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Conversation Intelligence: The Ultimate Guide

10 min readMarch 9, 2022

Most sales leaders find themselves in an endless struggle to find time to coach and manage their teams. This leads to stalled deals, missed quota, and slowed growth. If this sounds like you, don’t worry; you’re not alone.

The last generation of conversation intelligence solutions promised a way to fix this, but often fell short in delivering value in many key areas — particularly in terms of saving managers’ time, helping in the moments that reps need it most, and empowering every member of the sales team to improve independently.

But the next generation of conversation intelligence is here.

What is conversation intelligence?

Even analysts have recognized the dramatic shift in conversation intelligence, and have adjusted their definitions accordingly. In the 2021 Forrester Wave for Conversation Intelligence, Forrester defines conversation intelligence solutions as ones that…

1. Drive real-time and post-call outcomes. 

In general, there are two types of conversation intelligence: real-time and post-call. Post-call conversation intelligence provides insights into calls that have already occurred, which is most often used for coaching and deal analysis. Real-time conversation intelligence, on the other hand, provides analysis and guidance while reps are on calls, helping them to improve the outcome of a conversation in real time. Conversation intelligence solutions with both real-time and post-call capabilities are the most valuable.

2. Surface the insights you know, and don’t know, to look for.

In the past, many conversation intelligence solutions for sales and marketing teams only had rudimentary insight capabilities. They would look out for keywords and conversation patterns that they were told to, but they wouldn’t help companies to identify “unknown unknowns.” New conversation intelligence looks holistically at conversations and considers many different factors to not only monitor the things they’re told to, but to surface more nuanced patterns of success (or failure) that would otherwise be overlooked.

3. Align to the sales motion.

Conversation intelligence solutions now help you to understand conversations in the context of dynamic deals, not just as stand-alone calls. B2B deals can be complicated, multistep interactions, and conversation intelligence integrates with other communication sources (such as texting and video calls) to give you the full picture.

Out of these developments in conversation intelligence, the most exciting one by far is the pairing of after-the-fact analysis with in-the-moment guidance. This combination of conversation intelligence capabilities has the power to entirely change the way sales teams operate, since it gives them the ability to:

  • Win with real-time conversation guidance
  • Start selling faster than ever before
  • Minimize easily-preventable mistakes 
  • Test and perfect messaging 
  • Scale coaching like never before

The future belongs to the sales leaders who put their teams first and embrace the new generation of conversation intelligence. To do that, they must understand the value of both post-call and real-time guidance, and pair them together to create a flywheel of success. We’ll spend the rest of this post looking at how this can be achieved.

The Role of Post-Call Conversation Intelligence

Conversation intelligence in the business sphere has historically focused on after-the-fact solutions. These solutions typically offer tools that:

  • Log calls and video meetings 
  • Create transcriptions
  • Provide inbound call tracking
  • Offer logic-based call routing
  • Pull up Salesforce information that’s related to a call
  • Use privacy controls to ensure regulatory compliance 
  • Create libraries of recordings for training
  • Let reps flag conversations to review later with their manager
  • Provide reports of conversation statistics (e.g. talk time, interruptions, keywords)
  • Call and video search and filtering

And if they’re particularly advanced, these solutions may also surface AI-powered insights into what went well or poorly so that reps, managers and coaches can adjust their tactics accordingly.

While all of these features are valuable, they’re just one part of the conversation intelligence equation. They’re designed to work behind the scenes on calls, and then to surface insights after the call has finished. But what about when reps are on calls, and they need immediate support?

The Shift to Real-Time Guidance

Coaches and managers can’t be everywhere at once, which is why there’s been a rising demand for conversation intelligence that offers support during calls. This is compounded by rising customer expectations: They expect a personalized and helpful interaction every time, with no exceptions. In fact, 89% of customers will stop doing business with a company after a single bad experience. Conversation intelligence is evolving to meet those high expectations, because after-the-fact solutions aren’t enough anymore.

Another reason why real-time conversation intelligence is finding favor is that it supports reps actively on calls, so that they can ramp faster and be more confident in their ability to help prospects and customers. This not only helps to manage call and meeting anxiety for reps, but also leads to substantial business gains since reps can generate revenue faster and are less likely to leave their company once they’ve fully ramped.

That’s why we’re so enthusiastic about our patented solution Moments™ and how it offers real-time guidance that keeps reps on track for success. Reps are empowered with a virtual sales assistant that uses AI to bring up useful information during calls — whether that’s notes from previous interactions with a client, content that a prospect would be interested in, or a suggested talk track triggered by objection or competitor keywords. This real-time system for feedback, engagement, coaching and improvement makes the promise of guided selling a reality, and brings conversation intelligence into the future.

With the evolution of conversation intelligence to include real-time capabilities, companies need to start thinking outside the box in terms of what it could do for them. Conversation intelligence is no longer just for creating call libraries or coming up with reactive strategies. It’s a way of ensuring excellent conversations throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

Companies with effective coaching have a conversation intelligence platform.According to original research by Revenue.io, companies where sales coaching is effective are much more likely to have a real-time coaching solution in place.

The Power of the Conversation Intelligence Cycle

the conversation intelligence cycle: Analyzing conversations with post-call analytics > training to address issues or introduce new strategies > real-time reinforcement of training with notifications on calls > Using post-call analytics to confirm results > better call outcomes

Real-time intelligence embraces its full potential when it’s paired with post-call intelligence in the Conversation Intelligence Cycle. To explain how this works, let’s look at an example:

  1. A sales manager realizes that his reps aren’t being as productive as he’d like, so he takes a look at their calls, using post-call intelligence. He quickly spots a trend: the reps who are performing well spend a lot of time listening and reflecting back what their prospects are saying, whereas the lower-performing reps spend a lot of time doing monologues.
  2. The manager sets up a training for these reps to help them practice reflective listening.
  3. He uses real-time intelligence to have Moments™ notify them when they’re talking too much and remind them of reflective listening techniques.
  4. He can then use post-call intelligence reports to ensure that everyone is using the new techniques, and make sure that they’re working by tying them to call outcomes.
  5. The sales manager and his reps can repeat the process with other sales tactics and training use cases.

This allows sales teams (and CX, Support, or any other team who spends a lot of time on calls) to easily test new messaging, quickly roll it out, and iterate based on results.

While our previous example focuses on managers, the Conversation Intelligence Cycle also empowers the reps themselves, since they can use post-call intelligence to check their own behaviors during conversations. They can choose to focus on whatever they like, including their own idiosyncrasies, bad habits, or new skills that they want to reinforce. They can then use real-time guidance to reinforce or remind them of particular actions on calls. This encourages a culture of self-coaching, which is beneficial both for reps’ careers, managers’ goals, and company health as a whole.

The Cost of Failing to Evolve Your Conversation Intelligence

76% of customers now report that it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere — switching from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations.

Salesforce

The market will continue to evolve. New technology will enable new tactics. More terms and acronyms will be dreamt up. Here’s what we know now: the companies that embrace the next evolution of conversation intelligence will win.

It’s natural human behavior to inherently reject change. The fear of the unknown is real. But, as Peter Drucker said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

Companies that don’t embrace the new cycle of conversation intelligence will find themselves fighting an uphill battle. They won’t be able to meet the increasing demands from customers. They will continue to lose deals because of easily-preventable errors. They will be left without the ability to fully understand and improve the customer experience. And worst of all, if their competitors adopt this technology, they will have a considerable competitive edge.

The truth is vision isn’t easy. Many organizations let the opportunities slip through their fingers, only to be caught playing catch-up for the next generation of business. But in this case, we’re going to make it easy for you not to let this one slip through your fingers. We’re going to lay it out for you in the next section.

Embracing the Future to Accelerate Growth

Adjusting the way you coach for this new era of conversation intelligence, just might be one of the most impactful things you can do to help your reps succeed and your company grow. With the right solution in place, you can get insights into what’s working and what’s not on calls, effectively train reps based on those insights, reinforce training in real time, and measure the change. In other words, you can create the flywheel that will make your team unstoppable.

Elements of the New Conversation Intelligence Platform

Call transcription and analysis: The ability to convert calls and video meetings into written words to be stored as plain text in real time. Then, taking those call transcriptions and analyzing them to provide actionable insights into rep performance.

Ongoing insights: The ability to surface insights and analyze conversation trends based on multiple criteria, including those you’ve set (e.g. tracking how often certain words related to competitors come up) and those that are noticed independently and automatically flagged by the conversation intelligence platform itself.

User-friendly design: A simple, intuitive user interface that allows all users (including those who aren’t admins) to easily find the data they want and get deeper insights without undue difficulty or excessive training.

Conversation attribution: The ability to put both voice and video calls in context based on where a prospect came from, including both digital and non-digital sources such as campaigns, in-person events, ads, social media, and so on.

Machine learning capabilities: The ability to evolve insights based on the information from conversations using proprietary machine learning models that allow you to extract key components from a conversation such as questions, call concepts, and behavioral elements.

Intelligent call routing: The ability to route calls based on multiple factors (e.g. location, skillset, territory assignment, search keyword, marketing campaign or marketing channel, distribution preference, availability) so that customers are quickly helped by the rep who is most suited to their needs.

Libraries of recordings: The ability to allow users to listen to and understand call performance more efficiently.

Search call recordings: The ability to quickly and easily search libraries with granular controls and automatic classification to easily find calls, keyword mentions, outcomes, etc.

Call annotations: The ability to create annotations at precise moments on the call to provide clear feedback.

Speaker identification: The ability to identify multiple speakers on a call or video meeting.

Coaching recommendations: The ability to provide insight out of the box with suggested best course of actions based on insights from a call to coach individuals and teams.

Personalized and contextual alerts: The ability to create custom notifications that trigger for your reps in the precise moment they need coaching, leveraging conversation behavior data, CRM data, rep information, engagement data, and the context of a conversation.

Real-time notifications: The ability to trigger notifications in real-time during live calls due to phrases (e.g. when a keyword is mentioned, show a notification with contextual information) or user behaviors (e.g. if a rep hasn’t asked a key discovery question in the first 2 minutes, show a notification reminder).

Sentiment analysis: The ability to systematically identify, extract, quantify, and study affective states and subjective information for the entirety of a conversation and specific moments in that conversation.

Reports and dashboards: The ability to monitor and display important conversation performance metrics, such as talk-to-listen ratios, conversation etiquette, call sentiment, call outcomes, etc.

Privacy by design: Software must meet GDPR and SOC2 compliance regulations by design, with the ability to control call recordings based on geographic legal requirements. This also extends to policies for data retention, and easy controls to manage “right to forget” requests.

CRM Integration: The ability to sync data back and forth with your CRM, such as sending conversation information to the CRM to log and capture structured data, or using information that was brought into the CRM by other 3rd-party systems and then dynamically applying the data to inform both real-time notifications and analysis.

Global capabilities: The ability to use conversation intelligence regardless of geographic location, with the option to turn on multiple language models so that teams aren’t limited by the language a call is conducted in.

These are the key components of the next generation of Conversation Intelligence. Though these are quite a few boxes to check, in order to ensure data integrity, team alignment and fast action, you must choose solutions that work seamlessly together. We recommend using as few platforms as possible.

Adapting to the New Reality

Don’t let your existing solutions hold you back. The current conversation intelligence solutions were designed to give you “game tape” to watch after a call. But while that’s essential for longer-term strategies, it doesn’t help you in the moment. If you want to continue growing and improving, you must find solutions that meet the criteria of the new conversation intelligence platforms.

Don’t forget about the Conversation Intelligence Cycle. You must get used to testing and improving your calls in a generative feedback loop. The good news is, with the right solution, it isn’t as hard to set up as you think, and will ultimately lead to a more efficient revenue engine.

Want to use conversation intelligence to transform your sales team?

Get the AI-Powered Conversation Intelligence Guide to Transform Your Team in 30 Days.

About the Author

Mara McLeanRevenue.io

Mara is a Content Marketing Manager at Revenue.io, the revenue acceleration platform that leverages AI to transform sales teams into high-performing revenue engines. Mara is a passionate and creative storyteller who enjoys bringing a little bit of fun into B2B marketing.

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