Do You Talk Too Much?

Edition: February 2002 - Vol 10 Number 02
Article#: 1164
Author: Maura Halligan

Why is it that when we were in school, we took classes on writing, public speaking and reading, but never one on listening? After all, a Yale University study showed that we spend 30 percent of our time speaking, 16 percent reading, 9 percent writing, and 45 percent listening. It's a skill that's especially important for sales reps. But it doesn't come naturally.

Listening is Hard Work
In fact, listening is hard work, says Maura Halligan of Agentive Sales and Marketing Solutions, Lindenhurst, NY, speaking at Quidel Corp.'s Product Training University at HIDA 2001. For one thing, Mother Nature has stacked the deck against us. The average person speaks between 150 and 250 words per minute, but we can process, or absorb 700 to 900 words in that same minute. This means that when someone is talking to us, we have ''time to kill.'' Our minds wander away from what the speaker is saying to us.

Second! We have, to a certain extent, been forced to become ''information deflectors,'' said Halligan. Because we are surrounded by so much information – from TV, radio, newspapers, etc. – we've learned how to tune things out. It's a matter of survival. But the implications are scary for the salesperson, whose customers have also become expert ''information deflectors.''

Third, it's difficult to change our perspective when someone else is talking to us. Everyone see things from their own perspective, explained Halligan. Manufacturers worry about their own product lines, distributors worry about multiple product lines, physicians worry about their patients and Medicare, etc. ''The challenge is changing our perspective when we go into someone else's 'house,''' said Halligan.

Despite the difficulties that listening presents, it behooves reps to learn the skill. Failure to do so can jeopardize their business.

''If you were a customer, how would you treat a rep who talks more than he listens?'' asked Halligan.

You might avoid her, stop listening to her or simply cut her short.

Ironically, reps who talk too much train their customers not to listen. It's kind of like a Pavlovian response, said Halligan. The doctor cringes when he finds out you're in the waiting room, fearing (or expecting) to get verbally assaulted.

How can reps get their customers to move from being tense (expecting the verbal assault) to being curious? How can reps successfully compete against all the extraneous background ''noise'' in doctors' offices and make their customers feel like the most important people in the world? Here are some tips.

•        Before you enter the office, get out of your ''talking'' or ''performing'' mode and step into your ''I hear you'' mode.
•        Look like you're listening. Stop glancing behind or beside the person speaking to you.
•        Stop competing for ''air time.'' Some conversations become competitive, with both participants afraid to stop talking for fear of losing the floor. (Here's one tip: If you feel yourself getting excited about something you're telling the doc, force yourself to keep touching the back of your chair with your body, said Halligan. That way, you won't lean forward and invade the customer's space and comfort zone.)
•        Stay in your customer's ''house.'' If you let your customer talk, he or she will undoubtedly give you a target to shoot at, said Halligan. In other words, he or she will end up telling you what they need from a service or product. Then all the rep has to do is present his offering.
•        Resist the temptation to daydream while your customer is talking. ''Listening should be tiring, hard work,'' said Halligan. If you're not tired when it's over, you might not have worked hard enough at it.
•        Prepare open-ended questions in advance of the call.
•        Frame your questions in terms of the customer. What does he or she need?
•        Paraphrase what the customer has said. Doing so will catch his or her attention.

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If you as a rep can keep the spotlight on your customer and off you, you will differentiate yourself in his or her eyes, said Halligan.

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