The Internet is littered with articles about the sales process.
So what makes this the best one you’ll ever read?
It’s the only sales process post based on hard data.
We used AI to analyze over 1M sales conversations that span 384,923 deals.
Those sales calls were recorded, transcribed from speech to text, and analyzed with AI.
The analysis revealed concrete behaviors and patterns across the entire sales process that lead to successful outcomes.
While building a sales process can seem complicated, we found it comes down to three things:
- Identifying the types of sales conversations that happen
- Understanding what success looks like in each of those conversations
- Equipping your reps to execute
If you know how to tackle every type of sales conversation, the rest of the sales process is secondary.
The tasks in between conversations will be a walk in the park.
Conversely, if your sales conversations are a trainwreck the tasks in between them will be a nightmare.
In fact, you’ll have a hell of a time even getting the next conversation booked.
So cue the superhero music. Cause we’re going to look at the types of conversations you’re having across the sales process, and how to succeed in each one of them.
Step 1 – Prospecting: Get the First Meeting of the Sales Process
Prospecting is your first step in the sales process.
Your only job at this stage is to keep the prospect on the phone for five minutes.
If you can hold their attention, you’re twice as likely to book a meeting as someone who can only keep them on a three-minute call:
You’ll hold their attention by making sure you have something worth saying.
This is the one time in the sales process when you can talk more than you listen.
In fact, an ideal talk-to-listen ratio is almost the opposite of what you’d want on a discovery call:
Prospecting calls aren’t about discovery. They are about selling your value to pique their interest enough for a meeting.
If it means you have to talk for longer bursts of time, that’s okay.
You can get away with “pitches” for up to 37 seconds:
Stats show that if your spiel is too short — 25 seconds or less — you’re half as likely to book a meeting as a rep who talks for longer:
Shocking, isn’t it?
Successful reps have talking bursts that last almost 50% longer than their unsuccessful peers.
If you don’t do the talking, the prospect will, and your call will be less successful.
Prospects talk uninterrupted for 3.5 seconds on successful cold calls and for eight seconds on unsuccessful cold calls:
The key takeaway: polish your pitch and get them hooked.
Of course, you’ll want to nail your opening line to keep the prospect on the phone.
You should use a proven winner.
We analyzed cold call opening lines to see which ones led to the most meetings held, not just booked.
The ol’ standard, “Did I catch you at a bad time” from Predictable Revenue doesn’t cut it anymore.
In fact, it makes you 40% less likely to book a meeting.
Its dismal success rate of 0.9% isn’t much better than the 1.5% baseline you’d have without following the rest of our cold call suggestions:
So what’s the best cold call opener?
“How’ve you been?”
We know. It’s a little awkward to say to someone you’ve never spoken with before.
But it has a 6.6X higher success rate than the baseline, which is a difference worthy of your attention:
Why does it work?
It’s a little different. It interrupts patterns, which makes people pay attention.
Use it and it will work.
Or use the runner-up: “How are you?”
It’s straight up vanilla, but any version of it will do the trick.
Its use correlates with a 3.4X higher likelihood of booking a meeting compared to the baseline.
Even if it’s so bland it makes you say ewww (or worse), know that other people don’t have the same aversion to it.
They’ll just assume you’re being polite in saying it. Because you are.
And after that polite opener, the next thing out of your mouth should be some version of John Barrows’ “The reason for my call is…’.
You increase your success rate by 2.1X when you start with a proactive reason for reaching out:
People crave knowing why something’s happening, even if it’s a weak reason.
So tell them why you’re calling (after you’ve rehearsed it 1,000 times).
Be darn sure you’re succinct and clear.
(P.S. Click the banner below to get our printable Cold Calling Cheat Sheet):
Step 2 – Schedule Your Meeting Successfully with These Tips
Whammo, you’ve nailed the prospecting call and landed a sales meeting.
Now you need to schedule it in a way that maximizes your chances of it going well.
What does the data say about the best and worst times to schedule a first meeting in the sales process, and how long it should be?
First of all, it shows us that picking the right day and time will help you avoid no-shows.
Afternoons, for example, are better for sales calls than mornings.
Surprised? We were too.
Calls scheduled in the afternoon have fewer no-shows, and prospects stay on the call longer:
People are stretched in too many directions in the morning. They just want to get through their own tasks.
They’re 30% more likely to show up for a call at 4 PM than at 8 AM.
Unfortunately, most salespeople schedule calls at the wrong times:
Don’t worry too much about which day of the week you choose.
If you want to prevent no-shows, days of the week don’t matter so much … except for weekends when the no-show rate is 4x higher than on a typical weekday.
Timing is such an easy fix.
Now that you’ve picked the time and day for your call, how long should it last?
Are you better off with a 20-minute or a one-hour call?
Our data science team found that most calls peak at the 30- and 60-minute marks:
That makes sense given how most of us book our calendars in 30- and 60-minute increments.
So which is more likely to get you to the next step in the sales process?
Neither of them.
There’s absolutely no correlation between the duration of the first call and the likelihood of getting a second meeting.
There’s one important difference between the 30- and the 60-minute calls: whether the prospect shows up at all.
Your prospect is 12% more likely to show up for a 30-minute calendar slot than a 60-minute one:
While we assume that complex products require 60 minutes to explain, the top reps keep their first calls lean no matter the product.
They boil their sales process down to the golden nuggets to get the prospect more intrigued than ever.
Go with quality over quantity.
Step 3 – Prepare: Become a Sales Process Strategist
The top sellers succeed because they have a well-prepared sales call process.
They don’t “wing it.”
Were you picturing stereotypical seat-of-their-pants, adrenaline-pumped sales junkies?
Mega-successful reps are some of the most methodical and strategically minded people in business.
Again, we know this from studying roughly 1 million B2B sales calls recorded on web conferencing platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting.
We mapped out conversations to see which topics were discussed, for how long, and when.
The top 5-10% of performers use a more organized, repeatable sales process than their peers.
Here are three data points to prove it:
Top reps cover more topics than their peers: 15 compared to 12 topics on a 43-minute call:
Even with that many topics, their calls aren’t all over the map.
No, no, my friend.
Their conversations are sequential. When they switch topics, they stick with something related.
It’s as if they use larger themes in their conversations so that every topic switch falls under a theme and is a natural progression, not a leap.
Not surprisingly, average and low-performing reps change topics haphazardly:
Finally, clustering topics into themes means that top performers switch between topics less frequently their less successful peers.
In fact, their linear approach means they have 15.6% fewer topics switches on average, even though they talk about more topics.
They jump around a lot less than their low-performing peers who are all over the place:
The key takeaway for reps?
Take your prep work seriously.
Top reps plan how to move their conversations smoothly from start to finish.
Map it out your meeting sequence in advance so you don’t get lost.
Step 4 – Rapport Building: Avoid This Common Mistake
Well done. You’ve made it to the discovery call portion of the sales process.
Your job at the outset of this call is to build rapport. (We’ll talk about the rest of the call in step #5.)
Whatever you do, don’t even think about mirroring your prospect to build a connection.
That trick is tired and washed up.
Sure, you’re looking for a conversational rhythm in which your volume, pitch, talking speed, and pauses align.
But the data is clear that mirroring is one of the worst ways to build that rapport.
Instead, you need to pull the prospect into your rhythms.
Consider this: Top reps adjust their talking speed (measured in words per minute) to resemble their prospects’ talking speed only 1.7% of the time.
Prospects, on the other hand, adjust their talking speed by 13% in the direction of the top salespeople.
It’s clear who’s calling the shots:
Average performers, on the other hand, shift their talking speed by 7% in the prospect’s direction, while the prospect barely budges:
Don’t seek approval. Lead.
Bear in mind that it’s not a refusal to adjust speech patterns that make top reps successful at this game.
Their personal appeal helps them get prospects to mirror them.
These charismatic sales professionals are genuinely likable people who exude a special combination of confidence and humility.
That’s why this pattern even repeats when we measure sentiment (positive or negative language) in recorded calls.
Top reps don’t use negative or neutral language to mirror their prospects.
In fact, they do the opposite and use more positive language.
You guessed it. Eventually, their prospects do the same:
Prospects trust and follow natural leaders.
With a little practice, you can deepen your leadership skills to help you achieve conversational synchrony around the 2-3 minute mark.
Step 5 – Discovery: Set the Trajectory of the Sales Process
Now that you’ve built some rapport with the prospect, here’s how you’re going to run the rest of your discovery call.
You’ll want to dive deeply into 3-4 customer problems, then wrap up with next steps.
Why zero in on 3-4 problems?
Looking at more than that makes all the problems seem less urgent.
You also risk spreading your prospect’s focus too thin.
Discussing 3-4 problems has the highest likelihood of moving the deal to the next step:
When you’re unpacking those problems with the prospect, ask around 11-14 questions in total.
More than that and you’ll see a diminishing rate of return.
Fewer than that and you won’t go deep enough to uncover useful information:
Remember though, the types of questions you ask matter.
Focus on problem-related questions.
Those look at the prospect’s business issues, challenges, goals, and areas of concern.
They’re strongly tied to your chances of closing a deal:
Remember, you don’t want to bombard your prospect with a hailstorm of questions.
You want to create a natural ebb and flow with the right number of targeted questions.
Top performers intersperse their questions naturally throughout the conversation.
Their average-performing peers load questions at the beginning of the conversation:
Frontloading questions makes you sound like you’re going through a checklist.
And it feels like an interrogation rather than a natural conversation.
Instead, listen and ask genuine and relevant questions.
Create a two-way conversation, not an interrogation.
There’s an added bonus here.
The natural flow of switching back and forth with your customer increases your likelihood of getting a second meeting:
Think of the conversation as verbal ping pong.
You’ll know you’re hitting the right talk-to-listen ratio when you’re listening a little more than talking:
Above is where the top-performing reps sit in terms of talk-to-listen ratios on discovery calls.
Here’s a look at the talk-to-listen ratios of their average and low-performing peers:
Any sense of how you’re doing in this department?
Check your own ratio using Gong.io.
The results may surprise you. (We all talk a little more than we think we do.)
If you get a shocker, at least you know exactly how to fix this.
(P.S. Click the banner below to get our printable Discovery Call Cheat Sheet):
Step 6 – Competition: Disable Your Competitors from the Sales Process
This data about how to sell against the competition is short, sweet, and easy to act on.
But it’s also counterintuitive.
When you talk about the competition early in the sales cycle, you’re 49% more likely to win the deal than if you never talk about the competition at all:
Having your say about the competition early on means having influence when the prospect is still forming their opinions.
If you wait to mention the competition in the middle or at the end of the sales cycle, your odds of closing the deal actually decrease compared to if your competitors were absent altogether:
That’s why the best salespeople ask this question early on: Who else are you considering?
They know there’s a special window of opportunity when salespeople can have influence, even over opinions about the competition.
If you’re smart, you’ll help shift your prospect’s buying criteria in your favor before it crystallizes.
Cause once it’s set, it’s nearly impossible to change.
(P.S. Click the banner below to get our free, printable Cheat Sheet for selling against the competition):
Step 7 – Sell Your Company: Follow Up with Your Product
You’re moving from discovery to demo and it’s time to shine.
You’ll likely start by selling your company, not just its product.
But you’ll need to get through that quickly.
Spend more than two minutes on your “company overview,” and there’s a sharp drop off in your likelihood of winning the deal.
You can create a poor buying experience if you yammer on about awards, explain the company’s history, etc. for too long.
If you speak generally about your company for two minutes or less, you’ll be fine:
Think of the two-minute mark as a cliff.
Go over it and there’s little chance the deal can be saved.
Your prospects care far less about your company than you think.
You’d do better impressing them with your product and how it can solve their pain points.
That’s where the real golden nuggets are for wins.
Step 8 – Present: Flip Your Presentation On Its Head
Let’s get on with the demo (or sales presentation), shall we?
Here’s how to do it according to the data from 67,149 recorded sales demos. (They took a painstaking 10 weeks to sort through. So it’s rigorous data, to be sure.)
While every sales organization has a unique sales process, there are some overarching commonalities to keep in mind.
… Like how long successful demo calls last, which is 30.5% longer than unsuccessful ones:
Don’t spend all that time walking your prospect through every product feature.
Instead, give them a brilliantly targeted demo that stimulates great conversation that lasts and lasts.
And while the talk-to-listen ratio of that conversation doesn’t matter much, you will want to pay attention to your interaction patterns.
Successful reps have shorter bursts of speech that allow others to jump into the conversation more often.
They don’t talk for longer than 76 seconds.
Using this approach also means 21% more speaker switches per minute on a successful demo.
Remember that as you head into your call.
First, you’ll want to set the context:
Talk about industry problems, narratives, and overviews for less than two minutes.
Make sure the prospect understands the problem you solve, or the reason your company exists.
As you head into the second part of the call, you’re ready to flip your demo upside down:
Here’s how: Start with the conclusion.
Don’t build up to a big reveal, rather, start with the best part.
It’s the use case the prospect talked about the most during their discovery call.
If they talked about coaching for seven minutes, onboarding for four, and pipeline management for five, start the demo with the coaching use case.
It will definitely snag their attention and carry you through the bulk of the call.
Hit all the points you wanted to hit along the way.
As you head toward the end of the call, the rate of speaker switches per minute will speed up even more, up to 36% in the second half of the call.
That’s particularly true if it’s going well:
The prospect’s engaged. They have questions. You have answers.
It’s a great back and forth.
It sets you up perfectly to wrap up with pricing and next steps:
On average, deal-closing demos discuss pricing between the 38 and 46 minute mark.
Unsuccessful demos are all over the map, but often talk about pricing way too early in the call:
Because they’re unfocused, unsuccessful demos spend 8% more time on pricing than successful demos:
It shouldn’t take you more than a minute or two at the end of a call to explain your pricing to a prospect.
If it does, you need to streamline your explanation.
Once you’ve covered pricing, your final discussion on this call should be about next steps.
Successful reps spend 12.7% more time (i.e., four minutes) on next steps than their unsuccessful peers:
They know it’s incredibly important to talk with the prospect about how to move the project forward together.
Pro tip: Shorten your pitch and leave yourself enough time to work through next steps without rushing.
You don’t want to talk about critical next steps when your prospect is rushing to get to their next meeting.
(P.S. Click the banner below to get our free, printable Demo Call Cheat Sheet):
Step 9 – Objection Handling: Clear Friction from the Sales Process
You’ve just done an amazing demo, so why is your buyer voicing objections?
It’s a sign they paid attention and are engaged.
With our objection handling techniques below, you’ll handle their objections like a walk in the park.
Don’t rush in with an answer the second your prospect stops talking.
Pause. For way longer than feels comfortable.
Let their objection trigger you into slo-mo mode.
After hearing an objection, star reps pause for much longer than their less successful peers:
When you’re too eager to overcome an objection, you’re not thinking as clearly.
You’re in panic mode.
Know what else happens in panic mode?
You talk faster — up to 188 words per minute — instead of maintaining a standard 173-176 like a star rep:
Talking in panic mode also makes you highly likely to pull a “knee-jerk” monologue for up to 21.45 seconds.
A long, uninterrupted spiel is not the way to go.
It’s not fun for anyone on the call.
It reeks of insecurity and it’s ineffective:
What’s more, reps who respond too quickly to objections often address the wrong issue.
They jump in to save the day and only make things worse.
They frustrate the prospect and come off looking like they weren’t paying attention.
And there’s such an easy solve on this one.
Responding in this thoughtful, inquisitive way will help you have a better conversation.
It’ll create more back-and-forth flow, even when an objection is raised:
Once you’ve handled the objection appropriately, bring closure by asking, “Does that make sense?”
Plenty of reps loathe it, but the data has spoken.
Get it into your repertoire, cause it works.
Top-performing reps don’t use it more often than anyone else, but they do use it at three points in the conversation:
- Agenda setting
- Scheduling next steps
- Objection handling
It can help you close the loop and move to the next phase.
(P.S. Click the banner below to get our free, printable Objection Handling Cheat Sheet):
Step 10 – Team Selling: Bring the Big Guns Into the Sales Process
Would you balk at having other team members on your sales calls?
If you said yes, we’re going to need to chat.
This could have huge repercussions for your sales numbers.
You’re up to 258% more likely to close a deal if you invite others from your organization onto even just one call in your sales cycle.
That’s a massive number. Take it in. 258%
We call this team selling.
Having multiple participants from the prospect’s organization, on the other hand, only correlates to a 32% higher close rate:
This data is even more shocking when you consider that you can have that multi-person call at any stage in the sales cycle … with one exception.
The discovery call.
The best discovery calls happen when there’s only one member from the seller’s side and one prospect involved.
More people on the call can drop your win rate by 23%:
Other than discovery calls, always say yes to having multiple participants on a call.
Get your sales manager on a call.
Or your product manager.
Or your product marketer.
Someone to make your deal a team sport rather than a solo game.
It doesn’t matter how many people join or which side they’re on, as long you’re not alone.
Most people are quickly sold on this approach because of its incredible implications for their sales numbers.
(Remember that 258% boost?)
But how do you take it on and manage everyone’s time?
Use this information strategically.
Team up on high-priority, big league calls.
Be smart about which prospects warrant this tactic.
And if they do, use it as early in the cycle as possible to get things off to a good start.
Step 11 – Close: An Act of Leadership, Not Manipulation
We’re almost through the entire sales process.
If you’ve followed our advice up to here, you should be in great shape.
If you skipped a bunch of steps in the sales process and are looking for a quick win at the end, I have bad news.
Slick closing techniques won’t win a deal.
There’s nothing you can say or do at the end of the sales process that can make up for skipping the rest of the tips along the way.
What you do early in the sales process is incredibly important.
Early on, you can influence how your prospect frames problems, identifies buying criteria and perceives the competition.
It’s when you wield the most influence.
If you don’t use it wisely, a great closing call won’t save you.
How do we know?
It gave us one of the most shocking revelations yet:
Successful and unsuccessful closing calls look the same.
They are indistinguishable.
Astounding and true.
Let’s take a closer look.
We’ve mentioned the talk-to-listen ratio before.
Though top and average performers have radically different talk-to-listen ratios on other calls (like the discovery call), their ratios on closing calls aren’t so different:
The number of questions they ask doesn’t even matter.
In fact, it’s identical:
Not even their speaker switches per minute matter at this point.
… That’s something you need to pay attention to much earlier in the sales process.
Like, on a demo call:
(Edit note: the graph heading on the left is Demo Calls, not Discovery Calls 🙂
There’s barely anything that differentiates successful and unsuccessful calls late in the game.
And again we say:
What you do early on matters far more than what you do late in the sales process.
But … there is one little difference between successful and unsuccessful closing calls that we haven’t mentioned yet.
The bad news is it’s not something you can control.
It’s this: It’s a good sign when prospects raise concerns on a closing call.
Prospects with high buying intent who are at the end of the sales process get nervous about their decision and start to ask questions:
They’ll ask questions about SLAs, implementation, customer success support, pricing, details of the agreement, and long-term partnerships.
And this is your moment.
Get ready to win.
While you can’t change the course of the sales process at this point, you can lead your prospect through the final stage in a way that boosts your chance of success.
When they’re asking questions, they want leadership and reassurance.
Offer it to them in spades.
Ditch manipulation. Ditch closing phrases. Ditch the pressure.
Be calm and grounded and lead them to the right choice.
To be clear, this has to be authentic.
You have to have good answers to their questions.
You have to address their needs and concerns.
You have to listen to their fears.
Don’t shy away from the concerns they’re raising.
Instead, lead them to a great outcome.
Be decisive and help them across the final hurdles.
Make a recommendation. No need to spit a slick closing line at them.
This is a call for leadership, not manipulation.
Step 12 – BONUS: Accelerate Your Sales Process with This Language
Here’s one last piece of advice you can use throughout the sales process to increase your win rates.
Use risk reversal language lavishly throughout the sales process and your win rates could soar by 31%.
Risk-reversal language includes phrases such as “cancel at any time,” “30-day opt out,” and anything else that removes perceived risks.
Imagine how stressful it is for a prospect to commit their company’s money to a contract.
They’re responsible for that decision, whether it flies or fails.
Now imagine a prospect’s relief at hearing something like, “If for any reason you change your mind, you can cancel your contract at any time. No hard feelings.”
Big breath out.
Pre-purchase anxiety is common when a B2B buyer makes a large purchase.
Even someone who believes in your product wholeheartedly will get the jitters at signing on the dotted line.
That’s why there’s a strong correlation between win-rates and the liberal use of risk-reversal language.
This is low-hanging fruit.
Pick it by referring to any of these:
- Easy cancellations
- 90-day opt outs
- Quick and easy implementation and setup
- No long-term contracts
- SLAs (service level agreements)
- Money-back guarantees
If you’re worried about the consequences of prospects coming back to you later on, know this:
You’ll have a 1% uptick in cancellations/opt-outs and a skyrocketing win-rate of 31%.
Use risk-reversal language.
The Ultimate Sales Process
Like I said at the beginning.
The sales process mainly comes down to three things:
- Identifying the types of conversations you have throughout the sales process
- Identifying what “good” looks like for each of those conversations
- Equipping your reps to execute them
Integrate every one of the tips in these 12 steps into your own sales process and we know you’ll see results.
Having a clear sales process is critical.
Having targeted tips for every step in that sales process is rocket fuel.
We invite you to share this post and tell us which tips surprised you the most.
Comment below if there’s something that grabbed your attention.