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The best data-backed sales tips of 2021

December 27, 2021
Devin Reed

Devin Reed

Sales Strategies

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 close more revenue. Subscribe here and follow me to read upcoming research.

This year Gong Labs uncovered… secrets. 

Like the deadly simple negotiation mistake preventing you from winning deals. 

And a discovery call “best practice” that actually tanks your success rates.

And the (counter intuitive) ideal length for a follow-up prospecting email.

How did we do it?

By analyzing MILLIONS of sales data points.

Why did we do it?

To give you a competitive edge and boost your earning potential

To help you get the most out of your year end, I pulled together the 5 best data-backed tips of 2021. 

Read ‘em. Use ‘em. Share ‘em.

(I hear they make great stocking stuffers.)

From sales leaders and frontline managers to sales reps, here’s everything you need to know if you want to land every deal left in your pipeline.

Tip #1: Never negotiate over email

Negotiating is one of the most important skills in sales. 

Unfortunately, it’s also the skill in which reps are the least trained. 

Even if you’ve read Never Split the Difference, it’s a black hole of knowledge for most.

As a result, sellers (unknowingly) rely on tactics that do more harm than good. 

Case in point: negotiating over email.  

You’ve been told that it’s a bad call — but how bad, exactly?

We analyzed 37,671 sales opportunities, specifically looking at how emailing price impacted deal success.

First, the good news. Win rates spike once pricing is shared over email:

If you emailed price recently — or, erm, today — take a big sigh of relief. All good.

But beware: Win rates dramatically decrease as soon as you start negotiating over email: 

It’s important to know that once you introduce pricing into the conversation, it will inevitably evolve into a negotiation.

It might be obvious, like your buyer asking for a lower price.

Or they might ask a (seemingly) innocent question like “Does your finance team allow net 60?”

It’s tempting to reply with a “Yeah, no problem” to keep the deal moving. 

Don’t bite. 

Because here’s the thing: Once your buyer asks for anything, negotiations have begun.

Once your buyer asks for anything, negotiations have begun. 

Instead, move the conversation back to where you’ll win — in a live conversation, either in person or over the phone.

Negotiate over email and you risk being misunderstood (tone is tough to interpret in emails) or having your written offer used against you to negotiate with a competitor. You also lose control of the timing of your buyer’s response, unlike on the phone.

Make an initial offer, then suggest connecting to talk about it. 

(PS: There are 9 more pricing pitfalls to avoid. Use our 10 Golden Rules of Pricing Conversations to overcome even the most grueling pricing objections. Plus there’s a copy/paste template to move negotiations from email to a phone call.)

Tip #2: Beware of selling with slides

They’re shiny. They’re polished. They’re presentation-ready.

But slides can easily become your enemy if you use them on a discovery call.

According to our analysis of 803,402 recorded sales meetings from deals made on web conferencing platforms, win rates drop by 17% when reps use slides on discovery calls:

So why don’t slides work in discovery calls?

Because slides denote a presentation, not a conversation, and the best discovery calls are a real back and forth in terms of information exchange. 

In other words, when you use slides, you end up talking to the slides instead of to your buyer. 

Using slides during discovery has three unintended (and problematic) consequences:

  1. Sellers ask 21% fewer questions when they use slides. You can’t learn about your buyer’s pain points, business challenges and attempts at solutions if you’re focused on your speaking notes.
  2. Seller monologues are 25% longer when they use slides. Your buyer stopped listening to your speech 5 minutes ago. Swap ‘show and tell’ for ‘ask-and-learn.’ 
  3. Seller talk time jumps 15% during your call. Know what you can’t do when you’re talking ad nauseam? LISTEN.  

It’s definitely time to drop slides from your discovery call lineup. Stop talking and start listening so you can learn enough to position your product as the buyer’s dream solution.

Don’t leave your next discovery call to chance (especially with C-level execs). Before your next call, check out our Discovery Call Cheat Sheet. You’ll get a list of deal-making discovery questions you can use immediately.

Tip #3: Write longer prospecting emails

You might’ve made this face when reading cold emails:

I mean, attention spans aren’t getting longer and decision makers aren’t getting less busy. 

So it’s easy to think “the shorter the better” when it comes to prospecting emails. 

Turns out, that’s not true. 

After analyzing 300k+ follow up emails, we learned that longer emails are significantly more effective at booking a meeting:

You can’t fit much value into a 30-word email. In something that short, your messaging is so broad, it loses the buyer’s attention.

You’re better off crafting something substantial and personalized that comes in at around 130 words.

A valuable 10-second read is more effective than a meh four-second read.

Make it concise. Make sure it’s well-crafted. Make sure every word adds value.

And whatever you do, make it solid, because the effectiveness of cold emails decreases over time:

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Take a page from the book of closed-won and put your best move forward right off the bat.

That means NEVER using the phrases below in a cold email. If you do, your reader will hit delete faster than you can say “How’s next Thursday?”:

  • “Thoughts?”
  • “I never heard back from you…”
  • “Just following up…”
  • “I just called you…”

Reps use those phrases all the time, but they’re a disaster for your booking rates (and win rates… and commission…).

Before you hit Send on your next email, steal these 11 Hyper-persuasive Sales Email Templates. You’ll find every kind of sales email, from prospecting to proposal, and everything in between. It’s crazy-simple: All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Tip #4: Stop selling solo. Start team selling.

Got a $50k deal lined up? Good. Multi-thread it to boost your chances of winning.

Got a $500k deal lined up? Better get your crew involved. 

That’s not just true for enterprise sales these days. It applies to every major deal in your pipeline.

Big deals require big teams of people on both sides to get to signature. Get them all engaged and you’ll see a boost in your deal sizes*:

*According to our analysis of 10,332 sales deals

On the buyer’s side, you’ll want to get several types of people involved:

  • End users and influencers: People who will use the product/service
  • Decisions makers: Senior leaders and executives who care about how the purchase affects their budget, strategic goals, and org alignment
  • The due diligence crowd: Budget approvers, legal/contract reviewers, and procurement analysts 

Think one lone rep can handle all those folks on their own? Not so fast… They need support from others in their org to get the deal done.

And that’s a good thing. Sell as a team and you’ll win more often:

Creating alignment on both sides of the deal means involving everyone from the technical folks who can validate what’s in the weeds, to big-picture alignment between executives at a strategic level.

Put simply, if you want to close 6-figure deals, you need a team selling strategy. 

If you want to close 6-figure deals, you need a team selling strategy. 

And that’s important because high-stakes deals can make or break your quarter. 

To reduce risk, sales leaders need total visibility into what’s happening inside these types of deals — who’s involved, who’s engaged, whose enthusiasm is lagging on the buyer’s side, etc.:

Only then can a sales org adequately support the lead rep in a major deal. 

“Never lose alone” isn’t just a saying in sales, it’s a strategy for winning BIG.

Want to know who to pull into your deals and when? Snag this Team Selling Cheat Sheet. It shows you exactly when and why to involve each persona, plus how to align them for maximum impact.

Tip #5: Avoid holiday “dead zones”

When the holidays approach, the foundation of every deal starts shaking.

When you try to close deals in certain holiday zones,  meetings will slip, deals will stall, and you’ll waste time chasing traveling execs for signatures that never materialize.

How do we know that’s true? We analyzed more than 400k sales interactions for holiday trends. We found that prospects are much less likely to sign contracts during the week of major holidays:

During Christmas week, sign rates drop by 78% (!)

If you’ve forecasted a deal to close on Christmas Eve, you’re more likely to get a lump of coal.

Instead of aiming to close on holiday weeks, get agreement from buyers on a closing plan for the week before the holiday. 

Sales leaders, if you want to bring your reps through the holidays unscathed, keep an eye out for deals that are scheduled to close on the worst days for signing at year’s end:

Why are those dates so risky? 

Because that’s when reps are ~2x more likely to get stood up for a sales meeting, and that will stall everything:

Buyers who agreed to meet during the last weeks of the year will feel no remorse when they bail at the last minute, and their attendance rate will drop by 78% during Christmas week.

They’re tired. They’re depleted. And there’s holiday fun to be had if they skip your meeting.

Instead, hold your meetings on days when buyers are the most likely to show over the holidays:

Last thing: Avoid the holiday slow down with our 10 Golden Rules of Pricing Conversations. It has heat maps, insights, and talk tracks so you can coach reps to close more deals and book more meetings.

PS: Best answer wins

That’s a wrap!

But ‘Tis the season for giving, so let’s pay it forward.

Drop your EOQ sales tip in the comments.

This way we ALL level up.

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