The 80/20 Rule Is Dead--and That’s Not A Good Thing

Whatever happened to listening? How ignoring the 80/20 rule affects on your inside reps’ performance.
Lina Eroh
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You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, right?

It’s one of the most basic tenets of selling, and really all conversation. The idea is that you should listen more than you should talk. While it may seem counterintuitive to listen when you’re trying to sell, it actually makes a whole lot of sense in practice. After all, how can you know what your prospect really wants if you don’t take time to ask questions and give them space to answer?

Unfortunately, listening isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, research suggests that we remember only half of what we hear, so even when we do listen, we don’t do it well.

But does anyone even take the time to listen on their sales calls? We had our Conversation Science™ algorithm do the math using 1000s of randomly selected calls from our database.

What we found will shock you. Overall, sales reps talked 55% of the time and listened 45% of the time.

That’s pretty nuts. Reps talked much more than they listened. And that was the case no matter the stage of the deal, which means even during qualification when they should have been asking questions.

Even worse, when we looked at the percent of talk time over all the calls, we saw that no reps followed the 80/20 rule!.

As you can see in the chart above, over five percent of calls had a talk time of over 80%. That’s the exact inverse of the 80/20 rule, and not a good sign for finding high quality prospects or learning about their pain points. In other words, the 80/20 rule is dead in today’s sales environment. And that’s not a good thing.

How can you improve your listen to talk ratio? Here are three of our favorite tips:

Take notes. When you’re focused on writing, you not only remember more of what you hear, but it takes your mind away from wanting to speak. You’re also more likely to see areas for clarification when you write things down than when you simply listen. This makes it easier for you to understand what your prospect needs--and really evaluate whether or not they understand what you’re offering.

Ask specific questions. Don’t propose a solution until you’ve asked at least three questions whose answers suggest that the solution you’re about to propose actually solves the problem at hand. Remember, you shouldn’t push answers down a prospects throat. If you don’t have a product that they’d find useful, you’re better off salvaging the relationship by suggesting a product they’d like.

Be a parrot. Don’t underestimate the importance of summarizing and paraphrasing what you hear. Your prospect will feel like you understand their problems, and you’ll have a chance to clear up any confusion before the conversation ends. Whenever your prospect brings up a pain point or an opportunity, say it back to them. Navigating the conversation around pain points also gives you a great opening to propose ways to ease that pain.

Listening could be the best kept secret you’ve never thought to try. So go ahead and give it a go on your next few prospecting calls. If you’re using TalkIQ, we’ll show you your listen to talk ratio right after the call ends, which will help you improve over time.

We’ll leave you with one of our favorite quotes on the importance of listening:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill