Don’t Just “Do the Demo” — Learn How to Have Great Conversations With Your Customers

May 4, 2020

You might think I’m crazy, but I want to strike the word “demo” from the sales lexicon. Why? Because good sales teams don’t “do demos” for customers. They have great conversations with them.

Guest Writer: Jon-David Hague, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Customer Success, Cerego

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for sales professionals to slip into safe mode and reach for the demo. While the demo can be a sturdy crutch for hobbling through the sales process, I would argue, strongly, that it has little value in growing a recognizable stream of sales. Sales pros need to focus instead on having great conversations. That’s the path to sales success.

Of course, you can’t have great conversations with customers if you don’t know what they want to talk about. So, sales pros have to know how to ask great questions. They also have to be great listeners. And they must be able to identify a customer’s problems and pain points. Only then can they position their company’s product as a solution to those issues and that pain.

This is how we approach sales at Cerego. But it hasn’t always been that way. I joined the company in 2015 and sensed early on then that something was missing from our sales program. I didn’t know exactly what it was until I saw a corporate sales pitch. (Corporate is one of Cerego’s three main markets, along with Government & Military, and Higher Education.)

The pitch? Well, it was awful because there was no conversation. Demo only. And all the things I mentioned above that sales pros must do to have great conversations with customers? They weren’t happening.

I stewed on this for a while, but eventually and thankfully, we started using Chorus at Cerego. Chorus really helped us turn in the right direction and I want to share our experience with the hope it will help other sales teams improve their performance.

The Opportunity to Listen and Learn Together #

A couple of years ago, I attended a webinar run by Chorus. After the webinar, a light bulb went off in my head. If we were recording our calls and utilizing transcripts and “snippets” of conversations with our customers, then we could capture their voice. And then, not only could the sales team hear that voice, but everyone in the whole organization, too.

It was a tantalizing opportunity — the possibility of using Chorus to socialize the customer voice throughout Cerego. We could learn more from our sales process, and coach our sales and customer success staff to be more effective at connecting with and supporting our customers. With Chorus, we could all learn together.

The learning aspect really appealed to me. Learning is an integral part of life, of course, but it has also been a major part of my career. While studying for my Ph.D. in Classical Studies at Boston University in the 1990s, I was a lecturer. I was also a visiting professor at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, after earning my doctorate. I worked in higher education publishing for several years as well, not only in sales and marketing roles but also in editorial positions.

These and other professional experiences, including at Cerego, have only deepened my belief that learning is empowering and should be embraced as a lifelong process. Looking at it specifically through a sales lens, I also believe that, unless you’re a sales pro with a 100% close rate, you can never stop learning.

But learning is tough because it requires behavioral change, right? Here’s how we use Chorus to move the needle on change and drive continuous learning through Film Review at Cerego.

Most importantly, by using Chorus, we can literally see and hear how we are all progressing, week after week. As a result, we’ve seen key metrics change dramatically.

Scheduling a weekly Film Review meeting with the team

As soon as we deployed Chorus at Cerego, I set up a weekly “Chorus Call Review” meeting to discuss call recordings and metrics with the sales team. I always schedule this meeting for Friday at 9 a.m. PT so that the Friday meeting is a “thing” and no one misses it.

The Chorus Call Review is often intense, but it’s my favorite meeting. And I know my team values it, too, and that they are learning from it. It’s a 60-minute meeting, but it almost always runs for about 90 minutes because of the valuable content we are discussing.

The meeting usually includes a mix of sales development reps (SDRs), account executives (AEs), and folks from our Marketing and Product teams as well. Some of us are at the Cerego office in San Francisco, while others dial in from remote locations. Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all dialing in remotely right now. But thankfully, the platform lends itself to remote working — we can all review calls and have a group discussion very easily.

Setting expectations and designating an internal champion

I always preface our Chorus Call Review by reminding everyone that the meeting is designed to be a safe, non-judgmental forum where everyone is expected to participate, get some coaching, and learn how to be better sales professionals.

I’ve found that the team always rises to the occasion during these calls. But it’s still a good idea to have an internal champion, just in case. One of the AEs, who does a great job of practicing, fills that role. (I don’t explicitly say he’s the model. But as people get used to working with Chorus, they find out for themselves through observation who the models are!)

Getting insight on what constitutes a great question

I run the Chorus Call Review and always lead off with a recap of the prior meeting, followed by a discussion of recent calls. We typically discuss one to two calls within our meeting and pull out the “wow” moments and “engaging questions” to review and analyze.

I like this group meeting because it lets me see the whole sales arc, starting with how an SDR might do a 30-minute discovery call. That’s really helpful for me and my AEs because SDRs typically ask great questions. AEs can set aside the demo crutch when they are prepared to ask customers questions like: “When you talked to John, you mentioned three major pain points. Can you tell me more about them and how they impact your business?”

Measuring progress and course-correcting

The analytics provided by Chorus is tremendously helpful in allowing our team at Cerego to understand what we should do differently. For example, we can look at monologue times and identify who is taking the most time. And in our weekly team meeting, we come up with solutions, together, for how to reduce those long monologues.

Most importantly, by using Chorus, we can literally see and hear how we are all progressing, week after week. As a result, we’ve seen key metrics change dramatically.

Before we started using Chorus, our talk-to-listen ratios — which we are really, really obsessed with — exceeded 80/20 pretty much across the board. We were talking way too much. Our goal was set at 60/40 and now, we are consistently hitting that target. The beauty of using Chorus is that if someone doesn’t hit the target in a client call, they know immediately, and they can then course-correct for the next call.

Our reps also now have a better understanding of how to ask our customers those great questions that can help uncover issues and pain points. We’re now starting to use Chorus to help our team reduce their use of filler words. Also, we’re using recordings in Chorus to analyze the tone of both customers and reps during calls, and really gauge what is working or not with our sales pitches.

Eventually, I want to start using Chorus Scorecards, so our team can grade themselves against each other. I believe that will also speed up their improvement and growth.

Chorus is a fundamental tool in our coaching culture for sales at Cerego. Honestly, I don’t know how any sales team could refine their approach the way that we have without using a tool like Chorus.

Developing Camaraderie Around a Vision for Learning #

Chorus is a fundamental tool in our coaching culture for sales at Cerego. Honestly, I don’t know how any sales team could refine their approach the way that we have without using a tool like Chorus. The solution has translated across departments at our company, too. In fact, I think one of the most surprising and pleasing benefits of having Chorus in our tool chest is the value it creates beyond the sales organization.

For instance, we have a three-person data science department that is really excited by the analysis provided through Chorus transcripts, and how we might use that data more broadly in the organization. And, perhaps most enlightening, our CEO Paul Mumma has embraced Chorus as a way to give our board direct and regular insight into the voice of the customer.

I know that using Chorus every day has allowed the sales team at Cerego to elevate their performance and develop a camaraderie around a vision that matches our company’s mission: to measure and improve how people learn.

Reviewing performance and learning from successes and failures are never easy processes. But I think it’s the mark of a great company to have the type of personnel who constantly want to press forward, learn, and get better. I know that I always want to hire people who are better than me, or who have the potential and drive to be better than me, and who are brave enough to review their own performance and never stop learning.


Jon-David Hague is Senior Vice President of Marketing and Customer Success at Cerego. The former academic, who holds a Ph.D. in Classical Studies from Boston University, joined San Francisco-based Cerego in 2015. Cerego is an adaptive learning platform that uses AI and machine learning to scale proven cognitive science and make learning possible for anyone. Cerego is used by nearly 2,000 academic institutions and corporate training programs globally.

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