Whether you are a manager or a sales person, your Ask/Tell ratio is critical to your effectiveness.

The Ask/Tell ratio is a simple concept–few people think about it. It’s simply the ratio of questions you ask, compared to the statements you make.

Ideally, your Ask/Tell ratio is significantly over 1. That means you spend a lot of time asking questions, learning, exploring, discovering.

As a sales person, a high Ask/Tell ratio probably indicates you are engaging your customer in conversations about them and their business. Through your questions and discovery, you are helping them learn, helping them explore, helping them question what they are doing and whether they might change. Most of all, you are helping them think about their goals, their business, and what they want to achieve.

As a sales manager, you’re probably doing much of the same thing with your people. You are engaging them, actively, helping them think, helping them discover, helping them learn, helping them figure things out for themselves. You are probably engaging in a non-directive coaching method.

People with Ask/Tell ratios significantly less than one are clearly in tell mode, they’re constant pitching.

As a sales person, you are probably asking only enough questions to launch you into a pitch. By being predominantly in tell mode, you are focused on yourself and what you care about. You don’t have a lot of interest in the customer and what they care about. As a result, you probably have a difficult time engaging the customer, after all, they don’t care about you, they care about themselves, their goals, and their business.

As a sales manager, you are being very directive. You are telling people what to do, or what they are doing wrong. You aren’t helping them learn or develop. You aren’t helping them perform to their full potential. While, in the short term, it may produce results, in the intermediate and long-term, you and your team are doomed to fail. They can’t figure things out, they are dependent on you and your instruction. You become the bottleneck in the process. The inability to achieve results is a direct reflection on you and your abilities.

Plus, you will probably lose your best people, after all, they want the freedom to figure things out and perform on their own, they want a manager who is interested in coaching and developing them.

Think about your Ask/Tell ratio. If it’s significantly higher than 1, you are probably being very effective and impactful. You are engaging your customers and people in thinking, learning, improving.

If it’s less than 1, what do you need to do to change it?