Over the last five years, B2B sales has rapidly evolved, and so has the technology used to support revenue teams. Yet, most products being developed focus on getting one thing for their users—more. There are tools for generating more leads, sending more emails, gathering more business intelligence, and even making more dials. But, there is only so much that can be accomplished by doing the same things over and over. To compete in today’s economy, we have to focus on improving human performance where it matters most: prospect and customer conversations.
Conceptually, conversation intelligence is one’s ability to identify and react to signals in verbal communications. In business, this translates to the ability to assess a conversation’s direction and understand the positive and negative factors that influence its outcome relative to desired results. This is what birthed conversation intelligence (CI) technology—the end goal of this type of software is to support people in that ability.
Keep reading to learn how CI helps people have better, more productive conversations, but first, let’s talk about the current lay of the land.
The Status Quo of Measuring Performance
Most revenue leaders have heavily relied on activity metrics, deal progression, and customer retention as the primary indicators of their team’s performance. According to Hubspot, the five most essential sales KPIs are the percentage of the sales team hitting quota, average deal size, conversion and win rates, revenue, and sales funnel leakage. These are all critical to measure, but it’s not enough to just look at the numbers. You have to look at the ‘why’ behind them.
Many senior sales leaders expect managers to elaborate on the ‘why’ behind numbers shown in dashboards. The trouble with this expectation is that managers might not have much to add—if they don’t have visibility into what actually affects team performance, how could they? Even the most complex dashboards aren’t going to improve performance on their own. This leaves managers defaulting to ‘tried-and-true’ methods to help reps hit their targets: realigning territories, hiring more people, adding new technology, and even changing comp plans, but these methods rarely produce results. According to Salesforce’s State of Sales Report, more than half of sales teams will miss their quota regardless of what their leaders do.
So, where else can you turn when you’re out of levers to pull?
The Goldmine of Your Customer-Facing Conversations
While dashboards may be enough to get by for some performance insights, the real gold is in your calls and web conferences. These recordings are where you can uncover specific topics, call structures, marketing messaging, and other factors that affect success.
Companies have been recording sales and support calls for years, but those recordings usually live in a black box, collecting dust on a server or floating around in the cloud. Very few people, if any, have been able to access them or use them in a meaningful way—it’s a big pile of call recordings with no place to call home.
Sales managers have tried to overcome this. They sit down, crack open the computer folder, and try to find a call worth listening to, or they plug in the headset splitter and spend an hour with a sales rep hoping they’ll hear something worth coaching.
It’s not scalable or repeatable, and quite frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect sales managers to find the time to do these manual processes on top of their other duties. Part of the magic of conversation intelligence is removing this burden and reducing the time it takes to review one call to a few minutes compared to an hour or more.
Okay, So What is Conversation Intelligence Technology?
Conversation intelligence software organizes those big piles of call recordings. To do so, these platforms leverage artificial intelligence to ingest, transcribe and analyze calls and web conferences. As the conversations are processed, machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) algorithms identify and surface valuable data that would otherwise remain unknown.
Some of the data points identified in each conversation may include:
- Common keywords, phrases, and topics
- Call segments (phases) like Introduction, Next Steps, or Challenges
- Talk:listen ratio
- Interchanges per minute between the rep and the prospect or customer
- Phone ringing, IVR (phone trees) and hold music that identify ‘dead air’
- Diarization (speaker separation) of who is talking when
Most conversation intelligence platforms will also match relevant metadata to the conversations. That includes contacts’ names, organizations and phone numbers, associated CRM fields, plus call direction and duration. This data helps organize and sort conversations, and provides additional parameters for users to search on.
The platforms analyze these data points in order to unearth valuable conversation insights, such as high-performing talk tracks, the optimal call length for successful outcomes, or new objections that arise with changes in the market. These insights add clarity to the notes in your CRM, but in and of themselves, they won’t get you any closer to revenue goals. It’s how these insights are applied that drive tangible value, and each CI provider has their own unique approach and philosophy to this which informs and directs their product roadmap and use cases. For example, some providers focus on using conversation insights to understand deal tracking and areas for management intervention, while others leverage the intelligence to automate note-taking, while still others focus on using the insights to identify and correct individual and team skill gaps through targeted coaching.
Which platform is best suited for a customer depends on their underlying goals and organizational culture. For leaders that believe in the power of sales coaching and development as the critical success factor for meeting and exceeding quota, or decreasing churn, conversation intelligence, coupled with targeted and consistent coaching, can be a game-changer in driving business results. Read on to understand how different CI providers address sales coaching capabilities in their technology offerings.
Sales Coaching With Conversation Intelligence Software
As proven in numerous sales enablement studies, investing in your human capital—your sellers—provides the biggest returns for every sales organization. The best way to develop the skills and behaviors your reps need for success at your company is through coaching. Having access to actual conversation data and performance insights enables managers to provide thoughtful coaching relevant to each individual. How that coaching is delivered is a key variable in whether or not it generates performance improvement.
Conversation intelligence providers have wildly different ideas for how, when and where coaching can—and should—happen. Think live call coaching vs. one-time post-call coaching vs. ongoing coaching plans. Add to that in-person vs. virtual coaching, synchronous vs. asynchronous coaching, or coaching within the CI platform vs. externally, and it’s evident there are different stances on what provides value for users.
Some solutions offer live coaching capabilities so sales managers can listen in on their reps’ calls, whisper recommendations to them, or even take over the call. While it can be, and often is, viewed as invasive, live sales coaching does have its place. It can be helpful for short sales cycles or even one-call close situations; however, it usually leaves reps feeling frazzled, and after the call, they often forget what was even said. Live coaching’s inability to stick is why post-call coaching capabilities in CI software are crucial. That’s where the most substantial returns come from in terms of performance improvement.
The majority of conversation intelligence solutions offer some degree of functionality for one-off post-call coaching: commenting on and sharing calls, and feedback requests. However, only a handful offer a means to provide broader-scale coaching, and only one—ExecVision—uses behavioral science principles to drive rep development through the facilitation of individualized and ongoing coaching.
A key component of a strong coaching program, whether or not it is facilitated with conversation intelligence technology, is that it is repeated over multiple sessions, documented, and measured. Most of the market doesn’t offer these capabilities in any capacity, yet they are a must-have for organizations seeking to create long-term, fully scaled coaching programs that develop reps and impact business outcomes.
The ‘Last Mile’: Going Beyond Dashboards & Analytics
When organizations are solely focused on analytics or high-level conversation insights, they are overlooking the real problem hindering their ability to improve results: the Insights-to-Performance Gap. This Gap is the result of either having the wrong data to understand performance trends, or having the right data, but being unable or unsure of how to apply it to create behavior change. Neither analytics nor coaching alone can create meaningful change at scale. It’s the power of them combined that closes the Gap.
Closing the Insights-to-Performance Gap requires sales leaders to look beyond dashboards which seldom offer more than an overview of what is happening. Going the ‘last mile’ is about identifying the ‘why’ behind sales activity and outcomes, and leveraging that knowledge to modify rep behavior and increase their success.
Conversation intelligence platforms can help you uncover the underlying factors behind your top and bottom performers. Perhaps one rep has tweaked the value proposition so it better resonates within a specific vertical. Another may have a killer opening that gets conversation flowing. A rep who is falling behind may be struggling with shutting down a common objection.
These are great conversation insights, but this knowledge alone isn’t going to change your reps’ behavior. As a manager, you can’t just say, “So-and-so does it this way, and they’re at the top of the leaderboard. Start doing it that way,” and expect results. Sales reps need guidance and consistent coaching which is followed up on and tracked to improve their performance. One coaching session isn’t going to change their behavior for good.
ExecVision’s Coaching Plans were built with adult behavior change in mind and provide a pathway to skill mastery. Sales managers, enablement teams, and trainers can take performance insights that the software surfaces and outline a series of coaching sessions to help a rep build or improve a specific skill or behavior. This capability is powerful for not only assisting reps to become proficient in crucial areas for success, but it also provides a way to track coaching activity and measure its effectiveness.
While it’s clear that conversation intelligence can empower sales leaders to effectively coach and develop their reps on the floor, it can also provide significant benefits in other ways to the rest of the revenue function.
Strategic Benefits of Conversation Intelligence For Revenue Leaders
It’s easy to see the value in deploying conversation intelligence across the frontline sales team, e.g. higher quota attainment, more closed deals, and shorter sales cycles, but there are additional critical benefits that can be derived by revenue teams, including identifying poor customer-product fit during the sales process, hearing the true Voice of the Customer, and, for ExecVision customers, aligning sales leadership to the same best practices, and understanding sales manager effectiveness.
Customer retention is important to any business selling products or services, which is why predicting and mitigating churn is an ongoing battle. While CI technology certainly has a number of use cases across account management and customer success, it can be leveraged to spot churn risks even before the sale is complete. Red flags, such as a prospect misunderstanding specific features and functionality or a rep overpromising on the value their product can deliver, can appear as early as the first sales conversation. By being alerted to these red flags, revenue leaders can identify if reps are selling into poor-fit accounts or if they need to be coached on how to properly position offerings in a way that leaves no ambiguity in prospects’ minds. Smart Alerts in ExecVision can be set up to instantly notify revenue leaders of these poor-fit opportunities, allowing them to intercede when needed and reset prospect expectations, or proactively end the sales process completely.
In addition to preempting possible churn, conversation intelligence technology can also help revenue leaders react more quickly to negative feedback on messaging and pricing, shifts in the market or industry, or fast-breaking competitive plays that would never be surfaced unless they listened to nearly every call. This raw, unfiltered access to the Voice of the Customer enables leaders to be agile with their go-to-market strategies as they are alerted of this intel, which would otherwise only be revealed by lagging indicators such as lost revenue or lower conversion rates.
ExecVision takes the strategic benefits for senior leaders a step further, allowing them to create smoother, more efficient operations within the sales team itself. For example, creating consistency and alignment across the revenue function is a challenge for every leader. It’s incredibly easy for managers to derive their own definitions of a ‘good’ sales conversation which deviates from organizational best practices. This makes it difficult to identify true skill gaps across the entire team because reps with different managers may not develop the same skills and behaviors needed for success. In turn, this can make it hard to evaluate things like talk tracks, new product reactions, and training programs. With ExecVision, it’s easy to regularly calibrate managers on best practices and ensure alignment.
ExecVision also provides unparallelled visibility into coaching activity and effectiveness. With our platform, senior leaders can see aggregate data on which managers are coaching, if they are coaching consistently, and whether or not that coaching is effective. These details help to uncover skill gaps managers themselves may have and provide a way to keep them accountable for their coaching requirements.
CI software gives revenue leaders a unique opportunity to be more successful than ever before. The insights derived through this technology can enhance virtually every function under their purview, creating a better performing, better aligned, and more informed team.
Customer-facing conversations are an incredible resource for any organization, but without a tool like conversation intelligence to mine them, it’s hard to gain value from these assets. Revenue leaders can spend all day trying to gain conversation insights from second-hand accounts or cherry-picking recordings to review, but it’s simply not practical.
And, while CI tools help to solve this challenge, it’s important to realize that the insights they provide aren’t enough to really move the needle on their own. To drive the most business impact, sales leaders need to create meaningful behavior change at scale. In order to do so, leaders have to coach their sales team based on each individual rep’s skill gaps and performance weaknesses. Conversation intelligence technology that can identify these areas and help facilitate targeted and ongoing coaching that is contextual, measurable, and repeated, can be a strategic differentiator for sales leaders, as more and more teams work to overcome the ubiquitous Insights-to-Performance Gap.
Who doesn’t want an unfair advantage against their competitors who continue to rely on revenue reports and high-level dashboards to shape their strategies?
Interested in how ExecVision is helping our clients close 30+% more deals, reduce ramptime, and create more agile sales teams? Check out what our customers have to say.
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in April 2018 and has been completely revamped to reflect advancements in conversation intelligence.