In the middle of sales conversations, many reps fall into the trap of talking over prospects for minutes on end. They “take advantage” of the opportunity to talk about all product features, as if making sure they mention every function and purpose of their company’s solution. Calls like these rarely end in success.

It’s a problem many sales teams face. This practice keeps even the best salespeople from actually closing deals. They can take the prospect from the awareness to the consideration stage, but once they’re closer to the actual decision, these reps “bring out the big guns” which turn out to be ineffective in practice.

What does this all mean? Simple. Salespeople need to talk less.

More specifically, salespeople need to talk less to know more.

In the current business climate, the organization that can uncover a prospect’s needs and explain why their solution is a good match gets the sale. Without knowing the prospect’s challenges in-depth, reps are just simply unable to personalize their pitch in a way that matches the lead’s pain points.

Make prospects talk

When you’re hogging the mic, you’re not only overwhelming the prospect with the information you’re spewing, you’re also keeping them from talking.

Talking about your product must feel good–you know you have the solution that’s perfect for this prospect. In the same vein, people generally like to talk about themselves and the things they know because it makes them feel good. This poor practice that’s ingrained in sales culture actually is a reflection of this fact. Harvard neuroscientists found that discussing details about one’s self provides satisfaction that is similar to “feelings of reward from food, sex, or money”.

This is a feeling you need to constantly fight if you want to make a sale. You need to make prospects talk.

Of course, there will always be prospects who are just not too keen on disclosing information, and this is where a salesperson’s mastery of sales skills should shine. When you prospected this potential client, you found out that they are a good fit. The key now is making them see what you saw.

Even when you know they will greatly benefit from your product, you still have to make them vocalize their challenges so they connect what you offer to what they’re facing.

Asking the right questions

These situations where prospects are not opening up are quite the challenge. The key is to ask meaningful and answerable questions. Make it easy for them to get involved in the conversation. Listen intently to their responses–looking out for tidbits of information you can build upon. The key here is to keep them engaged.

Keeping prospects engaged has a lot to do with what questions you ask. If you just ask confirming questions that can be answered by a yes or a no, you will not get the chance to know more about them. You’re just confirming what you already know. Could be helpful–but only to you.

Ask simple, probing questions.

Avoid questions that are complicated and are made up of different parts. Simple questions followed by silence usually are effective enough to get the prospect talking.

Make a list of these questions in advance. It’s normal for prospects to have an unexpected response, maybe even saying something that weakens your pitch. Don’t panic.

Taking a question from a list you wrote down is an easy way to temporarily divert the conversation and buy yourself time to absorb what has just been said. Make it so it’s a smooth transition from the previous one–having them provide answers that allow you to understand why you had a different assumption about the previous response.

This is a situation where being an effective and active listener pays off. If you don’t pay close attention to what they’re saying, you will end up clueless as to what to do at this point. And they will surely sense that.

Talk less

If you’re the one doing the talking half of the time, the call is likely to have a bad outcome.

Always keep it short. Use the time you have in the conversation to ask questions. Focus on your main goal: uncovering more about the prospect. You can only really understand the prospect’s challenges and if they’re really looking for a solution if you’ll let and make them talk.

If you’re presenting something, talk only about points that are applicable to the prospect’s context. Keep yourself from pitching your product like the ultimate solution. All your prospects care about are their own goals. You’re not supposed to let them sit through a full product training.

Practical techniques

Shifting from a fast-talking, information-spewing agent to a detective-style probing salesperson takes work. It’s also a shift that needs to happen as soon as possible so as to not lose any more sales.

What can you do?

Stephen J. Meyer of the Rapid Learning Institute suggests these three techniques you can use to cultivate new habits:

The 30- to 60-second rule. Talk with no limits for 30 seconds. Past that, you need to wrap up before you reach 60.

Single-sentence responses. Keep answers to one sentence. Stop and ask for feedback before you continue.

Speak, stop and ask. Break the one-way flow when you’re talking about something substantial by stopping and asking your prospect a question.

Understanding why you need to talk less and listen more is key to sticking to these techniques on the daily. You’ll find yourself closing more deals just by talking a little bit less and learning about your prospect a whole lot more.