174: The Science Behind Successful Sales Calls

Episode 174 June 27, 2024 00:27:41
174: The Science Behind Successful Sales Calls
B2B Revenue Acceleration
174: The Science Behind Successful Sales Calls

Jun 27 2024 | 00:27:41

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Show Notes

What if the key to boosting your sales success lies not in what you say, but in how you say it?

In this episode of B2B Revenue Acceleration, host Aurelien Mottier sits down with Bitty Balducci, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Washington State University, to delve into the science behind successful sales calls.

Drawing from her recent study that analyzed 40,000 memoryBlue outbound sales calls, Bitty shares groundbreaking insights into how the nuances of voice can enhance prospecting outcomes.

Join us as Bitty reveals the critical factors that distinguish successful sales calls, such as the concept of "future focus" and the importance of pitch fluctuation. Learn how SDRs can fine-tune their vocal delivery, from adjusting speaking speed to mastering the art of listening more effectively.

Whether you're a seasoned sales professional or just starting in the field, this episode is packed with actionable strategies that can help you elevate your sales game. Listen in to discover how to harness the power of your voice and transform your sales calls into successful conversations.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:01] Speaker A: You're listening to b two B revenue acceleration, a podcast dedicated to helping software executives stay on the cutting edge of sales and marketing in their industry. Let's get into the show. [00:00:11] Speaker B: Hi, welcome to b two B revenue acceleration. My name is Aurelia Metier, and I'm here today with Bt Balducci, assistant professor of marketing at Washington State University. How we doing today, Biti? [00:00:24] Speaker C: I'm doing great. Thank you so much for having me on. [00:00:27] Speaker B: That's an absolute pleasure. Real pleasure. I'm actually really much looking forward to the conversation today, as we discussed just prior to the record to pressing record. So today we will be talking about the science behind successful sales call. But before we get going, would you mind just giving our audience a little bit of background about yourself and the type of work that you are doing as assistant professor of marketing at Washington State University? [00:00:52] Speaker C: Absolutely. So my job as an assistant professor is twofold. One of the aspects of my job, about half of it, is what a lot of people think of when they think of professors. [00:01:04] Speaker B: Right? [00:01:04] Speaker C: So I teach specifically, half of my job involves teaching within the center for Professional Sales at Washington State University. So I teach one class, which is an introductory to sales that really, in many cases, is students first exposure to sales ever. It's open to all majors, and my goal is to get them excited about sales as a career and open their mind to the possibilities that it might have. I also teach a sales management class, which is more geared towards students who are pursuing the professional sales certificate. And that kind of zooms out and demonstrates, when they are sales managers, how can they motivate their sales team? How can they organize more effectively? What are good incentive programs? So that's half of my job is that teaching component, but then the other half is research. So I'm a tenure track faculty member, so half of my job is to conduct research, and my focus and my research is on prospecting calls. So that's kind of me in a nutshell. [00:02:09] Speaker B: And what's your background? I mean, have you been. Have you been selling yourself? Have you been on the ground also doing that? Or is it something that you is more theory part that led you to where you are now? [00:02:23] Speaker C: I did nonprofit sales for years before I got into academia, so I had a lot of exposure with it and then kind of decided to take the academic route. So I would say it's both applied and theoretical. [00:02:37] Speaker B: It's pretty cool. So let's talk about the research that you've done, because that's what I'm really excited about. So you recently conducted a study into how salespeople use voice to enhance prospecting call outcomes. Okay, you've analyzed 40,000 memory blue outbound sales calls. That's a lot of calls to get to the bottom of your research. So could you start by giving us a little bit more insight into the study and what inspired you to explore voice usage in cell prospecting calls? [00:03:08] Speaker C: Sure. So I'll start with your final question. What inspired me? So I actually, like I mentioned before, I was in sales beforehand, before my academic career. And I, like many salespeople did prospecting. It was something that I kind of carved out every week to do prospecting calls so that I could set up my meetings for the following weeks, month, etcetera. And it really struck me that some of the people were saying yes to my request to meet, and a lot of people were saying no. So it made me wonder what I could do with the tools in my toolbox to enhance the likelihood that they would say that yes that I so desperately wanted. And really all I had in that moment on these prospecting calls was the words that I used and how I said them. So that actually inspired me to pursue a PhD in the first place. And that was the topic of my dissertation, and it's my research focus to this day. That really is what inspired me to start looking into this just firsthand experience. Like, what is going on in these calls? I was so curious and have been very fortunate to investigate them more closely as part of my career. [00:04:27] Speaker B: Well, it's just giving us a little bit more insight around the study. And I think we can link that also with the methodology that you've used, because I think it's important to talk about the methodology. But. And how you went about. It's a lot of calls, right. Obviously, some are very short, some of them will be longer conversation. It'd be good to discuss about some of the high level insights, but also the methodology that you used to get there. [00:04:52] Speaker C: Absolutely. So, as you mentioned, 40,000 calls. That's a lot of calls. And it's not something that is feasible to do manually. And on top of that, one of the goals is to create an automated pipeline so that companies such as memory blue can conduct this analysis in real time. And so hopefully, you know, you don't have to wait for someone like me to come along and do all this work. But we have. I work with a team out of the University of Missouri, which is my alma mater. And they're fantastic. They are based out of the computer science department. And what we did was we analyze these calls in multiple components. So, as I alluded to before, really, in these prospecting calls, all sdrs have are the words that they use, the linguistic information that they have, and how they use them. And so that involves two components of analysis. The first, of course, is what is being said, the linguistic content. Now, it's really exciting that AI has developed as rapidly and as effectively as it has in the recent past, even in the last year. And OpenAI has a program called Whisper, which conducts a transcription of live audiences audio conversations very effectively. Well over 98% effectiveness of conversations in real. You know, it can do it automatically. So we had OpenAI's whisper transcribe all of these calls for us to extract the linguistic components, and then we had to extract the acoustic components as well. Now, there are some automated methods to extract things such as affect, which is essentially how positive or negative someone might be. Call me skeptical. I like to know the exact cues that are going into that, because a lot of that is proprietary software that doesn't tell you, you know, it's really hard to implement, you know, tele to be, have more affect. [00:06:55] Speaker B: Right. [00:06:56] Speaker C: It's like, well, what does that actually mean? So rather than using a, you know, cookie cutter software, I use a program called Pratt, which is very, very well established in psychology, communication, neuropsych, you name it. It's a phonetic and acoustic software that enables you to extract specific acoustic cues. [00:07:16] Speaker B: How do you call the software that you are using for the cues? [00:07:19] Speaker C: Yeah. P r a a t. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Super, super well known in many disciplines. And once again, why I like it is because you can extract cues very, very specifically, and you can even adjust things not to get into the weeds too much, but if you have, you can adjust the extraction parameters to get the most accurate outcome as possible. So that is what I used for the acoustic component. And as you might be wondering. Okay, we got the verbal, we got the vocal. How do you merge the two? Well, because it's important to know not only what is said, but how it is said. And so the team created a custom program that will match the segment of conversation which I call a speaking turn from an all speaking turn is someone's uninterrupted speech. So whether it be the SDR, the customer, etcetera, and it matches that turn, which is to the millisecond with the acoustic cues that correspond with it. And that enables me to look at calls in a very nuanced way so that I can see within a given speaking turn not only what the SDR is, saying, but how they're saying it. So that's the overall process. As you can imagine, there's a lot of debugging that goes into it to ensure accuracy. But those are the general procedures. [00:08:53] Speaker B: It must have taken you a fair few hours to do all that. And. Yeah, but debugging, that's fascinating. I want to speak about future focus because this is something that you found in your study. I think the exact number was 40.17% of SDK. We exhibit that future focus have more chance to have a successful outcome to their goals. So I would like you to tell us about what you mean by future focus, how you've seen it being successful in the school that you've studied as well. [00:09:25] Speaker C: Yeah. So future focus really is just the SDR's, what, you know, academics might refer to as a time orientation. And so one can easily imagine how any verb pretty much could be in the past, present or future tense. And so really what that is showing, what my results have found is that sdrs who use more of that future orientation with their words, so they're going to do something, or they will do something that tends to be more associated with successful calls. And when I look into this a little bit further and examine it, what that means to me is that what matters most to the customer in these calls is what the company can do for them. Not focusing so much on what they have done in the past or what they're currently doing, really demonstrating the benefits that the company can offer to the customer firm should they go forward with the meeting. And additionally, what it signals to me is that it's important for sdrs to communicate what they're going to do for the buyer. So really highlighting that. So that's kind of at the heart of what I found with that aspect. [00:10:37] Speaker B: Yeah. So being relatively direct and prescriptive around what you want from the goals, the outcome, and speaking about it in the future, it's likely to happen technically, really taking the control. So sdrs would take a better control of the code, have a better chance to have a positive outcome, which makes perfect sense, by the way. [00:10:53] Speaker C: Sure. Yeah. [00:10:54] Speaker B: Yeah. There is another thing that you picked up. It's a little bit more technical around the pitch fluctuation. [00:10:59] Speaker C: Right. [00:11:00] Speaker B: So, again, I probably would want you to explain to audience what pitch fluctuation is. You've seen pretty much a 20% increase in pitch fluctuation in the customer, and you associate this as also a successful outcome. So can you tell us a little bit more around what it means? And also, how can SDR BDR, pick up on those cues on pitch fluctuation and adapt to it in life situations. [00:11:24] Speaker C: Great. So first, looking at what is pitch fluctuation? Basically, that is what academics would refer to as intonation. And for layman's terms, a lack of pitch fluctuation is what we would call monotone voice. So if I speak and I'm not adjusting my pitch very much, you know, that would be a monotone voice, right. If you think of, like, robots, for example, they have, like, zero pitch fluctuation. So that is what the pitch fluctuation means. So if a customer has low pitch fluctuation, that's essentially a negative signal. And that makes a lot of sense conceptually, because what pitch fluctuation entails and what that displays is something called conversational involvement. So if the customer is expressing a lot of conversational involvement through that pitch fluctuation, that's the sign that the SDR is hitting on the right target. Whatever they're saying is resonating with the customer. Now, alternatively, if they are hearing the customer respond in a more monotone voice, that is something that is maybe a signal that they need to switch something up. Whatever they're saying is not hitting right with the buyer. Maybe it doesn't apply to them or, you know, it's unclear, but whatever they're doing is not working. And as far as how to figure out if the buyer is speaking with more or less pitch fluctuation, which, once again, is a more monotone or less monotone voice, this is a perfect example of why I use Pratt rather than some custom software that, you know, will just spit out. Oh, yeah, just more conversations. Conversational involvement. What does that mean? Well, I can tell them exactly that a more monotone voice means that the buyer is less interested. And that's something that is pretty easy for humans in general to pick up on. Now, that might take a little bit of training to decipher, but I think it's something that's very doable to figure out whether or not that buyer is engaged based on how much they're fluctuating their pitch. [00:13:34] Speaker B: Yeah, I think it's good, because if you realize that someone is not engaged, you can use, there's a few techniques that can be used, like to create a little bit of an electroshock and then try to bring them back, or just simply tell them so you don't seem to be too interested. Am I just not barking at the right tree and take the culture of the conversation? I want to move on. Still on kind of the speech and not fluctuation, but more on the speed. Okay, I would like you to tell us what you found about speeds. People who are speaking quickly in the sales process, people who are speaking slowly, but also that sort of reciprocity on matching the prospect. So how do you adapt in flight to the prospect and what you've seen working better from a speech speed perspective? [00:14:21] Speaker C: Exactly. So you were referring to speech rate, which I think a lot of people, you know, they conceptually just understand. So that's just the fastness or slowness of speed of speech. So I could speak very quickly. I could speak very slowly. And what my findings were was that rather than, hey, it's always better to speak quickly, or it's always better to speak slowly. As an SDR, really, SDR should pay attention to how quickly or slowly the customer is speaking and try to speak a little bit faster than them. And really what that means is meeting the customer where they're at. Some customers, maybe it's just, you know, they're constricted with their time. Some. Maybe it's just their nature and how they speak. Right. But they could be speaking more quickly or more slowly, and it's important to meet that customer where they're at. So that was one of my, my key takeaways as well. And I think it's important to keep that in mind. You know, rather, if you hear someone speaking very quickly, you know, pick up the pace, and if you hear someone speaking slowly, try to meet them where they're at. [00:15:25] Speaker B: That's very interesting. And about the length of the call, it seems that in the research as well, you've seen that the more successful call are a little bit longer, which I think kind of makes sense because you have more to discuss. But what's interesting is that you're saying that the color longer, but the SDR not taking more, they're not taking longer. So it's more on the prospect side. So it's the prospect sharing more about themselves. So I want to touch on that because it's probably the importance of listening and asking the right question to prospects. But I don't know if you could put a little bit more color in terms of what you found on that sort of length of call versus prospect opening and etc. Etcetera. [00:16:05] Speaker C: Sure. So what I found was basically kind of, as you said, like the calls in terms of length vary based on if they're successful or not for the reasons that you recommend that you suggested, that there's just a lot more to discuss in successful calls, such as when is this meeting going to take place, etcetera. However, one thing that I noticed was that in both the successful and unsuccessful calls, the SDR is speaking about 65% of the time, regardless of if that call is successful or not. Now, you guys had a really great article on LinkedIn recently about the importance of listening, and I couldn't agree more. I think that listening is incredibly important. If you are not adapting in real time to what the customer is telling you, that's going to be a big problem. But what this shows me in terms of the amount of time that the SDR speaking not fluctuating, it was literally less than 1% difference between successful and unsuccessful calls. You kind of mentioned the need of driving the conversation of the SDR, and I think that is exactly right. I mean, SDRs are catching customers in the middle of their workday. They're doing many tasks and they need to make the most of that time. So they still have to drive that conversation. But my guess would be looking into the data closer, which I hope to do, would be that when they are speaking, they're using a lot more cues that indicate that they are listening to the buyer. So although the timeframe in which they're speaking is about the same, I would guess that we would see a lot more things, like parroting, for example, repeating what the buyer is saying, restating, rephrasing, asking follow up questions based on what the buyer said. So in my mind, this shows that the timeframe is going to be about the same, but what you do with it is what really matters. And I look forward to examining that in further detail. [00:18:00] Speaker B: Yeah, you're right. It does make sense. It's about asking the right question, and a prospect that will naturally speak more and open more is more likely to have a more successful outcome. Active listening is very important. I think it's the art of asking the right question as well. You know, open ended question, but that are not too pompous or not the usual one, which is really important. You also found something about politeness and being over polite with prospect. It's actually not really working, is it? [00:18:29] Speaker C: Yes, that is something that I found very interesting at first, but then when I gave it a little bit more consideration, I think it makes sense. And I think it really comes down to the nature of prospecting calls. Right. As I mentioned before, the SDRs don't have any relationship with that customer. They're calling them in the middle of their workday. They probably have a lot on their plate. I've had the pleasure of listening to hundreds of these calls at this point. And so I know that that's one of the biggest things that the customer say, hey, I'm really busy right now. Right. And so, you know, things like politeness, which would be very important in social interactions, right, between people just meeting each other on a friendship level or even as like a cordial colleague type thing, they don't apply as much in this SDR context. And that just really has to do with the cold and constrained nature of the call and the interaction itself. Now, this doesn't by any means mean to be rude to the buyer, right? Like, I would discourage that. But it just goes to show that politeness only goes so far. And it's really, I would basically recommend that SDRs focus more on things like that future focus rather than emphasize being polite to the buyer. [00:19:45] Speaker B: Of course, it can be quite annoying when someone is over polite or call you, so show you almost too much respect. And in a way, it's just okay to. I do get a lot of calls and I do like people who tell me very quickly, why me? Why now? And if I realize that someone has not done their research or it's not prescriptive in terms of what they want, or they are trying to force me into something that they want, but I may not want, then that's why. That's why you will lose me as a crowd. But I agree with you. I think people over. I agree with the finding. I think people were polite with too much long sentences and things like that can be quite annoying when you just want to get to the bottom of it and say, okay, what are we doing? Interrupting my day. Right. So. So that makes perfect sense. Is there any finding that you would like to share with our audience that have not asked you question around? Like anything that you also find is interesting and you think would be, would be because I know there is a few things and then you are not done yet. We are talking before recording about potentially doing more and more. Like scratching the surface is only what we've done at the moment. [00:20:46] Speaker C: Yes. [00:20:47] Speaker B: Is there anything else that you would like to exchange at. [00:20:51] Speaker C: So what I want to leave you with, I guess, is where I hope to go with this. So there is so much to explore because I truly believe that within even an individual conversation, there is an incredible amount of nuance. And the conversion rate of prospecting calls is low in general. I mean, honestly, memory blue has an incredibly high rate based on what I've seen, seen working with other companies. But still, if you can move the needle, even a couple percentage points, that's huge. And so one of the things I want to look at that you kind of alluded to before, you were talking about someone calling you sir. Right. When I interviewed sdrs in the Seattle office, the Seattle office was very kind and invited me in for multiple days so that I could observe them and ask them questions. And they talked about essentially matching the formality of the buyer. And so that's something I want to look at as well. So is it better to, you know, if the buyer comes off as more formal, maybe they are giving you some kind of clues and indication that they're a no nonsense type person. Does it help to adapt to that versus if someone is more like, you know, hey, man, what's up? Is it better to reduce that formality? So lots and lots of things that I want to examine, including things like pausing after questions so I could go on and on, but there's, there's a lot more detail to uncover in these. [00:22:20] Speaker B: Calls, I think the power of silence as well. I mean, I was thinking when you are talking about giving options to prospective, so, you know, do you want to give them one options, two options, three options? If you want to meet with them, do you want to give them two dates? Do you want to give them three dates? There's lots of things that from a psychology perspective, people will respond to differently. There is a lot to explore. Now, if we want to summarize a little bit, you know, could you help us to summarize for all the SDR manager that may listening to us, the sales leader listening to us, or other people who are actually doing some prospecting themselves right now, either being an account executive or an SDR themselves, can we just come back and summarize the actionable things that we can day to day basis? So I think we had matching the pace but a little bit on the prospect, better outcome. We spoke about the future projection, your focus, sorry. Which is being relatively prescriptive, speaking about the future, what do you want to go fluctuation. If you realize that your prospect is not really a bit in the way they are speaking? It's kind of speaking French. You know, French doesn't have like English or American. You don't have the stony t or you just go up and down. Is very relatively flat. But I guess for us is the speed. But so you want to potentially either shock the prospect a little bit or interrupt the conversation or do something to try to regain control. Is there anything else that you would say that study, that initial studies would be an actionable item that you would like to share with audience a more actionable item that you would like to share with our audience. [00:23:59] Speaker C: Yeah. So one of the things would just be avoid use of words that have negative emotional connotation. So, yeah, I mean, these are things like, you know, bad, dislike, like whatever, not good stuff like that. That was something that I found in my findings as well. And I know that one question that came up was, oh, does this pertain specifically to the opening of the call? You know, did I catch you at a bad time versus a good time? And when I examine this further, the answer is no, it doesn't have to do with that at all. What it has to do is expression of emotional valence, as it's called, positive negative, throughout the call. So try to be more positive. If there's a way to spin it in a positive fashion, do that, because that is something that I found in my results as well, is that the successful calls were more positive. They didn't have as many negative emotional language. So, I mean, besides that, I think you did a fantastic job of summarizing. [00:24:59] Speaker B: Yes. Good. Well, look, I'm very exciting about the future. I think there is lots of things that we can do together, and I'm looking forward to sharing even more data to get more insight. I think that's super useful. I mean, we, we should package this, and then I think the, the podcast today is really the first time we're gonna speak bitty, but I hope there will be plenty more. I'm sure you, you will have, you will have to, you know, how long does it take you. How long did it take you to actually get to the. To finalizing the first. From, from, from getting the data set to actually find. Finishing the, the first results? [00:25:35] Speaker C: So, months. So it should go more quickly in the future because we've worked out some of the bugs. However, if you think about it, it's a lot of calls to process, even automatically. And so on the machines that we're running, which are very high capability, it takes weeks, literally over two weeks to process. So if we process and then discover, oh, hey, we need to rerun it to get a more accurate timestamp, for example, we got to do that whole process over again. So I would say it takes a couple months, probably, to get to where we need to go. But the goal is that we have an automated pipeline that we've worked on for the last couple of months. And so the hope is that we can kind of plug and chug from here. It's still going to take a lot of time to do just do the transcriptions just because of the nature of the data and things like that, but should be a lot more speedy moving forward. [00:26:37] Speaker B: That's fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing all that insight with us. Pity, really appreciate you. If anyone wants to connect with you or get in touch, discuss further, what's the best way to get hold of your pity? [00:26:50] Speaker C: Yeah, I would say LinkedIn. You can find me on LinkedIn. Biddy b I t t y balducci b a l l d u c c I find me on LinkedIn. You can also email me directly at my organization, which is biddy balducciovsu.edu. i would welcome any comments, questions, ideas if you especially if you are an SDR or maybe a manager and you have something that you think would be interesting to explore, I would love to hear from you. [00:27:21] Speaker B: That's wonderful. Well, thank you again for coming on the show today. It was an absolute pleasure to speak to you. You. [00:27:26] Speaker C: Thank you so much. [00:27:28] Speaker A: You've been listening to b two b revenue acceleration. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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