There are few business settings in which asking questions is more important than sales. A recent study of more than 500,000 business-to-business sales conversations—over the phone and via online platforms—by tech company Gong.io reveals that top-performing salespeople ask questions differently than their peers.
Consistent with past research, the data shows a strong connection between the number of questions a salesperson asks and his or her sales conversion rate (in terms of both securing the next meeting and eventually closing the deal). This is true even after controlling for the gender of the salesperson and the call type (demo, proposal, negotiation, and so on). However, there is a point of diminishing returns. Conversion rates start to drop off after about 14 questions, with 11 to 14 being the optimal range.
The data also shows that top-performing salespeople tend to scatter questions throughout the sales call, which makes it feel more like a conversation than an interrogation. Lower performers, in contrast, frontload questions in the first half of the sales call, as if they’re making their way through a to-do list.
Just as important, top salespeople listen more and speak less than their counterparts overall. Taken together, the data from Gong.io affirms what great salespeople intuitively understand: When sellers ask questions rather than just make their pitch, they close more deals.