What Causes the Sales Performance Gap and How to Fix It


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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:

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.

Chris Orlob
Chris Orlob is Senior Director of Product Marketing at Gong.io. - the #1 conversation intelligence platform for B2B sales teams. Gong helps you convert more of your pipeline into revenue by shining the light on your sales conversations. It records, transcribes, and analyzes every sales call so you can drive sales effectiveness, figure out what’s working and what’s not, and ramp new hires faster.


  1. Hi Chris: These findings are consistent with other articles I have read. One of the challenges I have had in developing insights from conversational data is how to distinguish outcomes from purpose of the call. While it makes sense that discussing pricing at the outset of a prospecting call might regularly cause the conversation to tail off prematurely, discussing pricing at the outset of a conversation for a more mature sales opportunity might be both necessary and expected (e.g. the third time a rep speaks with a prospect, he might open the conversation by saying that he’s responding with the pricing information that the prospect earlier.)

    Another challenge I have faced is how to adjust the outcomes for the degree of difficulty the rep faces, or for the nature of the territory. This is especially difficult if the territory does not contain productive accounts. If you’re measuring the data on top revenue producers, how do you allow for reps who might have a territory with a large volume of new account development, and therefore, might have revenue production in the mid-tier? Put another way, how would the talent of a skilled rep who doesn’t produce in the top 20% revenue tier gain notice?

  2. Fundamental winning factors : empathy, listening and building relations skills turned in nice statistics on expected bavaviors . Very inspiring. Still, if for any sale person this list is not natural set of “the way to be ” the customer will … feel it anyway.

  3. Great info…………agree with comments.
    Another huge factor in my book – the salesperson MUST BELIEVE in his/her product and FULLY KNOW BENEFIT APPLIED.
    I have often in training attempted to point out the following factors:
    1. Do not spend 80% of your time chasing the one “big deal”. When doing so sales are lost as attention is not given the broader pic.
    2. If no order on presentation – why not?. Were the decision makers involved? If no order, yes keep in touch (no pressure) and when contacting deduct 10% – if you flatline at 50% the business has been placed elswhere and move on.


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