For salespeople, the only right time to tell their own story is when it’s relevant to the customer.

Sometimes you come across a statistic that stops you in your tracks. That was me the other day, during a routine online conference held for the benefit of chief sales officers.

The stat came right at the start of the talk, on the second slide: 72% of B2B buyers, it said, preferred to have no interaction whatsoever with salespeople.

Not “little” or “only some,” but “none.” In the context of what the slide was actually measuring, the stat was even grimmer.

The slide was broken down by age. Baby Boomers were, by far, the customers most willing to talk to salespeople – half even said they preferred it. But the generations of the future – Gen Xers and millennials – so hated the idea of talking to a salesperson that they singlehandedly pushed the overall result to close to three out of every four. (This was no simple survey either: It was a temperature check on over 700,000 B2B customers.)

That’s a sobering finding for someone in my line of work. Yet I also could immediately understand the feelings behind it.

To me, there are two simple explanations for this statistic, and one simple lesson all salespeople can learn from it. First, the explanations.

Even prior to the pandemic, customers, especially those in a complex arena like B2B, were loath to talk to salespeople. Why? Because talking to salespeople can be like being on the worst date you’ve ever had.

Imagine getting into a stranger’s car and, before they’ve even pulled away from the curb, hearing the following: “I’ve got a PowerPoint presentation for you to look at on my favorite subject: me.”

Salespeople have always been known for talking about themselves first, asking questions second. If buyers tuned them out or, when asked, suggested that they’d rather not hear from them at all, it was because it was a learned behavior. To buyers, salespeople are often akin to Charlie Brown’s teacher: not saying anything comprehensible, just spouting noise.

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Add into the mix two years and counting of a pandemic that forced so many people to stay home. Imagine the sheer number of LinkedIn requests, pointless emails, or automated texts and calls that buyers have been on the receiving end of.

Not just a little extra noise, but a symphony of wasted time and shallow attempts to connect. In response, they did what many people instinctively do: They didn’t just tune it out, they turned off the noise entirely.

If it seemed like buyers were reluctant to talk to salespeople before, think of how they feel now. (Better yet, refer back to that stat to see for yourself.)

If all this sounds a little harsh, it’s because I know just how easy it would be for salespeople to help themselves and help change buyer’s attitudes toward them. It all starts with a subtle shift in mindset.

It’s not that salespeople can never talk about themselves, their businesses, or all of the possibly very relevant solutions they could bring to a potential new partnership. They can. They should. But there’s a right time and a wrong time. And for salespeople, the only right time to tell their own story is when it’s relevant to the customer. That’s the time salespeople should be using to actually get to know the person in front of them.

Sure, hearing that 72% of the people you’re trying to sell to would rather never see your face or hear your voice feels like a setback. But especially in a world as complicated as it is, they’re still going to have to. The difference will be what you do with that precious time you’re allotted.

Will you spend it telling them everything you’ve ever wanted them to know about you and your company? Or will you stand out and set yourself apart by avoiding the stereotypical salespeople pitfalls?

No matter what you choose, at least you can’t pretend anymore that the customer wants to hear you talk. When given the choice to speak themselves, they’ve made the answer to that question perfectly clear. Now it’s up to you to decide what to do about it.

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