Listen Up: How to Improve Sales Presentations with Call Listening

Sales VPs, managers, and reps alike can agree that setting up demos with high quality prospects requires a great deal of discipline, persistence, and often patience. As a former inside sales rep at an enterprise SaaS company, I know from experience that it can take months of calling, dodging gatekeepers, voicemails, creative emails, organization, and diligent follow up simply to land a first demo. Given the amount of work all of this scheduling requires, it is crucial that the presentation is as effective as possible in order to increase hit rates and validate the hard work and time that goes into scheduling a pitch.

Within sales organizations, there is often a great deal of importance placed on metrics such as call volume, email volume, and appointments scheduled per day. These metrics matter (a lot) and correlate heavily with the health of a rep’s sales pipeline. However, while these quantitative reports are essential for feedback and performance analysis, qualitative measurement — analysis that helps to determine the quality of demos and conversations — is equally important and requires attention. One of the best ways to take a systematic approach to this type of analysis is to record important conversations and have reps and managers review them together, simply by listening.

How to conduct call listening and analysis:

Good news — the equipment necessary for recording calls is easy to find online and inexpensive! You can purchase a recording device that attaches to a land line for around $50 on Amazon. These devices come with a USB connector that allows you to download audio files you’ve recorded from your phone onto your PC or Mac as well as an attachment that plugs the recorder into your landline to record phone conversations. Recorders sometimes come with software, which you can toss or ignore, as most computers come with programs to download and play audio files (ex: iTunes).

Pick an important demo to record – it’s a good idea to do a test run with the recorder in advance to make sure everything’s working. Once the call is recorded and the file is downloaded, a rep and his/her manager should block off an hour or so to review the call together. The process can be painstaking, as no one likes to listen to his or her phone voice, so it might be a good idea to schedule some time at the end of the day when both parties can relax and enjoy a beer or a coffee together while going through the call to make the process a little more enjoyable.

Things to look for:

Odd verbal ticks: Listening to an entire call quickly highlights the” ums,” “ehs,” and “mms” that sneak into conversation. This exercise is a great opportunity to hone in on these verbal ticks and resolve to phase them out going forward. The same applies for overused or salesy words (ex: awesome, fantastic, solution, “your company”, etc), and nervous laughter. Communication is the most important tool a sales rep has, so a good rep should constantly strive to improve the way in which she presents herself in conversation.

Tone: It is important for a rep to recognize if she needs to work on her tone. Listening to a call can help identify a need for better executive presence, for example. Additionally, it helps to identify if a rep is coming across as pushy or salesy with a prospect.

Questions/interruption: Is the rep the one talking for the majority of a call? If so, the prospect is likely neither engaged nor interested in the presentation. The conversation should be a dialogue rather than a show and tell, with the rep asking qualifying questions and coaxing pain points out of the customer rather than steamrolling him with a sales presentation. Listening to a call is also a great way for a rep to identify and subsequently work on any interrupting habits she may have. Another important takeaway is the quality of the dialogue as a metric of how much value was built during the demo.

Closing questions:Gaging the prospect’s interest in a purchase and subsequently determining next steps is pivotal, and listening to closing questions from a real demo and getting constructive feedback is one of the best ways a rep can improve the closing process. Because this part of a demo can be uncomfortable for some reps, it is important to spend time formulating specific feedback to take away from the end of a call.

While sometimes a painful exercise, call listening is a great way for managers to give meaningful feedback and for reps to perfect their demos with the goal of converting more pitches into sales.

Do you have experience with recording and analyzing reps’ sales calls? What else should managers look for and focus on?

MA Candidate- Department of Nutrition and Food Studies
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