Bird is the word: insights from the top 100 words used on calls in 2018

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The other day, Spotify offered me a list of my top 100 most listened to songs of 2018. My spouse and I share an account, and I have diverse taste, so the playlist was a total mess. Snoop Dogg with Beethoven? Why not! Despite that, a few gems popped out at me from the list that have made it into my regular song rotation in the past few weeks.

The idea of this “top 100 year in review” inspired us at ringDNA to examine the top 100 individual words analyzed by our conversationAI* platform in 2018 to see if there are any interesting patterns or items of note that would surface.

A brief guide to understanding conversation intelligence research

What does a top 100 word list mean? By itself, nothing. A list of top used words can only be valuable if we know what we are looking for or consider them in context – meaning interpreting the data with sales expertise and social psychology principles. In other words, raw sales call data needs the perspective of a sales expert, psychology practitioner, or communication researcher.

Conversations and communication are fluid, subjective, and always changing. Everyone’s business conversations are unique, considering their culture, industry, and product. At ringDNA we follow social science research best practices, and our research is inspired by several disciplines, including psychological science and communication studies.

In the case of the word analysis below, we are applying “rhetorical analysis” research methods inspired by scholarly communication studies. Although you may associate the word “rhetoric” with empty political promises, “rhetorical analysis” and “rhetorical criticism” is a robust method used by researchers to understand the true meaning behind messages.

For the research nerd – this means we are taking a “mixed methods” approach, extracting a quantitative list of the top 100 most used words, and interpreting it with a qualitative methodology of rhetorical analysis, which is academic-speak for understanding the words in the context of our expertise and the business use cases in which they are applied.

Each word below includes the exact word, its place on the top 100 list, and our rhetorical analysis of that word.

A rhetorical analysis of the 10 most notable words from the top 100

Business – #1 of the top 100

Analysis: When we first saw that “business” was the number one word of 2018, we admit we were a little disappointed. How ordinary! Then our CEO, Howard Brown, popped by my desk and quickly observed that if people were talking about business on the phone, they were talking about needs, and challenges, and frustrations, and ways to improve. In other words, the implication of business being the #1 word is not that the conversations are ordinary, but the ordinary subject of conversations is revolving around empathy. This is a great thing – a key element that sets ringDNA apart is a focus on empathetic selling, and the fact that business is the most used word of 2018 is a sign that the ethos of the software we have produced is indeed affecting conversations in the way we intended.

Question – #3 of the top 100

Analysis: The #1 ingredient of the empathetic selling formula is smart, open-ended questions, so the fact that question was our #3 word this year is only greater validation that the #1 word, “business,” represents empathetic conversations. The rest of the 2018 top 100 is filled with words that are basic ingredients of questions, such as “what,” “how,” and “when,” a very encouraging result for those of us that believe the future belongs to the empathetic seller.

Message – #10 of the top 100, & Email – #22 of the top 100

Analysis: References to other forms of communication beyond just a phone call, such as SMS messages, voicemails, and emails, means that a multi-channel strategy is being employed and is more popular than ever. The fact that these are both so high on the top 100 list is not only a great sign of strategic selling, but also a sign of the diverse and changing needs of buyers. As some social channels gain additional dominance, we expect to see some of them appear in this list over the years as well. Even if social selling is evolving as many people suggest, the truth of the matter is that multi-channel is here to stay, and the channels will only continue to diversify.

Thing – #13 of the top 100

Analysis: We were surprised to see “thing” make the top 15. It is hard to know what thing means in this context, because it is a non-word in business communication. “Thing” is almost filler speech, on par with “um” and “like” – perhaps it is appropriate in some contexts, but if it is prevalent enough to be in the top 15 words of the year, this represents an issue with imprecise language. Smart sellers are great communicators – this means refining the language used over time, and eliminating filler words like “thing.” We hope to see this word usage drop in 2019.

Perfect – #14 of the top 100

Analysis: If a thumbs up had an audible sound, it would be the word “perfect.” Odds are, perfect is not being used to describe the quality of a product, but rather as a throwaway word as a quick response of satisfaction. “Oh you are available next week, me too! Perfect!” “Hi Joe, I hope I caught you at the perfect time!” Ultimately this is another filler word that we use – it is imprecise, meaningless language that doesn’t offer anything to the conversation other than a loose gesture of positivity. Customers probably don’t notice it, but odds are, neither do we, which means that we need to be in greater control of our word choice in 2019.

Dollars, #3 of the top 100, and Contract, #17 of the top 100

Analysis: In our own instance of conversationAI* at ringDNA, we watch for closing words revolving around proposal and contract discussions that typically appear later in the sales cycle. If these words show up too early in the call, it is a sign our reps are competing on price. We’d rather see them show up later in the call, after an appropriate discovery process and needs evaluation. Looking at the top 100 words of the year, we couldn’t help but notice that these words are comfortably behind empathy words like “business” and “question”, which is a great sign that closing conversations are only happening after empathetic discovery sessions with customers and prospects – we hope to see the gap between these grow in 2019.

Problem, #21 of the top 100, and Understand, #28 of the top 100

Analysis: The best way to earn a customer is to understand their business needs and solve real problems. Seeing these terms in the top 100 is a great sign that conversations are happening around pain points and understanding each other. Anyone can ask questions, but the key is how your prospects feel they are being treated. Reps who practice empathy in sales actually feel and truly understand their prospect’s struggle. Instead of being sold, prospects feel they are being helped and are therefore more likely to make a deal.

Connect, #88 of the top 100

Analysis: Connect is a great term, but unfortunately it has devolved into business-speak, an overused catch-all word that falls in the same category as “leverage” and “synergy.” What does it actually mean? Callers seem use it to describe any means of communicating with a customer. “Just looking to connect over the phone” “Hoping to connect with you” “Sorry we didn’t connect the other day.” You may often ask your prospects to “connect” in a voice message, but does that really get you anything? Similar to previous points, we recommend precise language. When you speak with or even leave a message for a prospect, it’s important that you provide a real, specific, actionable steps that they can follow.

Minute, #95 of the top 100

Analysis: “Can I get just a minute of your time?” “Do you have a minute?” the word “minute” is no surprise to see in the top 100, it is a common term that salespeople use to downplay the amount of time they are asking for from a customer or prospect.

Here is the problem: this is a lie.

How many times does some really only require a minute of your time? As a sales rep, you probably ask some variance of, “Do you have a minute?” quite often. Not only does this question immediately signal we are about to sell something, it’s something your prospects are tired of hearing. Elevate your elevator pitch with something besides overused questions, like genuine enthusiasm and a desire to help.

Schedule, #100 of the top 100

Analysis: Schedule is a “next steps” signal word that likely appears when reps are hoping to create a meeting appointment, or are trying to find the best time to hold one. Since prospect meetings are crux of sales, and customers are busy, it goes without saying that establishing the next steps at the end of the phone call is a crucial step. Ask for the next meeting – determine your customer’s schedule on the call and set the meeting. It is a great thing to see this in the top 100, and we hope to see it move up in 2019.

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About the Author

Alex Lamascus

Alex Lamascus is the Sales Content Manager at RingDNA. He has previously scaled and managed an inside sales team and has supported B2B sales in various industries for the past 5 years. When not writing or buried in the latest sales book, he can be found repairing vintage turntables in his garage or honing his grilling skills.

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