In the Gong Research Labs series, we publish data from analyzing sales calls with natural language processing and AI. Subscribe here for new data every week.

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A new batch of sales conversation data confirms what some of us know at a gut-level: A key difference between the sales rep who goes to President’s Club and the rep who gets a pink slip lies in how they ask questions.

In the analysis of over 519,000 B2B sales call recordings, there was a crisp connection between the sheer number of questions asked on a discovery call and success:

Sales Discovery Call- Questions per Call vs Success Rate graph

But take note: there’s a diminishing return in terms of the total number of questions you ask. You have the greatest shot at nailing your discovery call when you ask between 11-14 (targeted) questions. When you start asking more than that, your success rate drops to “average.”

Low, Medium, High and Super high # Questions Asked

Before you fire up your next GoToMeeting and pepper your prospect with a barrage of sales discovery questions, thinking it’ll magically get them to put ink to the contract, let’s remember these two facts:
1. Correlation and causation aren’t the same things
2. The nature of the questions you ask matters, as illustrated by this data:

 

Average questions per hour in key topics

This one needs a short explanation: The machine learning algorithms that analyzed the 519,000+ sales calls are able to recognize specific “topics” that are discussed during a sales conversation.

Questions that were asked specifically about the customer’s business issues, challenges, goals, and areas of relevant concern had a stark relationship to bringing the deal across the finish line.

Top salespeople just asked a heck of a lot more targeted, relevant questions than their struggling peers.

In other words, for an effective discovery sales call, don’t just ask more questions; ask more targeted questions (easier said than done).

Finally, the “Eagles” of the sales floor tend to have more balanced, natural conversations. They spread their questions evenly throughout the discovery call:

Question Frequency vs. Call Timeline.Contrast with average salespeople, who tend to “front-load” their questions at the beginning of the call as if they are working their way through a checklist:

Question Frequency vs. Call Timeline Average Performance

While it’s common knowledge that B2B salespeople should spend less time “pitching,” it should also be made clear that “interrogating” is equally frustrating for the potential customer.
Make it a two-way dialogue, not an interrogation.

“Ticking the boxes” next to your list of questions should be as frowned upon as “feature dumping” during demos.

The Anatomy of a Successful Sales Discovery Call

Effective discovery calls go beyond just asking questions.

Stay tuned next week for when we release the 7 Elements of a Successful Discovery Call.

This piece will break down all of the components we analyzed that make up winning discovery calls – beyond the use of questions.

If you’re going to Sales Machine in NYC on June 14, our CEO will be presenting this at 11:20 am.
Until then, feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments below. Please “like” and “share” on LinkedIn to help more sales professionals find this data.

 

If you liked this article you may also be interested in:

How to start a sales call – Open Every Sales Call In a Way That Engages the Brain

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Chris Orlob

Chris Orlob is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Gong.io

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