Using Filler Words Costs You Money

An analysis of the real cost of filler words: do “umm” and “uhh” affect your sales organization’s bottom line?
Lina Eroh

A few weeks ago, we wrote a post on seven ways to stop yourself from using umm and other filler words in conversations. We originally wrote this piece to help salespeople, but quickly realized that many people could benefit from the tips. After all, filler words are deadly when presenting to any audience, even if you’re not trying to sell something.

To rehash, we conducted an internal analysis of customer transcript data and found that 43% of all the calls in our database had at least three instances of “umm,” “uh,” or another filler word. That wasn’t very surprising, but we wanted to dig deeper. Were there calls that didn’t use any filler words? That used fewer than three? And what did that mean for the bottom line?

We went back into the database to look at the frequency of filler words in sales conversations. Our analysis found that nearly 80% of the conversations in our database used at least one filler word, and more than half of those (56%) used a filler word 3 or more times. That’s a lot of umming.

On average, reps used more than four filler words per minute, which wouldn’t be a huge problem if they used keywords just as often. But when we looked at the most popular keyword–“marketing” in one customer’s case–we saw that it was only used once every 41 seconds. That means filler words are used three times as often as the most important keyword. Crazy.

On one end of the spectrum, we saw a 45 minute call that used filler words, wait for it… a grand total of 310 times! That’s an average of 6.64 filler words per minute, or more than three per 30 seconds. Obviously using the filler words in this conversation wasn’t a bad thing, since it lasted for quite a while. (It was a demo.) But how convincing would you sound if your 30 second pitch was filled with umms and uhs? Probably not very.

We did the actual computation to find out and were shocked by the results. How did we do it? We compared calls that were 30 seconds or less in duration to calls that were 120 seconds or more. Then we looked at the first 30 seconds of each call (so the entirety of the short call and the first 30 seconds of the longer call.) Do you see where this is going? Essentially, we wanted to see whether filler words at the beginning of calls had an impact on call length, and if so, what that impact was.

We did, in fact, find a huge difference in filler word use between long and short calls. There was 20% less use of filler words in the first 30 seconds on calls that ended up lasting longer than two minutes. When we looked at specific filler words like “umm” and “like,” the effect was even more pronounced. There was 30% less use of these words in longer calls than shorter calls.

So what’s the takeaway? Use fewer filler words, have longer calls. Have longer calls, close more deals. If there was ever a time to monitor your speech and get rid of filler words, this is it!

Check out our tips on ways to decrease the frequency of filler words in your conversations. And if you haven’t yet, sign up for TalkIQ and receive all these insights in real-time as you make sales calls.