Assessing the Talk Time Metric

sales_conversationIs this what you see and hear when you observe your sales reps on the phone?

“Hello, Mr. Smith. I’m calling to follow up on your request for information regarding our product/service. We’d be happy to help you with any information you need. Please call me at…” This is followed by a click, as your rep finishes leaving a voicemail message, and moves on to the next prospect.

Voicemails and messages are an inevitable part of the business cycle. But if this is a common scene in your business, we believe you need to reconsider talk time.

In this post, we want to think about the amount of time your reps spend on the phone with prospects. We’ll do so via two different metrics: 

  • How much time is your rep spending on the phone per prospect?

  • What kinds of conversations are the reps having with prospects?

The first point is certainly important, and a common metric for sales reps and their managers. The second point is even more important: good, quality use of talk time is what your business wants, much more than simple measurements of talk quantity.

1.  Number of Calls/Amount of Time as Talk Time Metrics

According to a “Inside Sales Metric Snapshot” survey, the average number of calls made per rep/per day is 34, with reps spending an average of 2.4 hours on the phone. Some sales trainers report that reps might spend only 45-60 minutes a day on phone prospects However, experts suggest an average of 50-60 calls per day, for a total of 3-4 hours of talk time.

While numbers are important, a sales rep (or her managerial team) who focuses on making a numeric quota of calls risks confusing volume with value. If your rep’s live conversations only last a minute or so, he’s not making the most of his talk time. Sales rhythm, length of conversation, and the quality of that conversation’s content are also factors to monitor.

2.  Getting into a Groove: Length of Calls as a Talk Time Metric

We believe that getting into a productive groove with prospect calls can create a rhythm and comfort level that can help generate momentum for your sales rep. Rather than finishing one successful prospecting call and then getting up for a break, encourage your reps to make several calls in a row before taking a personal pause. Carrying over from one successful call to the next–with a few minutes of research on prospective clients in-between–means your rep can carry that confidence with her and be better prepared to engage with a prospect’s needs and questions. Automated dialing systems can also help with this process–one recent study determined that “salespeople leveraging automated prioritization technology average 88 percent more talk time and 15 percent greater contact and conversion rates than those who do not.”

How long is a rep’s average phone conversation? Is it 30 one-minute voicemail dials, or a constructive, 30-minute presentation of products and services? Three 10-minute or 15-minute conversations with prospects–lengths that allow for genuine connection, explanation of products or services, and plenty of time for the rep to listen to the prospects inquiries or concerns–are far more valuable than several one-minute or two-minute solicitations. Such conversations might be more valuable in the initial prospecting stages (when one is doing qualification and discovery calls, and needs more time to listen and explain) than in later parts of the sales cycle, when a clearer picture of a client’s needs has been established. Still, with studies from the National Sales Executive Association that suggest that 80% of sales are made between the fifth and twelfth contact with a prospect, taking the time as early a rep can to begin building trust with a prospect can have large payoffs down the road.

3.  Quality Control: Content of Conversation as Talk Time Metric

Most importantly, what are your reps doing during those calls with prospects? A survey by Bain & Company determined that customers are 4 times more likely to defect to a company’s competitor based on quality of service, rather than price or product availability. Establishing those relationships early in the prospecting cycle can begin a process of quality service that can help to grow your customer base and your bottom line. Giving your reps up to date information on the product or service, and giving them basic guidelines to extemporize from (allowing them to tell your company’s story) are both important elements of their training, but it’s also small conversational touches that can develop trust with a prospect. How are they opening the conversation? Have they done the necessary research in order to be knowledgeable and inquisitive about a given prospect? One expert suggests that each sales call should be 20% rep talking, and 80% rep listening to a prospect’s questions or concerns.

A good rep should listen, present the company’s product or service in a manner that’s both clear and as tailored to a prospect’s remarks as it can be, and guide the conversation towards a firm commitment. Using that talk time to find a balance between the prepared and the personal touch with a prospect can make as much difference as quantity of phone time.

4.  Contextualizing Talk Time With Other Metrics

Talk time is just one multi-part metric for understanding the efficiency and work habits of your reps (others might include sales velocity, lead generation quality and overall conversion rate). But we believe a well-thought-out, contextualized talk time metric can be a useful tool in planning and building your business. 

How does your company utilize talk time? Please share your stories in the comments below!

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