Budget cuts, requirement shifts, and staffing shortages have upended buyer behavior, causing deals to be put on hold and markets to shrink in size. But quotas remain, and sales reps must capitalize on every deal they have. Before the COVID outbreak, Gartner reports that 46% of a B2B sales rep’s time was either spent with a customer or at a customer’s work premises. Forced to hold virtual meetings by video conference, reps in healthcare and other industries are in danger of missing out on key buying signals surfaced in face-to-face meetings.
Face-to-face conversations contain critical nonverbal communication. Facial expressions, body language, and other behavior patterns help us understand how a buyer feels, and our own behavior signal to buyers that we understand them and know how to fix it.
Reps have to accept the reality that they may not get face time with many prospects all year. According to new ringDNA research, many tech companies don’t plan to return to the office until Q4 at the earliest. To compensate, reps need to increase their reliance on AI, improved conversational tactics, and strategic timing.
The workplace has been disrupted on all sides, and along with it, daily habits, schedules, thoughts, and feelings have changed. Not only are sales teams working from home, but buyers are too.
Video conferencing has been effective for staying connected with teammates and others we formed relationships with in-person. But now we must connect with total strangers in a disrupted environment, and sometimes we only hear their voice, losing the ability to read facial expressions and nonverbal cues. So much of the communication that sellers need to connect with prospects and customers has been lost.
While the remote transition has challenges, there is hope. We are now in an age where artificial intelligence (AI) can analyze conversations to uncover patterns. Monitoring details such as word usage, sentiment, intent indicators, and other markers allow AI to deliver contextual, relevant insights to sellers and increase the quality of prospect interactions. AI cannot replace human connection, but we can use it to train salespeople on a new set of skills that can help them better understand their buyers.
A growth-focused sales rep can have points of improvement brought to them by an AI, as well as suggested training or best-practice call libraries from top performers.
At the team level, sales managers can draw on AI to see who is struggling, measure conversational effectiveness against quota, and improve training. They can also surface macro trends that occur across conversations and shift sales strategy to account for it, a must in the current climate.
Strengthening our conversation skills with AI also benefits the buyer. With better conversation habits, improved value propositions, and more context, buyers will have more personalized buying experiences. Better buying experiences make prospects feel good about buying from us and lead to deeper, more productive relationships over time.
Conversations are an art as much as they are a science. While AI is good at decoding conversations and giving us new insights, it can’t listen or talk like a human.
With COVID-19, even the most promising prospect now has different needs that change by the hour or day. They are also dealing with the same changes we are all coping with in their personal and professional lives. In short, each prospect has their own unique needs that must be addressed, and that is why we must double down on the human side of listening.
Salespeople must be more sensitive to current realities, and when you ask the right questions and listen, your prospect will tell you about the problems they must solve, the needs they have, and the challenges they are experiencing.
In their annual State of Sales Report, Salesforce uncovered what factors have the largest impact on conversion rates. 78% of participants said listening was the biggest factor. Now, as we lack real person-to-person engagement with our prospects, we must listen more than ever before.
AI can also monitor and measure the human skill of listening within sales conversations. Metrics such as monologue length, which measures uninterrupted segments of speech, or talk ratios, which uncover which party dominated the conversation the most, shed light on how strong a rep’s listening skills really are.
Use this time to cultivate your listening skills. Learn what your own average monologue times and talk percentages are. Then use the information you learn with smart questions and better listening to provide as much value as you can to prospects and customers.
Strike at the Right Time
Remote work has come as a shock for most. In many companies, it was a surprise that forced people to figure out at-home school, childcare, and work all at the same time. While AI has clear benefits for sales conversations, the time and effort it takes to reach prospects has been upended.
We all miss the structure that an office can provide us, but sales reps should take advantage of the change to create a schedule that enables better prospecting. We examined call answer rates and found that the best time for reps to call those with the title “Sales Director” and above is between 10 and 11:30 AM, with a second peak at 1:30 PM. To take advantage of this, sales reps should build their day so that they can make calls from 10 to 11:30 each morning, then follow up around 1:30.
Data further shows that most sales emails are opened around 3 PM, so sales reps should aim to send their emails before that time. Now, more than ever, it is important to get on a schedule and stay on it. Align your day with when you need to make calls, talk to your team, or monitor your AI-driven data insights. Adjust and improve your schedule based on your own data.
Working from home is not always easy. There are many distractions, some of which may be welcome, but it is up to us to manage them. Think of yourself as your own boss. Look at what work needs to be done each day, and prioritize it. Your own results will show the benefit over time.