. . .
I was intimidated.
Immediately upon starting my new position with Gong, I was asked to meet on-site with a prospect who was already well into a buying process with us.
My new team was counting on me to move this deal across the finish line (or at least to a tangible next step).
I felt as if I were a toddler dropped onto a running treadmill.
Beads of sweat slid down my forehead on the car ride to their offices.
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.
During the meeting, my level of confidence fluctuated sharply up and down. It was tough to read where we stood with these guys.
In a desperate attempt to get some sort of clarity from them, I asked the classic “timeline question”:
“If you decide to move forward with this project, when do you estimate finalizing this deal?”
What you may be surprised by is their seemingly cautious answer relieved my doubts and restored my sense of confidence:
“If we decide to move forward, we’re probably looking to pull the trigger on this sometime in November or December.”
“Huh?” you might be thinking.
“Why did that cautious, counterintuitive answer make you feel certain the deal would get done?”
After all, the word “probably” isn’t exactly strong, decisive language.
If anything, it makes it seem like the prospect is trying to keep you at arm’s length.
Predicting Forecast Accuracy by Reading Linguistic Cues from Your Buyers
The sales technology landscape is full of tools that enable accuracy in sales forecasting.
These predictive platforms analyze massive amounts of data points such as the account’s time spent on your website, digital footprints, and sometimes even bizarre data points such as phases of the moon.
But a key indicator of forecast accuracy that has been left out of the equation (until now) is the words and phrases buyers use during sales conversations.
Based on our first cohort of analysis of 25,537 B2B sales conversations using AI, we found two distinct linguistic trends that have to do with forecast accuracy (and win-rates).
Here they are…
The Word “Probably” Should Sound Like Music to Your Ears
Think back to the story at the beginning of this article.
The reason my prospect’s cautious, non-committal response excited me is because we found a direct correlation between win-rates, getting the deal done within your estimated forecast, and the prospect’s use of the word “probably” when responding to the sales rep’s “timing question.”
But in hindsight, it makes sense.
Potential customers who are seriously considering the purchase respond in a cautious, non-committal manner because they don’t want to be backed into a corner by an eager sales rep with “happy ears.”
They verbally distance themselves to maintain control, while less serious buyers throw caution to the wind because they don’t have a reason for it: deep down, they know they aren’t going to be able to move forward anytime soon.
Therefore, their head is not on the “chopping block” if they make a poor buying decision.
Beware the Phrase “We need to figure out _____________”
Let’s flip the coin and take a look at a negative correlation we discovered.
What words, phrases, and “conversational signals” do buyers display that indicate this deal may be a “dead end?”
One unmistakable pattern revealed itself:
When a potential customer responds to your timing question with some variation of “We need to figure out ______________________,” there is a sharply negative correlation in getting the deal closed within your estimated forecast.
“We need to figure out who will be the final decision maker for this project.”
“We need to figure out which department we’re going to pull budget from.”
“We still need to figure out the primary use-cases for your product before moving forward with a proposal.”
Whether you should give up on, or deprioritize the deal when you hear this phrase is a philosophical topic for another day (one I’m sure will spark a good deal of heated discussion).
But for now, as a sales professional you deserve to know: When you hear language like this during a “timing discussion,” your odds are slim. Especially in closing within your target forecast.
You might want to add an extra quarter (or two) to your estimated close date.
While there are many indicators of predictably forecasting deal closure, conversation signals have been left out of the equation until now.
As a sales professional, keep your ears to the ground for the language we outlined above.
Stay closely attuned to the words and phrases your prospect uses during timing discussions.
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