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The best data-backed sales tips of 2020

December 31, 2020
Devin Reed

Devin Reed


This article is part of the Gong Labs series, where I publish findings from our data research team. We analyze sales conversations and deals using AI, then share the results to help you win more deals. Follow me to read upcoming research.

Be gone. Farewell. We will NOT miss you, 2020.

But we will hold onto some lessons learned as we head into 2021. Cause 2020 wasn’t a *total* wash. 

We published a ton of content here at Gong, including tips designed to help sales teams stabilize and adjust to a new virtual reality.

If you’re feeling (like we are!) that we’re rounding a corner, let’s get you ready for what comes next: GROWTH.

Below are seven best-of-the-best tips from 2020 — all backed by real sales stats.

Use ‘em to cross the finish line and sprint into 2021. 

TIP #1: Say THIS when your buyer tells you they “need to think about it.”

Sorry, I’m not really interested.

Nah. I think I will pass.

It’s not a priority. Thanks anyway.

Those phrases feel like the kiss of death for any salesperson. It’s tricky—even for the most skilled sales pro—to recover from a hard no.

But what about these six words: “I need to think about it”?

They’re a bit more nuanced, but still troubling, especially if they’re uttered in the late stages of the sales process. Unless you know how to respond.

Our team of data scientists crunched the numbers from 140,566 sales opportunities, including the sales calls and meetings that occurred within those opportunities, and uncovered some eyebrow-raising insights.

First up: “I need to think about it” does not negatively impact win rates:

Even though this phrase makes it feel like your deal just came crashing down on you, don’t panic. The data tells us they really are just thinking about it.

That’s the good news. 

The not-so-good news is that you need to buckle up for a longer sales cycle… something like 173% longer:

Why is this? And how should you respond?  That depends on when the phrase is uttered.

When it’s said mid-funnel

Reason for the objection: Uncertainty. 

Your response: “When most people tell me they need to think about it, it’s typically because they’re not interested or I missed something in our meeting.”

If you did miss something, they’ll respond with “No, we’re interested, it’s just that…” The “dot dot dot” is where they will reveal what really concerns them.

Your next steps: Once you know what you missed (aka, the source of their hesitation), it’s time to lock in a date for the next meeting. Addressing this uncertainty is agenda item #1.

When it’s said in a late stage

Reason for the objection: They’re bought in, but they need to figure out how to sell it internally. 

Your response: “Sure, most of the people I’m talking to right now have shifted their buying process as budgets tighten up. I imagine that might be true for you too. Can I make a suggestion that will help you make the case internally?”

Your next steps: Map out the buying process: whose approval is needed, what that process looks like, and what hurdles to expect. Prep your champion to get to yes.

PS: Don’t leave your deal to chance. Download our CFO Letter Template, and leave your buyer with nothing to think about.

TIP #2: Ask for time in cold emails.

Cold emails can be a beast. 

Crafting the perfect subject line. 

Adding personalization and the “why you, why now” block. 

And… the call to action.

While all of these steps are important, the CTA can turn a cold prospect into a warm (or even hot!) lead.

Our team of data scientists analyzed 304,174 emails, specifically looking at the CTA in each email. They wanted to know which CTAs elicited a positive outcome, which we defined as a meeting booked within 10 days. Here’s what they uncovered. 

The interest CTA (asking for interest, not a meeting) is the highest-performing call to action for cold emails:

This reflects a new and highly effective approach to prospecting: selling the conversation, not the meeting.

Because here’s the truth: time is a finite resource, and the decision makers you’re trying to entice in your cold outreach are desperately short on it.

Know what else is scarce right now (or possibly always)? Resources.

Consider this: You—a stranger—are asking an unsuspecting, not-really-wanting-to-read-your-email potential buyer for their time and resources

Nope, deleted.

Asking for interest, however, is not perceived in the same way. “Interest” is not finite. “Interest” is not a resource. This is why using an interest CTA to pique a buyer’s curiosity tends to work better than asking for time or resources.

It’s as easy as saying “Are you interested in learning more about X?”

BONUS: Want more email CTAs? Get 43 highly effective lines for free. Download the cheat sheet now:

TIP #3: Turn on your webcam!

There’s no denying it, 2020 is definitely the year of the webcam. 

The stats on video-conferencing service usage is through the roof. Whether it’s personal/professional, young/old, distance learning, and so on, video meetings are a thing.

Salespeople are not newbies when it comes to using video, but with nearly all sales teams operating remotely these days, webcam best practices have never been more critical. 

But how exactly did video impact remote sales in 2020?

As we often do, we said goodbye to opinions and hello to reality by leaning on our Gong Labs team of data scientists. The squad analyzed 12,282 sales opportunities from this past year and looked specifically at video; how it’s used and its connection to win rates across SMB and enterprise sales cycles. There were surprisingly BIG numbers here.

Deals are 127% more likely to close when video is used at any point in the sales process:

127%. Yeah. That’s quite definitive.

Clearly, the impact of selling with video is in your favor. It’s a no-brainer.

This post goes into further detail, but suffice it to say that video empowers sellers to better understand buyer’s nonverbal communication. Video means we don’t just hear what our future customers are saying, we see how they say it. Turns out, that’s everything right now.


  • Body language: How engaged is your buyer? Are they slumped over or leaning in, hanging on your every word?
  • Facial expressions: How are they reacting to what you say when it comes to their pain points, customer stories, pricing, etc.?
  • Physical cues: Are you witnessing head nods, head shakes, and eye contact? Or do they have a blank stare?

Did someone say video? Download out our 10 tips for deal-making video sales calls.

TIP #4: Think like a CFO to secure budget.


Part of sales training 101 is knowing what that acronym stands for (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) and how to use it during the sales process.

But the “B” in BANT was a bit… well… tricky in 2020.

Today’s selling landscape is unique because the budget objection itself has changed.

Back in spring, I spoke with Gong’s CFO, Tim Riitters, to get a handle on how budget holders were managing purchasing decisions in a COVID world.

TL;DR: Purchases with quantifiable ROI, cost savings, and risk reduction capabilities are more likely to get approved. Same goes for those that increase productivity.

The longer version:

“Before COVID-19, growth CFOs spent much of our time approving technologies and investments focused on growing the business. While that’s still important, in this new environment, we’re focusing significant amounts of time on ways to save money, improve productivity, and mitigate risk.

The best way to get a deal done today is to prove how you’re going to increase remote productivity, enhance visibility into the business, or increase agility. You have to come prepared to show how a specific investment will save the company hard dollars. The bar for a measurable and rapid return on investment is much higher than it was before.”

Ideally, you also frame how your cost savings can be used to support the new remote workforce.  

It’s important to show that “measurable and rapid return.” Make sure your buyers understand your product or service’s fiscal impact on their bottom line.

Gone are the days of budget for “nice-to-have” software. If you can’t clearly demonstrate your offering’s ROI, it’s going to be labeled as a non-necessity. 

Want more insights into securing budget? Here is the full post about how to secure budget, even in the age of COVID-19.

TIP #5: Ask for time when booking meetings in active deals.

In Tip #2, I revealed that the “interest CTA” is the best one to use in a cold email.

However, the moment you move from “cold” to “warm” (i.e., enter the sales cycle), the interest CTA loses its magical power.

Now it’s time for the “specific CTA.” It’s exactly what you think—literally asking for a meeting with a specific day and time.

Dropping a specific CTA into your deal emails has a 37% success rate for booking a meeting (within 10 days):

Here’s why.

First, the obvious: They’re already interested! You’re in the middle of a deal, so there’s no reason to gauge their interest anymore.

Second, it’s time to be more direct. Don’t add extra work by asking them to find an empty slot in their calendar. Instead, you point their focus to a specific time and making it that much easier to agree or suggest a better time. Remember, removing friction helps your buyer make decisions faster.

Lock in that date and time and send off the calendar invite immediately… before your buyer has second thoughts or (SQUIRREL!) gets distracted.

The specific CTA is like Amazon’s “swipe to purchase” CTA. Direct. To the point. Friction-free.

Generally speaking, your customer will either book the meeting (win!) or propose another time (one step closer to a booked meeting).

REMINDER: Our cheat sheet has 43 highly effective CTAs. It’s yours for free. Grab it now.

TIP #6: DO NOT discuss ROI in cold emails.


That’s the number of cold emails the Gong Labs team analyzed to uncover how ROI language affects your success rates.

Note: We defined ROI language as the phrase “ROI” or any associated statistics (e.g., multipliers such as 2x, 2.5x, 30x, etc., and percentages such as 5%, 23%, or 33%, etc.) in the salesperson’s email.

They found that using ROI language in cold emails doesn’t work.

Don’t do it. Avoid the temptation.

Instead, listen to the data. (Yes, I get the irony of “the data says not to use data-based language.)

Our research shows that using ROI language in cold emails decreases success rates by 15%:

And “decreases success rates” should never be part of your sales strategy.

But wait! How can they argue with ROI?? It’s hard data – what could be bad about that?

Here’s the thing: Even if prospects believe your numbers are factual (they are, right?), they won’t necessarily find them persuasive enough to book a meeting with you. 

That’s because your ROI stat lacks context. It doesn’t get at the tangible problem it solves, and the human emotions connected to that problem.

Why does that matter? Because buyer’s make decisions based on emotions. Then they justify their decision with logic and facts, like ROI. 

They’re secondary.

You can’t skip that first part of the equation. 

I gave you the first couple email tips. Download the rest of our laws of highly effective sales emails:

TIP #7: It’s okay to say FU to 2020.

Well, that’s not really tip #7, but dang did it feel good to write (and say out loud).


And speaking of four-letter words, this final tip of 2020 is about cursing on sales calls.

Cursing on sales calls is surprisingly effective if both parties swear.

Gong Labs data shows an 8% increase in close rates when the salesperson and the buyer curse on the call, compared to nobody cursing at all: 

But before you go out and recruit sales reps with a propensity to curse, be mindful of causation. Swearing on its own doesn’t lead to more closed deals. It’s more subtle than that.

When buyers and sellers (also known as humans) feel comfortable with each other, they can bond over “breaking the rules” together.

Cursing during a sales call definitely falls into that category.

As the graph above depicts, this bonding and trust leads to higher win rates.

And that’s something all sales professionals can get behind.

And I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I know I should: Never swear at your buyer. 

Okay, time to go meet my HR manager (again).

But before I go, can I get a “Hell yea!” that 2020 is about to end?

Thought so.

Before you go

If you’ve read this far, you’re clearly committed to closing more deals. Right on.

Share the holiday spirit by relaying the Gong Labs newsletter with your peers. It’s the best (and only?) digital stocking stuffer.

Throw the link in your team slack. Tag ’em in the comments. Or copy/paste it and email (kidding, don’t do that).

Here’s to making it through 2020, and cheers to the new year.

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