“They loved the presentation! They cherished me! They can hardly wait to get started!”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard these sorts of exclamations from reps throughout my career … and how often I’ve instantly written off the deal as a result. If you’ve been into sales, you can relate – you come out of a presentation riding a high thinking that you smashed it. In any case, this prompts emotions driving forecasts rather than logic.

A new study confirms that “happy ears” in sales isn’t just some critical expression that experienced sales veterans hurl around to jab fun at new sales reps. It’s actually a real phenomenon, now backed by data.

Happy ears in sales happen when salesmen “hear what they want to hear.” The data outlines that when buyers react to your sales introduction very excitedly (with very few objections raised), in reality, they are less likely to buy.

Measuring the sentiment of 20,858 sales calls.

Gong.io published data after studying sales calls with their AI-powered conversation intelligence platform to figure out what works (and what doesn’t) in sales conversations.

Their data science team measured something we call “sentiment.” They analyzed 20,858 transcribed B2B sales call recordings against a sales-specific dictionary, ranking every word, sentence, and overall conversation with one of the following “sentiment scores” ranging from Very Negative at minus-two up to Very Positive at plus-two.

All of the calls were transcribed and speaker separated to differentiate between the salesperson and the prospect, then tied to their CRM records so they could analyze this data against the outcome of the deal.

“Tire Kickers” use more positive language than genuine buyers.

It turned out, lost deals actually had a 12.8 percent higher sentiment score (in other words, the buyer uses more positive and less negative language, generating an overall higher “score) than closed-won deals, across all calls that span the sales cycle. Said another way, when buyers express concerns, objections or otherwise “negative” conversation topics, it could be a positive signal for the deal.

Closed-won deals, by contrast, have lower sentiment scores and more overall objections and concerns raised throughout the sales cycle. They also found that positive sentiment levels gradually but consistently decline as a deal progresses through each opportunity stage, drawing closer to the finish line. In other words, as the buyer approached the final decision, they seemed less enthusiastic and positive.

Notice that there is really an increase in sentiment from the first to second deal stage (conceivably showing that a presentation is conveyed in the second stage, generating the buyer’s underlying enthusiasm).

All the more significantly: see the sharp drop in positive sentiment amid the final phase of the sales cycle, where the buyer and seller might be verbally wrestling with each other to go to a win/win understanding. On the opposite side of the same coin, as deals advance towards a conclusion, buyers will more often express negative language and assumption. The nearer you get to make it all work out, the “grouchier” your buyer may come across. It’s important to not see this as a bad thing.

What to conclude from the data?

There are two significant takeaways every sales professional should conclude from this data.

To start with, if a buyer is communicating only enthusiasm for your proposal, it is an indication that you’re avoiding asking the tough questions. In these cases, you have to assume the liability of actively surfacing the reservations, concerns and obstacles your prospect has that they’ve neglected to impart on their own. Be the one to get them out in the open, if your buyer doesn’t express them without provoking. In the event that they stay caught in the buyer’s head, they’ll stay unaddressed, acting as a silent landmine for your deal.

Second, observe that genuine buyers turn out to be more concerned – not more enthusiastic – as you lead them through the sales cycle toward a deal. This is a call for initiative, not concern. A sales beginner will draw back notwithstanding this reaction with shaken confidence, uncertain of what to do. A sales expert will consider this to be his or her chance to help the buyer through their final emotional obstacle by using compassion, leadership, and listening abilities.

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