Managing the modern-day sales cycle can feel like captaining a ship through stormy seas. Your dream destination: a closed deal. But it’s not going to be so easy. You have a long, complex voyage ahead of you. Also known as “the sales cycle.” So many things can sink your ship along the way. If you hold poorly-navigated sales conversations, prepare for a rough voyage ahead. Every sales conversation you encounter throughout the sales cycle is like an ocean storm — unpredictable and involving multiple buyers with different agendas, interests, and objections. The periods of time between sales conversations are relatively calm (the eye of the storm, if you will) if and only if you conduct your sales conversations effectively. If you’re going to arrive to the promised land and get the deal closed, you have to be able to navigate these stormy sales conversations with skill. Here’s how. How to Hold Better Sales Conversations During the Sales Cycle Every voyage needs a compass to chart an accurate course and navigate through storms along the way. In this case, we used AI-powered call recording to analyze over 1M sales conversations that span 384,923 deals. These sales calls were recorded, transcribed from speech to text, and analyzed with AI. The research shows that sales reps have to weather many storms to get to the promised land, particularly during 3 parts of the sales cycle: Discovery Calls Presentations and Demos Objection Handling Situations Using data from over 1,000,000 B2B sales calls performed via Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other web conferencing platforms, we now know the best practices for holding successful sales conversations throughout each stage of the sales cycle. Let’s start with the first storm you’ll encounter during the sales cycle. The First Storm: Discovery The discovery call is the first storm you’ll encounter on the voyage to the promised land. If you ask the right amount of questions and the right kinds of questions at the right time, you’ll end up with a talk-to-listen ratio like this. Do not sink your ship by asking too few – or too many – questions. There is a direct correlation between the number of questions asked on a discovery call, and our likelihood of eventually closing the deal. But notice there’s also a diminishing return. That also indicates you shouldn’t interrogate your buyer with too many questions. In fact, there is a specific target range to shoot for: 11-14 open-ended discovery questions seems to be the sweet spot. It has the highest success rate. When you ask your questions is equally as important. Ever been on the buying end of a discovery call where you felt like you were being interrogated for information? The most successful salespeople avoid that effect. They evenly distribute their questions throughout the entire call. By contrast, their lower performing counterparts “frontload” their questions to the beginning of the discovery call. It makes the buyer feel like the seller is going through a “checklist” of discovery questions. Instead of frontloading your call with questions, listen to your prospect and ask genuine and relevant questions. The best questions generate the longest responses, which we found correlates with success: A great way to generate longer responses from your questions is by phrasing your questions in a way that encourages the buyer to respond thoroughly: “Can you help me understand…” “Can you walk me through…” “Talk to me about…” When you phrase your questions like this, it signals to your buyer to speak in-depth. In short, the discovery call section can be summed up in three parts: 1. Ask the right NUMBER of questions 2. Ask them at the right TIME 3. Ask the right KIND of questions (questions that get long responses). The Second Storm: Demos and Presentations That brings us to the next “storm” in your journey – demos and presentations. Pro-Tip: The right “flow” for a demo should match what you discussed on the discovery call. Think about a successful demo flow as an upside down pyramid: start with the most important thing first. Your first demo point should be what you discussed most in-depth during discovery, followed by the next most important point, and so forth. What was the most pressing pain point on the buyer’s mind during the discovery call? What piqued their interest the most during that conversation? Start there. Prepare yourself prior to the demo. Emphasize those talking points at the outset of the demo. Example: If a customer spent 8 minutes talking about “coaching,” 6 minutes talking about “onboarding,” and 3 minutes talking about “pipeline management” during the discovery call, then a demo would begin by immediately addressing the “coaching” use case, instead of saving that for the end. The Third Storm: Objections We’re almost to paradise… Objection handling is easily the stormiest of all the storms we’ve discussed so far. Here’s your first tip (maybe it’s more of a warning): Unsuccessful sales reps go on “knee jerk” monologues after receiving an objection. It’s almost as if the objection triggers insecurity, and they start talking in circles. Do not do this. Avoid the monologue and provide specific, succinct responses to each objection. Here’s how: Step one: Take a pause. Studies show that star performers take a lengthy pause and gather their thoughts before responding to an objection. Step two: Be aware of your talking speed and slowww dowwwn. Research reveals that star performers do not accelerate their talking speed while responding to an objection, signaling calmness and thoughtfulness to the prospect as opposed to panic and fear. Finally, respond to objections with questions to clarify the objection, and unearth the root of the concern. It’s how successful salespeople handle objections. In Conclusion: How to Expertly Navigate Your Sales Cycle No matter how seasoned you are every sales professional inevitably faces storms. However, The more sales conversations you have that span your sales cycle, the better sailor you’re going to have to be. And at the end of the day, by navigating your sales conversations successfully, you can create calmer, shorter sales cycles that lead you to paradise — a closed deal.