Conversations with prospects, customers, internal teams, and candidates during interviews are some of the best sources to learn about customers' pain points and trends. It even offers you an opportunity to collaborate with each other efficiently.
Regulations such as GDPR and CCPA further encourage you not to rely on third-party information to understand your customer but rather focus on first-party and zero-party data, which comes from first-hand conversations.
But the problem with that is—information is easily lost after the conversation, be it a Zoom meeting or a phone conversation. And that’s because the notes aren’t taken properly, and the key information never makes it to a central system like the CRM.
An average Account Executive (AE) in a typical SaaS organization uses 5–10 different apps across the lifecycle of their calls and meetings.
This is where conversation intelligence software helps. A conversation intelligence software is your best bet to make the most of conversations across customers, prospects, and internal to the organization and make the conversations more actionable with a clear workflow.
While conversation intelligence is still a fairly new domain, there already are many software brands in the niche wrestling for the same target audience. Most tools in the conversation intelligence category offer similar features and benefits with varying degrees of pricing and capabilities.
So how do you select the right conversation intelligence software for your business? What to look for when evaluating a conversation intelligence platform?
Here's our attempt to give you a method and a vendor evaluation scoring sheet.
Firstly, how does conversation intelligence help?
If you think about it, every customer conversation can be categorized into three levels of a conversation:
Transactional conversations are the most basic level of communication that revolves around exchanging information to know or confirm. Think of black-and-white conversations like yes-and-no questions that brands ask their customers during a survey. Or, it could be a refund query that a customer has about your product’s pricing.
Positional conversations are interactions that seek to influence people’s behaviors—to either advocate for a cause, defend someone’s position, or sell an idea. Unlike transactional conversations, where we listen to accept or reject, positional conversations have a persuasive component.
Transformational conversations include interactions that invite the communicators to collaborate and seek answers to never-seen-before problems. Its transformational because it makes the collaborators connect deeper and walk on the same path to co-create, discover, and share new insights and wisdom.
Traditionally speaking, brands were in the habit of retrieving transactional customer data and persuading them to buy their products.
A conversation intelligence software augments your business’ ability to have transformational conversations—the hallmark of being able to see the world from other people’s eyes. It records, transcribes, and analyzes conversations at scale with AI. It helps you learn what’s working and what’s not with topical trends and talk patterns such as competitor mentions, objections raised, or product feature requests.
In SaaS, conversation intelligence is proving to be a business moat. It lets you analyze customer behavior from close proximity, develop a strong sales muscle, fight potential churn, and democratize customer insights across the board.
From collecting customer data to enhancing collaboration and iimproving productivity to understanding your customers better—conversation intelligence tools offer a full spectrum of transformational abilities that can help your SaaS business create your own actionable business intelligence.
The confusing categorization of conversation intelligence tools landscape
Unlike other over-competitive software categories, the conversation intelligence segment is a blue ocean with a limited number of players competing against each other. Despite the low density of choices, it’s still challenging to identify the right conversation intelligence software specific to your needs—not because there are few options but because the vendors offer distinctly different capabilities.
The conversation intelligence space is rife with various tools that come in different shapes and sizes.
If you look at G2’s “conversation intelligence” software category, you will find tools such as Fireflies and Otter that offer basic speech-to-text transcription services. Both software caters to a horizontal market spanning sales, education, and even podcasting. But they lack features like conversation insights and deal intelligence which are table stakes in conversation intelligence software.
On the other end of the spectrum, the same G2 category also lists Gong.io and Chorus.ai—two brands that lead the conversation intelligence niche. But there are limitations to these tools too.
CI is not limited to sales
Both Gong and Chorus are great CI tools that offer sales-specific capabilities like coaching and deal intelligence to help businesses accelerate their time to revenue. Other players like Wingman, Salesken, and ExecVision offer similar features.
There’s just one problem with all these software providers—they limit the potential of CI only to the sales function and don’t offer cross-team collaboration capabilities. They assume that sales is a single-player sport.
From generating initial interest (i.e., marketing), building self-service product experience (thanks to product and engineering teams), to helping prospects see the long game (done by sales and customer success)—sales is anything but an individual sport.
Collaboration should happen across the board
A good CI tool doesn’t pigeonhole conversation intelligence to one business function. It enables collaboration not just within the sales or revenue teams but democratizes customer insights for everyone who directly or indirectly contributes to the bottom line.
Various use cases of conversational intelligence
If you take a quick look at the conversation intelligence software landscape, most tools are geared toward helping sales leaders—with use cases such as revenue insights and sales coaching insights.
It is underwhelming to limit the application of conversation intelligence only to sales-specific use cases. That’s because collaboration is at the heart of conversation intelligence—and collaboration is something that transcends beyond sales.
Even if you suppose sales is the final destination for all revenue-oriented businesses, it’s still a half measure to use conversation intelligence only in the realm of sales. Closing a deal is often a relay race—not an individual sprint. Therefore, conversation intelligence should extend beyond the confines of sales.
And that said—even when you use it for sales, it’s critical to NOT ignore your sales reps while the sales leadership gets what it wants from the tool/platform.
You need more than Revenue Intelligence. You need Revenue Intelligence (for sales leaders) + AI-assistant (for reps) in a single unified platform.
With that, let’s look at the different teams and the potential scenarios that can benefit from using a conversation intelligence platform.
For sales and customer success leaders
One of the best possible ways for businesses to accelerate their time to revenue is to allow their internal leaders to design effective coaching and feedback processes. This helps them monitor their teams’ performance, close the skills gaps, offer contextual feedback, and improve team alignment.
Research indicates that sales reps in B2B organizations who achieve their quotas 75% of the time almost always have access to a good sales coaching program. Sales coaching is a great investment to improve sales productivity because it creates a direct feedback loop between the leaders and the reps, reinforces positive behavior, and corrects negative behavior.
A conversation intelligence software helps sales leaders impart effective coaching, have a 360° view of the entire deal cycle, and identify the usual patterns across all stages of the sales pipeline. It breaks the traditional barriers in sales coaching such as having to coach reps in real-time or compelling new sales recruits to shadow more experienced sales reps.
Similarly, coaching helps customer success leaders get visibility into customer conversations and introduce effective ways to delight customers, expand revenue, and reduce churn. CS leaders can leverage conversation intelligence capabilities to listen to more customer calls in less time, make notes of key topics, and curate CS best practices to scale the win rate across the team.
One of the key value additions of a conversation intelligence software is its ability to give revenue leaders an instant overview of the health of all deals in your sales pipeline. What this means is they get complete deal intelligence, i.e, clear insights into which of your deals are progressing, and which are at the risk of stalling so that you don’t let another deal slip through the cracks.
It also means that sales teams can pull the right experts in the right stage of the sales cycle to improve the likelihood of closing the deal in their favor.
For sales reps
A conversational intelligence platform helps your sales reps automatically record, transcribe, and get AI-generated summarized notes for all your customer conversations to help them continuously improve sales performance.
Instead of manually taking notes or via disparate note taking tools, all-in-one conversation intelligence platforms have AI take notes while the reps are focused on the conversation, and automatically update it to the CRM.
This ensures there is no loss of context or information, and saves a lot of time in what would otherwise be mundane grunt work.
True to its collaborative spirit, a true conversation intelligence platform brings the leaders as well as the operators together to close the gap between strategy and execution, thus developing a winning playbook that can scale with your growing needs.
For customer success managers
Just like sales, customer success is also responsible for revenue. One of their key metrics is Net Revenue Retention (NRR), which is a combination of retention and account expansion.
From a CSM standpoint, you can leverage insights from a conversation intelligence platform to:
- Get visibility across all customer conversations to make data-driven decisions to improve their satisfaction and product adoption
- Proactively learn issues customers face, understand their expectations and help product managers prioritize your product roadmap accordingly
- Identify the talk patterns of your best CSMs to help improve your upselling and cross-selling across the board
- Reduce customer onboarding time and improve productivity overall
Another key use case is—conversation intelligence platforms can improve the collaboration between sales and CS teams, especially in terms of account handoff, which is often broken in SaaS organizations. The platform can bring in full transparency to the sales cycle, create a smooth handoff process, and build a delightful customer onboarding journey.
For product managers
Unfortunately, in a lot of organizations, product teams don’t have a direct feedback loop with the customers. And it can be hard for product teams to understand how customers are interacting with the product or what their expectations are if there’s no communication channel.
Traditionally, the sales and customer service teams proxy the customers by sharing their insights with the product and engineering team. But a conversation intelligence software does a better job because it enables all the customer-facing teams to share customer insights verbatim with the product without having to schedule a 1:1 meeting.
For instance, a CSM can share the entire customer call or a key snippet where they explain their issue, with a product expert for them to understand a customer’s business context better or tag a backend engineer to watch the short video so that the customer feedback reaches the right stakeholders without any chances of misinterpretation.
Of course, the product team too can leverage conversation intelligence when they are interacting first-hand with the customers to carry out user research. The CI tool can help them engage with customers from up close, understand their Jobs to be Done (JTBD) better, and prioritize the right features based on tangible customer data.
For HR Managers
Hiring is one of the biggest challenges for several SaaS companies. But what’s more challenging these days is to create a great employee onboarding experience for new recruits so that you can retain good talent for the long haul.
As a subset of the conversation intelligence software, interview intelligence solves this problem at scale. Interview intelligence helps hiring managers, recruiters, and HR Business Partners (HRBPs) to gain deeper visibility into the interview process, create smooth feedback loops between the job applicants and the interview panelists, and improve the overall recruitment process.
Since conversation intelligence makes meeting conversations and notes accessible to stakeholders across the organization, it helps the talent acquisition team be on the same page with the needs of the hiring team. It essentially sets the tone for the recruitment process.
Conversation intelligence can also help you fight poor employee attrition by allowing you to capture critical information that employees share during their exit process. By creating a culture to monitor the exit interview conversations, you can plug holes in your existing employee experience to retain the brightest talents, build a healthy employee advocacy, and create a powerful employee referral channel.
Evaluation criteria for conversation intelligence solutions
When you are looking to buy any software, you primarily have to consider four areas to ensure that the tool offers practical benefits for your business. The four criteria are:
- Ease of use
- Product capabilities
Choosing a conversation intelligence platform is no different. However, there are different nuances you need to consider when looking to buy a conversation intelligence software vs if you are evaluating a CRM or a productivity tool.
1. Ease of use
Great user experience (UX) and easy-to-use user interface (UI) are the fundamentals of any software offering. One of the first things that buyers look for in any software is how user-friendly it is. Customers today want intuitive software that needs little to no learning curve and visually appealing UI that’s fun to use.
Anything that doesn’t meet the basic criteria of a clean UI is a big no-no for consumers—even if they come from the supposedly dry enterprise market segment. Therefore, start by asking some very pointed questions about the software’s user-friendliness when you are evaluating a conversation intelligence tool.
Questions to ask:
- Is the tool hard to set up and implement?
- Does the tool offer a fulfilling self-serve experience?
- Does the software feel exciting to use?
- Do you need a dedicated admin to manage the platform?
- Do you (or others in your team) need extensive training to use the software efficiently?
- Does the software need a lot of technical configuration?
2. Product capabilities
Besides user experience, the next important area of evaluation is the set of features and functionalities that a software offers. When it comes to assessing a good conversation intelligence platform, you should map its product functionalities to your use cases to make sure it offers practical usage for your business.
Questions to ask:
- Is it best-of-breed for one specific function or is it an all-in-one platform that can expand to multiple org functions?
- Does it solve your specific business pain points?
- What integrations does it support?
- Does it support native integration or does it integrate with other software through a third-party platform?
- Are its functionalities out-of-the-box or customizable?
It’s important to consider pricing when buying a CI platform because you want to justify your software spending from the returns perspective. You don’t want to pay the cost of a fully implemented CRM for a conversation intelligence platform. If you can’t connect the dots between the pricing and the value you can derive out of the CI platform, it quickly becomes an investment down the drain.
Questions to ask:
- Does the software offer a free trial or freemium subscription plan?
- Is the pricing fair, flexible, and affordable for your business use cases?
- Does the platform require you to commit annually or does it allow the flexibility to crawl, walk and run?
- Does the vendor charge for basic collaboration?
- Is the pricing based on users, time, usage, or anything else?
- Are there any hidden or maintenance costs?
Buying a software is often a forward-thinking, proactive investment. When you are buying a conversation intelligence tool, for instance, you should be solving not just today’s pain points but consider using it for future use cases as your requirements grow big or more complicated. In other words, look for a CI tool that can scale with your needs.
Questions to ask:
- Does it offer enterprise-grade features?
- How does the software’s pricing scale with the scale in its usage?
- Does the tool offer cross-team collaborative functionalities?
- How rich are its integration offerings?
- What other functionalities are there in the product roadmap?
There are a lot of other areas within these four evaluation criteria you should be considering before buying a CI tool. Listing all of those evaluation factors in a blog will offer little value because the priorities and preferences of one business vary significantly from the other companies’ requirements.
To help you choose the best conversation intelligence tool that maps to your unique requirements, we have created an Interactive Vendor Evaluation Checklist. We hope it’ll help you identify the right CI tool that best fits your use cases.
How to use the checklist
To make the most of this evaluation sheet, here’s what we recommend:
- Make a copy of this checklist and save it for your evaluation. (NOTE: You can’t edit in the original sheet)
- Keep this checklist handy when you are taking a product demo of a CI tool.
- Rename the cells F9, H9, and J9 with the CI tools that you want to evaluate.
- Don’t evaluate more than three vendors at the same time.
- Score them based on:
(a) if they offer the features listed in C12-C64
(b) assign the importance of these features for your use cases [High/Medium/Low]
(c) grade the strength of each feature that a vendor offers on a scale of 0–5.
- The tool that scores the highest is the best tool for your use case.
We hope that the interactive evaluation checklist helps you arrive at the CI platform that’s closest to your business requirements.