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    Thinking about “conversational intelligence”

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    Conversational intelligence is increasingly a hot topic, yet too often, it seems it’s more of an oxymoron.

    Just to be clear, for the purposes of this post, I’m talking about the application of AI/ML tools to analyze sales conversations, providing guidance to improve the quality of those conversations.

    We are in the early days of using conversational intelligence tools and understanding how to leverage them. Sadly, I think many of the suppliers of these tools are the one’s that most misunderstand the power and potential of these tools. As a result, they tend to provide guidance that’s not useful.

    We get insights about, “the power of swearing in a conversation,” “don’t ask more then 4 questions in any sales call,” and on and on. If I were to follow this advice, a conversation might look like:

    “How the hell are you?
    “What the f**k are you guys doing to address this problem?”
    “You’ve got to be shitting me, why do you have those impressions of our product?”
    “Damn it, what does it take to earn your business?”

    Apparently, if I do these things and keep the call less than 10 minutes, I have a high probability of winning, at least according to this company’s analysis of millions of minutes of sales conversations.

    We need more than this

    But somehow, it seems conversational intelligence can and should be much more than this.

    Too much of the focus of conversational intelligence is on a single conversation. What words to I use (apparently swear words if your customer swears), what’s the talk/listen ration, what’s the tempo, and so forth.

    I suppose the focus on the single conversation is appropriate if you are engaged in a highly transactional buying/selling process. requiring a small number of calls to close.

    But when we look at complex buying/selling processes, they are characterized by many conversations with many people, usually over a long period of time. Those conversations tend to wander over time (Refer to Gartner’s Spaghetti Chart).

    Somehow, it seems optimizing a single conversation at a single point in time misses the larger opportunity for conversational intelligence and helping the customer in their buying process. It would seem to me, if we could analyze all of the conversations we are having with each customer involved in the buying team, making recommendations, we could create greater value for our customer, and improve our ability to win.

    Stated differently, rather than analyzing individual conversations with each customer, what if we analyzed interrelated conversations across many customers involved in the same buying process? Could we leverage that for higher impact, guiding them through their buying process and designing the highest impact next steps, calls, meetings and who should be involved.

    In this scenario, we would focus less on the words we say and when we say them in the call, but we would focus on conversations. We could design conversations that address the issues most important to the buying team and helping them navigate the buying process. As we plan the next call or meeting, we could use this analysis to structure the agenda and the conversation so we and the customer could accomplish more in the meeting.

    Let's design conversations that address the issues most important to the buying team and helping them navigate the buying process.

    We could leverage the power of this tool to analyze the buying journeys and conversations with buying teams to optimize our ability to work with others customers considering the same issues.

    What about content?

    We can also leverage these conversations to think about our content. We could begin to think about, what content should the sales people be using at what point and with who. We could look at microsites focused on the customer and helping them self educate on their buying journey. We would be able to provide more relevant insight based not just on what they consume (pages they hit on, white papers they download, etc), but we could analyze what they are talking about the questions they are asking and what might be more relevant to them as they move forward.

    We can use these collective analyses of customers navigating their buying process to shape not only our sales and marketing strategies, but perhaps also the supporting business processes or even our product and solution strategies.

    Related to the previous point, too much of conversational intelligence seems isolated, it’s simply about conversations. But what if we integrated the intelligence we gather from conversations, with other customer intelligence, for example propensity to buy analytics? We could, possibly, have much richer conversations, as well as more of the right conversations with the right people, at the right time?

    Let’s go back to those simple, transactional conversations. Too many of the vendors focus on a conversations and getting the sales person to say the right words (I’m waiting for this one vendor to provide an analysis on the use of f**k versus shit), the cadence, the listening talking mix, and so forth. But they don’t seem to provide advice on, are you asking the right questions, are you having the right conversation, are you having the right conversation with the right people, are you giving the most relevant responses to the questions the customer is asking.

    Conversational structure vs content

    Too much of the current conversational intelligence seems to focus on the structure of the conversation and not the content of the conversation (from both the customer and the sales person perspective). I suspect this is the next giant step forward in conversational intelligence.

    Finally, as I look at the application of conversational intelligence to these transactional sales conversations, the biggest challenge is, “do the sales people pay attention and actually implement the recommendations into their conversation?” The sales person is the biggest variable in getting value from conversational intelligence. Regardless the recommendations you provide, if they don’t execute on these recommendations, then the analyses are irrelevant. (This is why I like those suppliers that focus on getting sales managers involved in proactively coaching.)

    But as we look at the ability to the sales person to execute based on the recommendations of the conversational intelligence tools, what if we thought, “How do we eliminate this weakest link?”

    This is actually pretty easy to envision, and, I think, is something that can be resolved in the next couple of years. Voice-bot technologies are getting very good and very difficult to detect. Substituting voice bot technologies for these transactional sales calls could mean 100% compliance, 100% of the time. In fact, if I were the CEO of one of these companies, I would use the millions minutes of calls involving real people to train voice bots to take over. Then, they, ultimately, can displace the jobs of all the sales people they are trying to help. Hmmmm….

    What do you think? How can we better leverage conversational intelligence? What can we do beyond swearing with the customer?

    Article originally published on Apr 10, 2020 on
    Partners in Excellence's blog
    Dave Brock
    Published April 26, 2020
    By Dave Brock

    Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.

    Find out more about Dave Brock on Twitter or LinkedIn

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