An extrovert is “an outgoing, gregarious person who thrives in dynamic environments and seeks to maximize social engagement.” That sounds like what you’d expect a typical sales rep to be like.
But modern buyers don’t want to be “sold to” anymore. Gartner found that 33% of buyers want a “seller-free sales experience,” while LinkedIn found that 88% of consumers will only make a purchase when they see a salesperson as a “trusted advisor.” Today, buyers want to learn about your product, find solutions to their problems, and be confident that they’re making the best decision. They want to be front and center in any sales conversation, with your sales rep in a supporting role.
The days of pushy salespeople who talk non-stop and never let you get a word in edgewise are long gone. Your most extroverted sales reps may thrive at networking events and in large groups of people, but talking will only get them so far. Buyers are looking to buy from people they can trust, so sellers need to develop skills more closely associated with introverts and master the consultative approach to selling.
Active listening involves engaging with your prospects in a meaningful way to show that you understand what they’re asking from you. It’s an essential skill for sales reps to master for building rapport and earning trust.
Stephanie McSwiney, VP of Sales at Frontify, believes that active listening is one of the most challenging sales skills to hire for. She explained, “We want sales reps who really understand the client and can match their needs with our use cases. This can be complex and requires strong active listening skills, which are very hard to find in new sales hires.”
To assess your team’s active listening skills, start by reviewing call recordings to see how much time your reps talk on their calls compared with their prospects. Our State of Sales Readiness 2022 benchmark report found that customers talk for 57% of the call in top-performing reps’ discovery calls. In contrast, the average customer talk time across all the analyzed calls was just 44%.
Then look at how that talk time is divided up. Is there a healthy dialogue with customers asking lots of questions and sharing their challenges with your rep? Or is your rep talking in one solid block with minimal engagement from the prospect? Our report found that the average longest monologue by sales reps on calls (where they spoke uninterrupted) was 1 minute 37 seconds. So if your reps are talking for more than 90 seconds in a single block, they may need a reminder to give the prospect space to talk and ask questions.
Finally, you can look at whether your reps ask clarifying questions on their calls, such as, “Did I understand that correctly?” or “Have I got that right?” These questions demonstrate that a rep actively listens to their prospect and engages with what they say.
Understanding buyer needs
Understanding buyer needs is the ability to take what a prospect says and, from there, determine what they need from your product or service. This includes the challenges they’re experiencing and the problems they need to solve. It’s an essential sales skill rooted in a rep’s capacity to empathize with their prospect. If they can master this skill, they’ll be able to successfully align their product demos and discussions with what the buyer is looking for.
Freya Ward, global sales director at Headley Media, explained, “A good salesperson needs to be able to listen to clients and understand their needs rather than just jumping in with a sales pitch.”
“A good salesperson needs to be able to listen to clients and understand their needs rather than just jumping in with a sales pitch.”
For your extroverted sales reps, this may require a change in how they would naturally approach early sales calls. Train all your reps to focus on the discovery process first before they start pitching your solution.
For example, our benchmark report found that sales reps ask an average of 11 questions during the discovery process, which is a lot to fit into a 30-minute call. This shows that reps are keen to understand their buyers and are trying to dig into their challenges and motivations. For McSwiney of Frontify, understanding buyer needs is a must-have skill for her sellers. “Our AEs [account executives] really need to understand the process and drivers of our customers and match them with the different use cases for our product,” she explained. “It’s often a very educational sales process.”
As part of your training and coaching program, get your reps to complete virtual role-plays to assess their ability to understand buyer needs. Some sales readiness platforms use artificial intelligence to analyze role-plays automatically, making it easier for you to provide personalized recommendations for your reps at scale.
Call planning is preparing for every call with prospects by researching the company and the person you’re speaking to and reviewing sales notes and CRM records from previous interactions. Reps need to appear professional and trustworthy to buyers, so they must ensure they’re ready for every sales conversation.
According to Crunchbase, top sellers spend “an average of six hours every week researching their prospects.” That’s 15% of a 40-hour workweek, which may feel like a big-time drain. However, Oracle found that 11% of prospects “ghost” sellers because the seller wasn’t properly prepared for their conversation. It’s worth investing a few hours to plan and prep for calls if the alternative is losing 11% of your prospects.
Many extroverted sales reps have learned to rely on their conversational skills and ability to think on their feet. They may feel confident they can run their calls on the fly and be hesitant to invest much time preparing for individual calls. Sales managers should help their reps understand the benefits of effective call planning and provide training materials to make it as easy as possible for your sellers.
For example, you could share pre-call checklists or run practice calls for product demos, discovery calls, or closing calls. These will allow your sellers complete role-play scenarios that match their upcoming calls, so they can prepare fully and make the best impression on their prospects.
We’ve also developed a sales readiness framework that includes five core steps to help sellers achieve a continuous state of excellence:
This framework is designed to help reps develop the knowledge, skills, and behaviors they need to be fully prepared for any sales scenario. A sales readiness program ensures reps have the product and industry knowledge they need, plus access to relevant content when they need it, to provide a first-class sales experience for your prospects.
Create an ideal rep profile to document the skills your reps really need to be successful
The skills that actually help close deals and generate revenue for your organization aren’t the traditional sales skills anymore. So when you’re hiring new sales talent, don’t rely on outdated stereotypes and only hire reps who can deliver a killer sales pitch. Instead, prioritize “soft” sales skills like relationship-building and communication over more traditional skills.
Analyze the skillsets of your top-performing reps to identify the competencies that most closely correlate with sales success in your team. Then, create an ideal rep profile to document those skills. This provides an empirical way to assess new hires and identify the people who will actually help your company close more deals — rather than falling into the trap of only hiring new reps who fit the traditional stereotype of an extroverted salesperson.