“There’s no I in Closer” - How Top Performing Sales Reps use Language to Close More Deals


Analysis for this post was performed by Rafael Cohen (PhD), Romain Ammar, and Micha Breakstone (PhD)

Top performing Account Executives have many different qualities that make them successful. In previous posts we discussed listening to the customer, asking the right questions during discovery and the right way for setting up next steps.

This time we analyzed over 500,000 sales conversations to uncover the difference in language and vocabulary usage between top performers and their peers. We started out with a few questions in mind:

  • Is there a difference in the choice of words for top performers and low performers? (Yes!)
  • Do top performers speak with more confidence? (Yes!)
  • Do top performers have a richer vocabulary? (Yes!)
  • Are top performers better at mirroring the prospects’ choice of words, making sure to use familiar terms? (No, there doesn't seem to be a significant difference)

Let’s dig in to the findings. 

Top Performers use “we”, Low Performers use “I” and “you”

Our analysis uncovered a striking phenomenon: top performers were more likely to use “we” when describing their work with prospects vs. low performers who tend to use “you” and “I”. This phenomenon was extremely pronounced with the top reps being up to 10 times more likely to user collaborative language than low performing reps. A few examples follow.

Collaborative language:

  • “[...] the most specific question here was on how we implement the site...”
  • “[...] to do that then we would upload it and look at the results together…”
  • “I think this may be a great opportunity to show how we could automate the process.”
  • “The great, greatest value right now is particularly [… ] so we may want to look at the report together…”

Factional language:

  • “Well you know, um, I was just saying to join, I was like I was trying to solve this for you... ”
  • “What I can suggest you do is try to change the process on your side...”
  • You could log out before I go over your example...”

How did we arrive at these results? we searched for different usage patterns of the most common 2-word phrases (e.g. “how are”, “it is”). If there were no difference in language usage we would expect such phrases to be just as common for top performers as they are for low performers. However, what we found instead is that phrases that include the word “we” in the collaborative sense were much more common for top performers. On the other hand, phrases that include the words “I” or “you” were much more common for low performers than for top performers. See the graph below.

Bottom line: top performers use inclusive and collaborative language when describing their teams and their relationship with the customers, whereas low performers are more factional, separating themselves from their prospects and de-emphasizing empathy.

1 - Top v Low.png

Confidence-Inspiring Vocabulary

Another hypothesis we wanted to test with our data was the confidence of assertions made by reps (e.g. “our product can definitely solve this” is better than “our product might be able to solve this”).

We found that top performers use words such as “definitely”, “absolutely” or “certainly” in 1 out of 10 sentences. Low performers, on the other hand, demonstrate such confidence only in 1 out of 50 sentences.

What does that sound like? Here’s an example of confidence when overcoming an objection about the pricing or payment:

"... We could definitely come up with some sort of creative payment terms in terms of bi-annually or quarterly or, or something that will that will work for you guys. We can absolutely do this, um, depending on what your needs are."

Another example from our own calls where a rep is establishing Chorus’s ability to join online meeting rooms:

“Yeah absolutely so we actually have seamless integrations with all the Saleslofts and Outreaches of the world so, um, yeah exactly right.”

We found this language typical of reps responding to objections or questions with creative solutions and driving their point as they walk the prospect through a solution. The difference between top performers and low performers is presented in the graph below. 

2 - certainty.png

Vocabulary Richness

To measure the vocabulary richness of a given sales rep we randomly chose 10 hours of each person’s calls and counted the number of distinct words that appeared more than once. Importantly this does not measure how much information is conveyed but rather how eloquently the rep spoke, i.e. how rich his or her vocabulary is.

We discovered that low performers had smaller vocabularies, using only 2,500 words on average during 10 hours of talk, while the top performers had much larger vocabularies, reaching around 4,000 words or more. See below graph.

To better understand this we looked at the words that low performers were missing in comparison to the top performers in the same company. The missing words were part of the company’s sales vernacular and were related to their products and offerings, i.e. part of the in-depth knowledge of a specific product that new sales reps always have to learn.

In other words not only were low performing reps pitching less eloquently, but in fact they were missing critical vernacular related to the the product they were selling.

3 - vocab richness.png

Summary & Conclusions

Comparison of the words and expressions used by top performers and low performers shows a real difference between the groups. Some of it is related to sales craft: preferring the use of “we” over “I” and “you” when describing the sales process and next steps, as well as being able to resolve objections in a convincing and confidence-inspiring manner. We also tested the hypothesis that a critical part of sales craft is the ability to mirror the prospect’s words, but we found no significant evidence for this.

A second difference lies in mastering the vernacular of the relevant vertical and product, and using this vernacular accurately in the sales process.

Our analysis of the language patterns employed by top performing reps is an ongoing endeavor, and in future posts we plan on sharing some more exciting findings that distinguish top-performing reps from their peers.


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