solutions that benefit both parties.

Talk To Listen Ratio In Different Industries

Talk to listen ratios vary slightly across different sectors. More often than not though, it comes down to common sense.

In real estate, for example, you’ll listen to the prospect to gauge vital information about the housing preferences of the caller. You definitely don’t go into it trying to sell them any old house. You have to listen to them to understand what they want to buy. If they feel pushed in the wrong direction, they’ll simply go somewhere else.

"Effective listening is the most efficient way to connect with other people."

To take things back to software, however, it may be necessary for a SaaS company to have a slightly higher talk time than a realtor. This is because they have to explain the product and its features at some point. During one of the calls, they’ll probably present a demo and answer prospect questions about the technical side of things, which can require a little bit of extra talking. 

A consultant, on the other hand, will require an awful lot of listening to understand their client’s needs. This is because they need to tailor solutions to solve problems, adapting their services based on the desires of the prospect. The talk to listen ratio here would lean closer to 30:70.

As you can see, these are three completely different industries and they all highly value listening. However, the individual talk time will vary slightly from person to person, product to product, industry to industry.

The Talk To Listen Ratio In Different Sales Stages

Whether you are making that initial call or closing a deal, your talk-to-listen ratio will vary as each stage requires a specific level of communication with the customer. 

Initial Cold/Warm Call

Initially, the ratio will be close to 30:70. Active listening is paramount as your primary goal is to build rapport and gather information about the prospect’s desires. You need to prod and poke in the first stages, ask open-ended questions to gather as many insights as possible, and let your customer speak freely without interruption.

Neil Rackham, a salesman and consultant, solidifies this statement.

“If you’re getting a lot of objections early in the call, it probably means that instead of asking questions, you’ve been prematurely offering solutions and capabilities.”

Discovery Calls

With discovery calls, your talk to listen ratio will be closer to 40:60. These calls are where you dive deeper by asking questions to get as much detail as possible into what the prospect wants and what their pain points are.

“Most salespeople think that unless they are calling a customer to sell something, it's a wasted call. Nothing could be farther from the truth."

Discovery calls are essential for gathering insights. The salesperson should lead the conversation, squeezing information out of the prospect while actively listening to the challenges they face and any objections they might have.

Salespeople who are too domineering and expressive can misunderstand the customer’s point of view. Daniel Pink said it best:

“They can talk too much and listen too little, which dulls their understanding of others’ perspectives. They can fail to strike the proper balance between asserting and holding back, which can be read as pushy and drive people away.”

Pink reiterates the importance of listening to gauge the tiny preferences each customer has. They might seem small, but they give you the platform to tailor-make a plan to suit their needs.

Closing Calls

The final stage is the closing call, where the ratio is a little more balanced. You’ll use this time to verify everything you’ve learned about your customer’s needs, desires, and pain points, showing them you’ve been listening and understanding them. This also gives them a chance to correct you if you misinterpreted them. 

Your primary goal is to tie up any loose ends with the prospect, ensure you have all the details you need, and address any further concerns before locking down that sale.

Whilst it’s important to make the final proposal and push for the sale (at the right time), active listening is still crucial to wrap up the closing process in an effective way.

How To Train Your Sales Team To Manage Talk Time Effectively

Training your sales team to manage their talk time is a crucial step to maximizing your team’s overall sales performance and efficiency. There are tons of tips, tricks, and techniques to help train the sales team to manage their talk time more effectively. Let’s take a look at some of them in more detail.

Active Listening

Active listening is a technique used in sales to help your team listen and retain information. The main objective of active listening is to understand and validate the customer on the other end of the line. You want them to feel like their opinion is valued and they’re being heard, loud and clear. According to Digital Enterprise, there are 5 stages of active listening to follow.

  1. Receiving: What’s been said.
  2. Understanding: What they’ve said.
  3. Evaluating: The next steps.
  4. Remembering: What they’ve said.
  5. Responding: Repeating what they’ve said and asking questions.

Pause Often

The power of the pause is immense. By intentionally taking a moment of reflection before responding to a prospect, you get a moment to gather your thoughts and choose the best response. Additionally, if the prospect isn’t finished, it gives them a chance to breathe before continuing.

Emphasize

Adding emphasis to your tone can highlight the key points that you want to hammer home to your customer. Use it wisely to draw attention to the strengths of your product or service. It’s an easy way to subtly keep customers engaged and ensure they are following you during the call.

Role Play

Enforce regular roleplaying and training sessions with your team to practice their skills in effectively managing talk time. After each role play, you can provide feedback on where they need to improve and what they’re doing right. Furthermore, your team can share their best tips and collaborate to help each other learn and improve during sales calls.

To help you with this, you might want to record your roleplaying sessions.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions provide your customer with the platform to talk in more detail and engage in deeper conversation. You can then guide the discussion, managing your talk time in the process rather than being too overbearing. Furthermore, the use of open-ended questions is a great way to build rapport and also unlocks the opportunity for you to upsell during sales calls

Below is a great infographic showing you how to change close-ended questions into open-ended ones. Give the prospect room to form their own opinion. Be careful not to feed it to them.

What are open ended questions and how can they improve your talk to listen ratio?

How To Read Customer Signals

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to understand non-verbal cues. By reading your customer’s body language, you’ll get a natural indication of how they’re feeling about what you’ve said.

The 7-38-55 Rule

Albert Mehrabian, a highly thought-of researcher in body language, abides by the 7-38-55 rule. During human interactions, Mehrabian believes they can be broken down to consist of 7% words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% facial expressions. This emphasizes how important it is to read facial cues during sales as they make up over 50% of an interaction.

Tone and Pace

Understanding tone and pace of speech is another way to gauge your prospect’s receptiveness to your pitch. If they start to slow down their pace during the conversation, it could be an opportune time for you to start guiding the interaction towards a decision. On the other hand, a quickened tone with more enthusiasm may indicate an opportunity to run with the flow and tempt them into taking action.

Power Words

It’s not just how you speak, but which words you use. Strategically utilizing power words can persuade your prospect, too. You can subtly influence your customer’s decision with words related to urgency and value, creating a sense of excitement or FOMO and running with it to the closing point. Honesty is important here, but that should go without saying.

Similarly, when a prospect starts to use power words, it may indicate that they are ready to make a purchase. If they start to use unifying words that include you, like “we” and “us”, you know you’re getting close.

Mirror and Match

Additionally employing the mirror-and-match technique is the perfect way to create familiarity with your client and make a smoother transition to closing out a deal! Mirror and matching is the art of copying someone’s tone, pace, or even word choice, mirroring their behavior to build trust and lay the foundations for a professional relationship.

Psychology expert, Dr Aldo Civico, believes that mirror and matching is the skill of assuming someone else’s style of behavior to create rapport.” You can learn more about this effective coaching technique in the video below.

The Golden Ratio

In conclusion, the golden ratio of talk time varies from industry to industry, and it depends on the stage of the sales funnel. However, it has a pretty consistent theme: listen more than you talk. 

Research shows that the 43:57 talk to listen ratio is a good one to implement. It’s critically important to prioritize active listening so you can delve deeper into the mind of your prospect, milking them for insights. Simply talking less is not enough. You must use that time to listen, understand, and empathize with the prospect. Only then can you leverage talk time for improved sales performance.

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