“The leads are weak? You’re weak!” Alec Baldwin’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross” rants.
“Sometimes it’s true,” said Amit Bendov, CEO and co-founder of Gong.io. Sometimes salespeople fall short, particularly in the conversations they have with prospects. His comments came in an interview on the Harvard-produced podcast “Cold Call.” Alison Wood Brooks, a Harvard Business School associate professor who studies the psychology of conversation, was also featured on the podcast.
Gong.io is an example of a technological solution that is increasingly being adopted by sales teams globally: artificial intelligence-powered analysis of sales conversations to better understand what top salespeople do.
The technology is called natural language processing or NLP. In addition to Gong.io, Chorus.ai and VoiceVibes from Bigtincan are examples of the software as a service (SaaS). They use AI to analyze sales conversations, including emails and meetings. Detailed reports are produced with metrics on everything from the amount of time each party talks and the impact of the words chosen, to the ratio of questions to statements used by a salesperson. (Generally, questions should outnumber statements.)
The technology also powers the operation of chatbots that provide automated customer service, as well as by marketing teams to enhance SEO, generate high-performance sales copy and monitor brand-building to recommend adjustments to messaging and positioning.
Replicating Effective Sales Communication
AI can help answer the question, what do great salespeople say and do, and can we take their strategies and help other people learn to do those things as well? The technology is not a means to create scripts or make every conversation the same, Wood Brooks emphasized.
She created a course in Harvard’s MBA curriculum called “How to Talk Gooder In Business and In Life.” One of the biggest takeaways from the class and her research, she said, is “that you can learn tactics, you can learn strategies and how to prepare better for a conversation, but it’s not a checklist. The thing that is beautiful about conversation is that it’s serendipitous and unpredictable. Once you’re in it, you have to let it all go.”
Beverlie Heyman, director of sales enablement at Bigtincan, a sales readiness platform, said tools like the company’s VoiceVibes product are the result of sales reps getting away from prepackaged slide deck presentations and turning the focus on presenting the right message in the right way so that it’s tailored to each prospect or buying team. Bigtincan offers VoiceVibes as a stand-alone product or with the suite of sales enablement tools it creates for its customers.
“More people are realizing the importance of tone and articulation and engagement. It’s not just about the message. You can be listening to two people deliver the same message, and one can be boring and monotone and disengaged while the second is more engaging and enthusiastic,” Heyman said in a telephone interview. “We’ve come to the point where we’re equally concerned about keeping the customer inspired throughout the conversation.
Heyman said Bigtincan uses the VoiceVibes tool with its own sales team. Lead generation reps are asked to record their pitch five times and submit the best one. “When you are getting your reps to work five different times on a message before getting in front of a customer, all the better,” she said. Jane Reed, director of life sciences at Linguamatics, which delivers NLP-based AI solutions for life science and health care companies, stated in a blog post that she once believed use of NLP software in her industry was primarily suited to pull out critical information from reports on pharmaceutical research and development. When she dug deeper, she realized it could “bring real productivity gains” to pharmaceutical sales teams.
Reed said NLP can help identify key opinion leaders, which in turn helps structure marketing messages and present the most important information when reps are in front of decision-makers.
“AI — in the shape of NLP — has been proven to bring value to pharma field, medical affairs and sales teams, providing insights and information that can boost communication, understanding and productivity. And, as the volume and variety of real-world data source grows, I am sure that the opportunity for value contributed by AI technologies will grow as well,” she stated.
It’s common for sales reps to be wary of having their customer interactions recorded and analyzed, especially if they are not performing well Wood Brooks points out it’s akin to coaches and athletes watching game film. When reps experience the improved conversations that can result from NLP, it quickly is embraced.
A concern that knowledge of their conversations being recorded will alter the flow is also quickly dispelled, Wood Brooks said. “In practice, you quickly forget you are being recorded. Then, they get this big benefit at the end of the analysis report.”