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Understanding is More Important Than Metrics

4 min readJuly 27, 2020

Sellers are learning to love metrics. You just have to be careful not to love them blindly.

Let me give you an example. In any sales conversation with a buyer, such as a phone call. video call or in-person meeting, it is considered bad form if the salesperson monopolizes the conversation.

Based on metrics about the distribution of “talk time” between the seller and the buyer on a call, the operating presumption of most sales managers is that if a sales rep talks more than 50% of the time then they are exhibiting bad sales behavior. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that the seller should talk less than the buyer.

Which raises the question: Is the conventional wisdom right? Or, perhaps more to the point, is it asking the right question?

Now if you believe the primary purpose of a sales conversation is to learn about your buyer’s requirements to determine if they are a fit for your product, then it stands to reason that the buyer should be doing most of the talking. After all, it was Buddha who wisely said: “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.”

But, wait, hold on a sec.

Ask yourself this: why does a buyer take your call? Why does a buyer agree to talk with you? Again, that is asking the wrong question. Ask yourself instead why it is that often times a buyer needs to talk with you.

It’s because there’s something they need to learn from you in order to move forward with their buying process.

It could be they need to learn your product. It could be they need to better understand what your solution can do for them, above and beyond whatever they’ve gleaned from the content you’ve provided them.

It could be they need your help to better understand how your solution can help them achieve their specified outcomes. In short, buyers exchange information with you in order to learn and understand.

However, how can they learn if you insist that they do most of the talking? What was it that Buddha said? Ah, yes. “If your mouth is open, you’re not learning.” This is as true for your buyers as it is for you.

So, instead of fixating on “talk time” in a call, what if you focused on “learning time” instead? That’s fundamentally what’s happening in a sales conversation. Either you’re learning about the buyer. Or they’re learning about you.

For instance, you could say that on your discovery calls that you’re only going to ask questions and listen. But that would make for a bad discovery call. Because isn’t it also an understanding call? And a value delivering call? And isn’t the buyer going to ask you to explain the purpose behind some of your questions?

Which means that the talk ratio of any one sales conversation depends on what transpires during the call. Which also means that it’s a mistake to apply an idealized talk/listen ratio to all types of sales conversations. And coach sellers to that metric.

Keep in mind that in every conversation you have with a buyer, regardless of the stage in your process where the opportunity sits, there are four key responsibilities for the seller:

1. Deepen your connection with your buyer(s.)

The greater the insight you have into the persons involved with the decision, the better you’ll be able to understand their motivations and aspirations. The deeper the buyer’s insight into you the more likely you are to build critical trust with them. This means they’ll be asking you the questions and requiring you to do the talking.

2. Deepen your discovery.

Discovery is not a one and done activity. Every single time you interact with a buyer you’re trying to learn something more about their requirements and desired outcomes. Just like the announcement from flight attendants to be careful opening the overhead bin after you land because “things may shift in flight” so, too, does your buyer’s vision of what they can achieve “shift” during their buying process as they educate themselves about their options.

3. Deepen your understanding.

This is so critical. Understanding the buyer, and making sure that they feel understood, is a key source of value for them. One of the great sources of frustration that buyers report about their buying experiences are that sellers don’t truly understand their needs and how to best help them achieve their desired outcomes. But understanding is not based upon assumptions. Understanding has to be confirmed. Which requires you to talk.

4. Deepen the value you provide.

Every conversation you have with a buyer needs to be a knowledge-based interaction that your buyers agree have value for them. Who has that knowledge? You do. How do you transfer that knowledge to your buyers? By talking.

In my experience, a successful sales interaction is measured by whether the buyer learned something that enabled them to progress closer to making their purchase decision. It’s worth examining whether the target talk/listen ratio you coach your sellers to achieve is supporting that objective. Or working against it.

Follow Andy on LinkedIn.