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Taking the guesswork our of sales effectiveness with ai

This article was originally published on Think about the mid-to-late 90’s. What was the status quo for the Internet marketer? Guesswork. Marketing analytics technologies had not yet emerged as a tool-of-the-trade, so marketers would create their online campaigns and hope they worked. Today that would be unheard of. Any marketer operating without analytics, measurement, and technology would be out of a job soon. Analytics and marketing technologies have turned Internet marketing from mostly art to mostly science. Marketers can easily measure what’s working (and what’s not) — continually optimizing every element of their campaigns for higher conversion, more customers, and greater ROI. Internet marketing has become one of the most optimized disciplines in the business world.

Enter the Sales Profession

The sales profession has been a different story. Sales professionals, managers, and leaders have been operating with the same blindfold that plagued the Internet marketing profession before analytics arrived. We rely on what we think works in sales. We have our theories, instincts, intuition, and anecdotal experiences. But (until recently) there has been no technology, data, or sales analytics that has measure what is actually getting results in sales.

25,537 Sales Conversations Analyzed Using AI

During the first half of 2016, we analyzed anonymous conversation data from 17 of our customers using Gong’s sales conversation intelligence SaaS platform. These customers were typically mid-market SaaS companies. Here are the details of how we surfaced the data and insights I’ll talk about in the rest of this post:
  • We analyzed 25,537 B2B sales conversations from 17 customer organizations. These were sales calls conducted on conference call platforms like GoToMeeting,, and Zoom. In other words these were account executive calls rather than SDR calls (fun fact: the average call ran 43 minutes long)
  • Each call was recorded using Gong, speaker-separated, cleaned, and transcribed from speech-to-text
  • Next, the calls were mapped to their matching CRM records. This gave us the power to analyze against sales outcomes such as win-rates, revenue production, and sales cycle length
  • Finally, we ran Gong’s artificial intelligence engine through the massive data set. Call topics, key moments, and sales behaviors were auto-categorized using sophisticated AI algorithms
  • We found 9 distinct trends of high-performing B2B sales calls. Here they are:

The Talk-to-Listen Ratio Impacts Win-Rates

As sales professionals, we all know that it’s best to listen and let the prospect do most of the talking. Still, most sales reps are speaking much more than they think they are. The average B2B sales rep consumes 65–75% of talk time, leaving little room for the prospect to “get a word in.”
This is what the average sales dialogue looks like
I’m embarrassed to admit: When I first started at Gong, my average talk-to-listen ratio was 72:28 (!) Fortunately, working at Gong serves as rehab for that affliction. I’m trending closer to 52:48 these days. #TalkersAnonymous Now for the good stuff: the ideal talk-to-listen ratio for the highest yielding sales calls is 43:57
The good news is you don’t need to hit that exact ratio to see results. If you’re speaking too much, there’s low-hanging fruit in letting the prospect talk just a little more:
Increasing the prospect’s talk-time from 22% to 33% of the total call time significantly increases opportunity win-rates.

Pricing Discussions Impact Win-Rates

Discussing pricing 3–4x in a call seems to be a good sign, but let’s all remember: correlation does not always equal causation :)
When pricing is discussed less than 3x and more than 4x, win-rates decline. If price comes up 3–4x times in a call, it’s best to treat that as a buying signal. But that’s not the only discovery we found in regards to pricing…

There is a Best Time to “Talk Price”?

Top producing sales reps “talk price” around the 40–49 minute mark in their sales calls. Average and low performers tend to distribute their pricing discussions more evenly throughout the call:
Top reps discuss price late in their sales calls
Moral of the story? Establish value, then talk price.

“Probably” Is Probably a Good Thing

Any B2B sales rep worth his or her salt will ask the prospect the “timing question” at some point…
“When do you plan on moving forward with this project?”
“When do you estimate getting this agreement finalized?”
“What does your timeline look like for purchase?”
Surprisingly, a somewhat “cautious” response by the prospect is a good sign:
Listen for “probably” after your timeline question
When your prospect responds to your timeline question with “probably,” they are likely responding cautiously because of how seriously they are considering the purchase. Again, it’s best to treat this as a buying signal while keeping in mind correlation doesn’t always equal causation.

“We Need to Figure Out ____________________”

Now that we’ve talked about the positive signal regarding the timeline question, let’s talk about the negative signal. When potential customers respond to a sales rep’s timeline question with some variation of “We need to figure out [fill in the blank],” there is a negative correlation in terms of win-rates and forecast accuracy.
“We need to figure out who gives the final go-ahead for this”
“We have to figure out how we will use the product internally”
“We’ve got to figure out how we are going to justify ROI”
No need to give up on your deal if you hear this phrase, but as a sales professional, you deserve to know the data: your chances start to dwindle when you hear this.

Soothe Fear & Anxiety with “Risk-Reversal” Language

Remember when I said your lowest hanging fruit for increasing your win-rates is getting the prospect to talk more? Well, here’s your second lowest hanging fruit: soothe your prospect’s pre-purchase anxiety by mitigating their risk. In other words, you should proactively, frequently, and aggressively talk about terms of the deal that are designed to protect the customer from risk:
  • Easy cancellations
  • No long-term contract
  • Easy, low-effort setup
  • 90-day opt-outs
  • Money-back guarantees
  • SLAs (service-level agreements)
Watch the customer’s anxiety melt away
I’ve noticed most sales professionals actively hide deal terms like this. They don’t want to deal with an opt-out, a cancellation, or headaches of that sort. Here’s my advice: The increase in your cancellations and opt-outs will pale compared to the much larger spike in your win-rates.

The Final Insight: Coaching Sales Reps at the Conversation Level

The customers we pulled this anonymized data from were using the Gong conversation intelligence platform for sales call coaching. Those customers that had the highest usage of coaching activity within the Gong platform experienced the highest increases in win-rates and revenue, while also shaving the most time off of their sales cycles.
Call coaching pays off — the data says so :)
It makes sense. The highest leverage point of the sales cycle is the conversation between a rep and a prospect. If you can increase the effectiveness of that “lever,” you’ve made measurable progress (click here to see a Gong demo).


To sum this up, here is what artificial intelligence has revealed to us so far about sales call effectiveness:
  • The “ideal” talk-to-listen ratio is 43:57
  • Most sales reps speak 65–75% of their calls
  • Bumping a prospect’s talk-time from 22% to 33% delivers a sharp increase in win-rates
  • If pricing comes up 3–4x in a call, consider it a buying signal
  • Top sales professionals typically discuss pricing late in the call (40–49 minutes in on average)
  • When your prospect responds to your timeline question with the word “probably,” consider it a good thing
  • When prospects respond to your timeline question with the phrase “We need to figure out X,” you’ve got your work cut out for you
  • When you sooth your prospect’s fears with risk-reversal language (such as “you can cancel at any time”), win-rates on average increase 32%
  • Conversation-level sales coaching leads to higher win-rates, more revenue, and shorter sales cycles
Now that we’ve brought the sales world the first wave of data-driven sales conversation insights, I’d love to hear what you think. What questions do you have for me? What surprised you? What validated what you already knew? And if you could, would you please share this article on LinkedIn and Twitter so other sales professionals may find this data as well? If you liked this article you may also be interested in:

See the magic of Gong in action

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