Buyers Should Talk More?! Selling Is Not Telling (revisited)

Buyers should talk more, right?

How many times have you heard the phrase, “selling is not telling?”  One of my favorites is, “Sellers ought to be seeking, not speaking.”  We’ve all gone through sales training that teaches us that, right?

For over 20 years, we’ve done an exercise at the beginning of one of our sales classes in which we tell participants:

  •  Pick something to sell

  •  Be as persuasive as possible

  •  Seller initiated call / first meeting / new buyer

  •  4 minutes long

  •  Audio record the call when you are seller

Then we pair them with another participant, give them digital audio recorders and send them off to do the exercise. When they return, we send them off with someone else’s recorder (neither theirs nor their partner’s) with a score sheet to listen and calculate two ratios—one of which is: seller talking / buyer talking.

When everyone returns, we ask the group, in this scenario, “seller initiated / first meeting / new buyer,” what percentage of the time should both parties be talking? The answers range from 20% seller / 80% buyer to 50/50. Rarely does someone say the seller should be talking more.

If we created a ratio in which both talked the same amount, for example if each spoke for two minutes, the ratio would be 2/2 or 1! If the buyer talked more, the ratio would be less than 1; if the seller talked more, the ratio would be greater than 1.

At the national sales meeting of one of our manufacturing clients, we did this exercise with 130 salespeople and sales managers. 70% of the participants in the exercise had over 7 years of selling experience.

Here’s what we found:

  • The average amount of time the seller spent talking was 72%
  • The averages amount of time the buyer spent talking was 28%


Salespeople say, “I’d never do that,” and yet we see this kind of outcome repeated quite regularly when we do this particular exercise.

At the end of every sales class, we provide sales call planners and urge people to fill them out before calls. The natural reaction is, “I’ll use these skills.”  No you won’t! 

Apparently, the most repeated and recognized truism, “selling is not telling” is easy to say, but not so easily done. There’s one way to make sure you don’t fall into that trap:  Plan your questions in advance to turn the ratio to the buyer’s side!


ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN offers a full range of selling skills courses to help you sell better.

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