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Sales Call Success: What We Learned from Thousands of B2B Sales Conversations

Chris Orlob

November 22nd, 2016

Answering the question: what actually works on sales calls?

I was intimidated.

Within a few days of starting my new job at Gong.io, I was asked to meet on-site with a prospect who was knee-deep in a buying process with us.

It was up to me to move the deal to a solid next step (and eventually across the finish line).

I felt as if I were a toddler dropped onto a running treadmill.

It would be a huge deal (in terms of revenue and credibility) for our fast-growing startup. There was a lot at stake in getting this one closed, and my team was counting on me.

The pressure was on.

My level of confidence fluctuated up and down during the meeting with this potential customer. It was tough to get a read on these guys.

Sure, they were interested. But enough to make a purchase?

And in what timeframe?

Then I asked the timing question. If they decide to move forward, when did they estimate getting the deal done?

Surprisingly, their answer immediately relieved my doubts:

“If we decide to move forward, we’re probably looking to pull the trigger on this sometime in November or December.”

“Huh?” you’re probably thinking. Why did that response make me feel confident that I’d get the deal closed? It seems so counterintuitive.

After all, the word “probably” isn’t exactly strong, decisive language.


What You’re Going to Learn about Sales Calls

By the end of this post, you’re going to know why their “cautious” language restored my sense of certainty in getting the deal closed.

But that’s not the only surprising insight I’m going to reveal.

Let me explain…

A Sales Conversation Research Project

We analyzed aggregated, anonymized sales conversation data from 17 customer organizations as a way to conduct sales conversation research — to find out what’s working on sales calls (and what’s not).

The customers mainly consisted of high profile B2B SaaS companies in the mid-market range.

The goal was to identify various patterns, trends, and insights that are driving the most revenue and the highest win-rates at the sales conversation level.

We were able to surface 5 distinct “secrets” of high-yield B2B sales calls.

The Methodology

First, here are the details of how we went about this:

  • We analyzed the recordings of 25,537 business-to-business sales conversations conducted on platforms like GoToMeeting, join.me, and Webex, averaging 43 minutes per call
  • We first mapped the CRM opportunity outcomes to the calls that were analyzed
  • Calls were then speaker-separated, transcribed, and cleaned
  • Finally, we used Gong’s artificial intelligence engine to analyze the calls and transcripts, categorizing key sales behaviors and call events

Here’s are the five distinct insights we’ve discovered so far…


Insight #1: The “Talk-to-Listen Ratio”

The average B2B sales rep spends between 65–75% of a call talking, leaving only 25–35% of the call for listening.

The average back and forth dialogue between sales rep, and prospect

Sales veterans out there can give themselves a pat on the back since they intuitively know this: top salespeople spend most of their time listening rather than pitching.

43/57 seems to be the golden ratio

In fact, increasing the prospect’s talk time from 22% to 33% significantly boosts opportunity win-rates.

There is a direct correlation between listening time, and win-rates

Insight #2: When, and How Often, Should You Discuss Pricing?

There are two parts to this one…

First, when do we discuss pricing?

And second, how often?

The data tells us pricing should come up roughly 3–4 times during a call(preferably after value has been established).

There is a negative win-rate correlation in discussing pricing less than 3–4 times, as well as more than 3–4x (remember: correlation does not always mean causation 🙂

A deal-progressing sales conversation involves pricing coming up 3–4x

When pricing is discussed too early in a call, less than 3 times, or more than 5 times, the odds of closing the deal tend to shrink.

It’s best to treat this as more of a buying signal rather than an active tactic you should tell your reps to pursue.

Insight #3: Prospect Timing Signals

Let’s circle back to my story at the beginning.

Remember when I asked the timeline question, and the prospect responded with “probably in November or December”?

Well, the reason that non-committal response excited me is because there is a positive correlation between winning the deal within your forecast, and the customer responding to the timing question with the word “probably.”

Like I said, seems counterintuitive.

Only in hindsight does it make sense. The prospect responded with a cautious answer because of how seriously they were considering the purchase.

But there’s also a negative timing signal we discovered.

When a prospect responds to your timing question with some variation of “We need to figure out X”, there is a negative correlation of getting that deal closed within your estimated forecast.

“We still need to figure out who else needs to be involved.”

“We need to figure out where budget is coming from.”

“We still need to figure out the best internal use-cases for your product before moving forward.”

I’m not saying to give up on your deal if you hear that phrase.

But understand that language such as this regarding timeline usually indicates a lower likelihood of closing the deal (especially within your target forecast).

Insight #4: Use Risk-Reversal Language

As a sales professional, you should actively say things to remove the prospect’s risks associated with purchasing.

Money-back guarantees.

Opt-out terms.

No long-term contracts.

Cancel at any time.

When sales reps remove the risk of purchase by touting customer-protecting terms, the probability of closing the deal skyrockets by 32%.

Insight #5: Coach Salespeople with Real Calls

Finally, there is perhaps no higher leverage activity a sales leader can engage in than coaching their sales reps on live calls or call recordings.

Sales conversations are the pivotal moments in the sales process. All leverage hinges on increasing the yield of your sales team’s calls.

This is where conversation intelligence technologies like Gong come in.

When using conversation intelligence technology to perform call recording review and coaching, customers have seen a sharp spike in their sales team’s win-rates.


Let’s sum this up…

There you have it.

Our first ever data-driven sales call best practices. We’ve taken the first step in removing the guesswork from what actually works in sales conversations.

To summarize, here are the five takeaways

  • Skew your “talk-to-listen” ratio in favor of listening
  • There is a positive win-rate correlation when pricing is discussed 3–4x in a call, and after value has been established
  • When you ask your prospects the “timeline” question, watch out for their use of the word “probably” (a good sign), as well as their use of the phrase “We need to figure out…” (a bad sign)
  • Use risk-reversal language during your sales calls, and actively tout your risk-reducing terms
  • Coach your sales reps at the call recording level

If you’re interested in seeing the full PDF of this research study, you can get that right here.

For the rest of you, tell me what you think.

Which parts of this were you surprised by, and which validated your intuition?

What other insights or studies would you like to see us publish?

P.S. If you like what you just read, will you please share this article so that others might stumble upon this research?

That would be incredible.

About the author

Chris Orlob

Chris Orlob is Senior Director, Product Marketing at Gong.io - the #1 B2B sales conversation intelligence platform. Gong records, transcribes, analyzes, and delivers insights on your B2B sales team's conversations, allowing you to surface patterns that drive dramatically more revenue. Learn more at Gong.io.

  • Jake Goates

    Great Sales Training! I would challenge that when a future client tells you, “We need to figure out…” that it’s not a bad thing. Rather, It opens the door to consult them toward a viable solution that puts your company/product in the winner’s circle.

    • Hey Jake – you’re “probably” right (<–see what I did there 🙂

      A "bad thing" was probably poor word choice on my part. It's likely more accurate to say the prospect is going to need a stronger level of leadership from you.

  • This is AWESOME stuff. Thanks for sharing Chris + SH!

  • Awesome. Will definitely share this with my audience. I think people will really respect your findings since you had such an expansive data set. I’m also patting myself on the back for already doing some of the things you discussed in the article. Although, talking about pricing 3-4 times during the call seems excessive! I guess there are creative ways to going about that. Will have to think that through.

  • Gaurav

    Coaching your reps at the Call Recording level should be done Bi- Weekly. Need to share this with our sales team

  • sketharaman

    Great post. The very first use of Big Data / Analytics in sales I can recall. Keep ’em coming’

  • @Conversature:disqus , fantastic study! Congratulations on such data-driven article. I would like to interview you on our podcast, for our audience here in Brazil. I’ll reach you via Linkedin. Thanks!

  • John Murdock

    Great data and study, thanks for compiling. Love the listen vs talk validation, such a big difference can be made with just a few more minutes listening

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