As anyone with a sales force knows, not all salespeople are created equal. In fact, there’s usually a group in the top 20% that accounts for as much as 80% of sales.
What’s less well known is why this gap occurs so often. Some have speculated that top salespeople have a combination of empathy and ego that drives them to both make a strong connection with customers and succeed at high levels. Top salespeople are also known to be optimistic, tenacious and focused.
For someone looking to improve the bottom 80% of their sales force, such observations have limited utility. You can tell someone to be more optimistic, for instance, but what concrete steps could they follow to get there?
A better approach is to look at what the top salespeople do. That’s what we did recently. In the course of analyzing over a million recorded sales conversations with our conversation intelligence technology, we found some interesting patterns that any salesperson can emulate. Here’s what we found:
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Top salespeople bring up pricing later in the conversation
Mediocre salespeople tend to discuss pricing early in the call. Top performers bring up pricing way towards the end and at much greater rates. As the data has shown before, when you bring up pricing early in a call and discuss pricing more than five times or less than three times, your odds of closing the sale tend to shrink.
This may be because the best time to talk about pricing is after you’ve learned the customer’s needs and shown how you will address those needs.
Top salespeople listen more
The talk-listen ratios for top salespeople is 46:54, meaning they listen more than they talk. For mid performers, the ratio is 68:32 and for bottom performers, it’s 72:28, indicating that the more you dominate the conversation, the worse your chances of closing the sale.
There are a few theories as to why this is the case. If you talk too much, you may reveal the wrong information to prospects and sabotage your efforts to win the sale. But the common sense explanation is that sales should be customer-focused. It’s about learning about the prospects needs, not convincing them they need something.
Some ways to get prospects to talk more include emotional labeling (“It seems like you’re frustrated by this change your company is going through”) and selectively using socially awkward pauses that prompt the prospect to fill the dead air.
Top salespeople don’t frontload their questions
A comparison of calls from top performers versus average salespeople shows that the latter tend to ask a lot of questions upfront and then peter out, as if they’re going down a checklist. If you look at the pattern for top salespeople, the question flow is more natural. Those sales calls look more like a conversation than a pitch.
The lesson: Look at your conversation data
Average performers have stayed average because they didn’t really know what really good salespeople did and talked about. Vague advice like “be upbeat” never changed their behavior enough to make a difference.
Athletes can improve with great coaching but also performance data that shows how they are doing compared to their peers and which areas they need to improve upon. Such targeted coaching hasn’t been transferrable to sales because sales performance hasn’t been measured in minute detail.
That’s changing because of listening platforms and analysis that can find patterns in natural conversations. That doesn’t mean that salespeople will automatically improve, but it does mean that they’ll know what they need to do to improve.