How to Manage Your Sales Team’s Conversation Skills
By defining, documenting, tracking, testing, and coaching conversation tactics, your sales team can rapidly improve.
Good salespeople manage a conversation. Conversations are fluid and dynamic but competent salespeople have a toolkit of tactics they use to manage the conversation to an efficient end. These include following a call structure, devices for building credibility, and effective phrasing.
By defining the elements of a sales conversation and developing a method to track, test, and coach on these areas, an organization can leverage what is often perceived as “talent” when it’s really a practiced discipline.
Let’s start by defining the typical devices used in a sales conversation.
Following a call structure The structure of a conversation may depend on the type of conversation. A cold call will have a different structure than a planned meeting but recognizing that every conversation can and should have a structure will help ensure a desirable outcome.
Most conversations and meetings include a basic structure. The subcategories will vary more depending on whether it is a cold call or a meeting.
Greeting; breaking the ice with some pre-call research; why we’re having this call or meeting
On a meeting, this includes setting the agenda
Discovery questions; gaining attention and interest from the prospect with challenging questions or impactful statements about how you help; qualifying the prospect; other tactics for building value
On a meeting, the agenda will drive this part of the discussion
Restating the challenges; establishing further value relating specifically to the challenges the customer describe; clear next steps
Each part of the conversation has different goals. Some parts are easier to improve. For example, it’s easy to close a call out properly but typically done poorly. I’m amazed how often reps don’t control the next steps. Focusing on that area and improving it can drive significant improvement and it’s not that hard to get better at.
Devices for getting attention, gaining trust, and qualifying These devices are the meat of the conversation and where most of your attention should be focused. These are familiar to every salesperson or leader but aren’t often categorized. Breaking them down into their categories makes it much easier for reps to understand and learn faster.
Getting attention, building credibility:
Describing a common challenge
Referencing how other clients dealt with a challenge
Citing industry trends
Discovering needs, qualifying:
Questions that challenge a customer’s thinking about what they should be doing
A myriad of open-ended questions to get the customer sharing their needs and identifying if they have a need for what you’re selling
Mirroring a prospect’s language
Restating what the prospect said
Phrasing Phrasing is an area that’s fun to study. I keep a log of the great phrases I’ve heard salespeople use. On a recent Call Camp, I heard a rep use, “the reason we exist is….” in describing how they help their customers. It was a nice phrase to describe their businesIt s.
It appears many companies draw on Simon Sinek’s concept that people, “don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” as I've heard this phrase resonate, “we believe our customers should….”
Phrases like that do need to be backed by the company actually standing for something but when it does, create phrases that articulate the meaning.
There are lighter phrases, too, that sometimes work wonders.
In an email to a customer that had gone dark, Steve Richard used the phrase, “I heard that you were close to moving forward with ExecVision but something stopped you.” The target of this email sent it to me and pointed out how that line alone got his attention and he took another meeting.
I’ve personally found great results with Chris Voss’s recommendation to phrase questions where “no” means “yes.” For example, “Would it be ridiculous to think you’d jump on a call for 30 minutes this Thursday?”
Listen for effective phrases and document them.
Now let's develop a method for managing and learning this information.
Outline the categories you’ll focus on.
Have a recognized call structure. At least:
This makes it easy to build tactics for each part.
Label the devices you use and add some typical phrasing your reps use. For example:
Greetings (“what did I catch you in the middle of?”)
Opening statements (“The reason for my call is…”)
Shared challenges (“As you’re familiar with, most sales teams’ conversion rates are below 3.5%....”)
Pre-call research (“In your blog post last week you mentioned….”)
Pain point 1 (“What methods do your SDRs use to handle objectives?”)
Pain point 2 (“Tell me a little about your team’s sales process?”)
Challenging statements and questions ("Companies that have a culture of coaching have lower turnover and happier reps. What kind of turnover do you experience?"
Qualifying questions ("What's your role in hiring third party services?"
Restated the customer challenge
Verified email address
Direct phone number
Track and learn from what your reps do:
Record calls, study, and learn from them. Use conversation intelligence software that enables this. ExecVision is my personal favorite.is my personal favorite. Most phone systems and conference tech, like Zoom and GoToMeeting allow recording. Do that at a minimum and manually study the calls. Whatever you do, start by:
Breaking the calls and meetings down by the above devices you’ve established
Analyzing their effectiveness with real prospects!
Building a library with which to train and coach
Develop new phrasing and tactics
Ask reps to try them out
Listen to the calls and study the outcomes
Cross reference against CRM data to determine true effectiveness in successful deals
Coach, learn, improve
Build all of this into training and coaching materials
Create written and audio materials with real examples
Have the reps coach their own calls and label parts of the calls to the categories and devices you’ve established. This truly allows you to scale. When reps coach their own calls they really study themselves with a new level of interest and discipline.
Coach calls and focus on the devices and phrasing
Develop a scorecard that aligns with your devices
Make the scorecard part of the performance review
Create incentives to innovate on your established devices.
I.e. Best new phrase for describing a shared challenge
By breaking down the conversations that sell we can take the mystery out of what is effective.
Creating a system for tracking, learning, coaching and improving these in-call tactics will help your team rapidly improve. It will help new reps get better faster and seasoned reps take it to the next level. All-too-often this is a black box. Open that black box and manage it and you’ll not be delighted with the results