AI For Deal And Value Intelligence With Robert Käll
The two things that matter most in the world of sales are delivering value and knowing the easiest way to be a great salesperson. Today, AI can be leveraged to track and understand the value intelligence of the sales process. Chad Burmeister’s guest today, Robert Käll, is the Co-founder and CEO of Cien, Inc., an intelligence platform that solves the most challenging parts of sales performance. By automatically gathering and analyzing your data, AI could tell you when you’re not spending your time the best way. Tune in and learn more about leveraging AI for deal intelligence and better coaching of sales professionals.
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AI For Deal And Value Intelligence With Robert Käll
I’m here with Robert Käll. He is the Cofounder of a company called Cien. We are going to dig into how they are leveraging AI for things like a deal, value intelligence and better coaching of sales professionals. I’m looking forward to this conversation for a while. Robert, welcome to the conversation.
Thank you so much, Chad. It’s excellent to be here.
You are in Barcelona. It’s probably my favorite place on planet Earth. That’s why we went back a second time. How’s Barcelona?
It’s good. It could be better. It could be out partying but we are still doing fine here. I went skiing and had a nice time. I know you are in Denver so I assumed that you have the chance to do that too.
Lots of skiing. I’m on day fifteen for the year, which is about 1/4 of what some of my friends do but fifteen is enough for me. Thanks for joining. I like to get our audience to understand you as a person before we dig into AI because the elephant in the room is AI is going to replace everyone. We don’t need people anymore. I have found over the last few years that’s the farthest from the truth. It helps humans do better, sell more and those kinds of things. Help us understand, where were you raised? What was your passion in your younger days in life?
I grew up in Sweden. When I was little, the one thing I love to do was build things, build tree houses, cars, boats, all of those things. Some of them floated, and some of them crashed and burned but we did a lot of stuff. I’ve got into motorcycles. I had a period that was metal guitars too. I had done a lot of things but all of it comes down to building things. When I had an opportunity, I went to the States to go to college. You do that when you are twenty years old. You fall in love. I did that too. I ended up staying in Miami and going to software. I’ve got a Computer Science Degree from Florida International University.
The things that you're truly great at as a human should be the things that you spend the most time at.
My son is at the Colorado School of Mines. He was thinking Electrical Engineering and now he’s thinking Computer Sciences. I’m proud and excited for him. I already know the answer but if you were creating things then and in software, you are also creating things for customers. Is that the common thread between those two?
It’s a creative process. It’s imagining what couldn’t happen before. I have been fortunate to have been doing this for many years. I have seen all of the things. It started when the web came out and I was like, “You should be able to make programs and not these webpages that are accessible on the internet,” and those days it was super difficult. The tools were so clunky, and then a few years later, the whole concept around SaaS started. I was a pioneer in that. We have built some great businesses around that. I shifted from being a corporate programmer into more of an entrepreneur. We built a business around real estate technology that became very successful. We did build another one around real estate travel or short-term rentals, which also had a big exit so that has been my background.
If you liken the internet in the mid-90s when it spiked, it’s transformed everything of how we buy, interact, get the news, all of it. What role does AI play? Will that be bigger? Will it be an add-on to the internet?
We are too AI dig sitting here talking. I agree with you 100% that it will be bigger while the internet, the mobile revolution and all of those things, enable connectivity of computing. What AI enables is the cognitive aspects of humanity can be transferred to some degree into the cloud. There are so many things that we as humans do. We do okay and we do poorly. You can use AI technology to do much better and much greater scale. That doesn’t mean that you will be replaced as a human because everything will be automatic. The things that you are truly great at as a human will be the things that you spend the most time at and not these more menial tasks or these types of things that are human biases tend to mess you up. For example, in sales, you keep working on these three accounts that beating a dead horse so to speak. AI could tell you, “Probably not spending your time the best way.”
I had a conversation with a professor from Princeton University. He talked about AI. He said the one simple thing at the very end of the show that we did is, “The number one thing a rep can do if they are not using software,” they should think this because he’s done multiple studies on it for a decade is, “Go after accounts that have at least a possibility of spending more money.” Not that they definitely will but if you are going to spend time with the customer who might pay you $250 a month and you are like, “I’m pretty positive that’s all they are ever going to pay me,” versus, “That company series A funded, they’ve got $4 million in the bank, which means they will probably go to a B, which means they’ve got unlimited money. It’s better to spend more time prospecting into companies who can spend more money.” It’s such a simple thing but I’m sure that’s one of the points of the algorithm that you look at is the time of the sales cycle, the title of the decision-maker. There are so many things that can go into that. How does AI provide more insight than a human?
AI provides insights differently. As a human, you can absorb information from all of these different sources of data. You have common sense, context and so forth. Until now, everybody has been sitting at these meetings in a corporate boardroom. You look at some slides and someone raises their hand and says, “That the data doesn’t quite make sense,” then someone else explains why we couldn’t take into account this thing here because we don’t have that in the data, etc.” With AI, it’s possible to measure some of those things that were previously unmeasurable.
For example, how good is the rep in communicating?” That is possible now. If you knew that you have a bunch of reps that are not great at communicating, then you need to work on that. How good is this type of leads that are coming in for this channel? If you don’t take that into account, it may seem like you are doing fantastic because you’ve got 100 leads but in actuality, those leads have a much lower value than the ones you had from the prior quarter.
I brought on a fractional CFO and her top three questions. How many leads do you have that are active? What’s the close percent? What’s your average deal size? That’s what she looks at. If you have Rep A versus B, C, D and E, all five of them are going to have different numbers and conversion rates. If the AI can identify, “This person has a 20% close rate and that person has a 70%,” then you can skill coach to the gap or move on from that employee in some cases.
To determine what the reason is for the skills gap. Is it a problem in communication we talked about or is it an effort problem? Is it that killer instinct, the closing skills that are missing or is it that they are not able to understand the industry and product well enough for the prospect to engage with them? Each one of those things can be measured using AI. There are so many new things that have come out. For example, it’s something called natural language processing. It allows you to analyze content from emails, and see if the rep is talking about the right stuff or not during a conversation.
Deal intelligence is what this conversation is. Let’s pivot to value intelligence. What does that mean? How does AI get leveraged in that area?
Value intelligence is a concept that we have not seen anybody else bring out to the market yet and that’s crazy. The only thing that matters in the world of sales is if you are delivering value. What’s the easiest way to be a great salesperson? It’s a bunch of great accounts that keep calling you and ordering more things. Sometimes we are lucky to be in that situation but most of the time, we are not. Those people who are getting big quota numbers from doing that is one aspect of it but some people can take cold leads, a prospect into those, turn it into interests, then open up new logo deals and win some of those. That is an excellent salesperson. The difference was one person received a lot of value and the other person received very little value. Even if the second person didn’t sell quite as much, maybe the first person sold for $2 million a year and the second person sold for $1 million, the second person is a better sales rep.
There’s a great author if you haven’t heard of Keenan, who wrote a book called Gap Selling. His ability to articulate what’s the dollar value of solving the gap. When he does the selling you the pill example if you have a headache and it’s like, “Nothing is going to happen if I buy that pill, then maybe I will pay $5 to make it go away,” but if you have $1 million proposals due at noon and then you might pay $10,000 for that pill. It’s interesting because being able to track and understand, which reps can sell to value and build what the gap looks like that can’t be overstated because it’s very important. That’s the value piece and then coaching.
The only thing that matters in the world of sales is if you're delivering value.
There’s a friend of mine who runs a company in Utah. I remember at a Dreamforce a couple of years ago, he presented. He said, “Most people have a CRM strategy related to pipeline stages, discovery, presentation and demo, objection handling, send out the, all those 6, 7, 5 stages, whatever but the only 4% to 5% have a coaching process similar to that. He showed how if you implement a coaching process similar to measuring pipeline stages, you have a 30%, 50%, 100% increase in sales. I hadn’t seen anybody else out there trying to go after that one until now. It sounds like you guys are doing that.
We talked about some of these skills, whether someone is a great communicator, we call that engagement ability, for example. We talked about, whether someone knows the product and can articulate the value proposition in an industry. We call that discovery skills. The closing ability is obvious and works effort that’s also pretty obvious. This is how I’ve got into this whole thing. I am not originally from sales. I’m from the geek side of the house. I was that business leader for a fast-growing organization. We went from 2 to 100 reps in 3 years, which was super exciting, turned into a $1 billion business.
I was always asking myself, “Why are we selling 50 times as much as we did when we had two reps?” I was asking, “Why isn’t Joe selling more? He’s a little bit lazy. Why isn’t Sarah selling more? She doesn’t know the product yet. She always needs to have help.” I was like, “There’s got to be a way to measure those things.” You can’t measure them from the standard Salesforce reports because that information is not in there. We have figured out ways to measure it from the Metadata you have in a Salesforce instance or whatever CRM you have. A lot of it comes out to if you can hit certain outcomes, and then compare and contrast to how that happened in your peers.
It probably usually doesn’t come down to, “The company didn’t give me enough leads.” That could be one variable.
That’s a variable that you, as a sales leader, can control. The coaching intelligence is the stuff that the rep themselves can control, whether they are making a continuous effort to up their game, if you ask a rep, they will always say, “I am,” but it’s not always measurable and progress that can be seen step-by-step. We always talk about, “How long does it take for a rep to ramp?” Your answer is, “Usually around six months.” We all know that sometimes it takes six months. Sometimes it takes forever. Sometimes we find someone that it’s amazing after two.
It’s two weeks, in some cases. They can figure out the gap. They are smart people to help close the gap. I’m trying to think about how it would work. Does it give the manager bullets to coach on? Does it talk to the rep? At what level is this coaching from?
Our primary use cases would be called data-driven one-on-one. We are all familiar with one-on-ones and a lot of them are wasted time. Managers don’t like doing them because they don’t want to talk about problems. Reps feel under the gun and maybe bringing some Phantom pipeline. That’s something we can dissect to the deal intelligence because there are telltale signs of a real pipeline and the Phantom pipeline does not have those things. The data-driven group in 101 is all about what are the results? Number two, how does the pipeline look now? Is it real or not right? Number three, how have you been spending your time? Doing a lot of prospecting or doing a lot of upselling to existing accounts, whatever it is.
The number four is what are the skills or behaviors that are preventing you from doing better. We can calculate that and call it potential. Maybe you sold it for $200,000 in the quarter, but that might be very well if you address 1 or 2 shortcomings, you could sell for $400,000. The final thing, which is the key aspect, is you record all of this stuff, document it, and then do it again in the next month. All of a sudden, you go from, “We should be working on this stuff too.” Here’s the problem. Here’s the improvement. Here are the increased results.
Is there a case study that you could share? You may not need to share the company name but how many reps are on the team? What was the as-is and then what was the after?
We work with all types of companies. The most exciting ones are the ones that are around 100, 200 reps where there are 2 or 3 different divisions or departments. Maybe there’s an S&P department, a midsize and an enterprise. The sales leadership goes in and has all of these strategic questions that if they are experienced sales leaders, they know a playbook. What we can do is to give them data to either validate that playbook or to decide that, “There’s more information here that we have never seen, never thought about before and perhaps we should try something different.” That’s what we have.
When you are doing the data-driven 101 is to bring accountability to the reps but equally important is to bring accountability to the managers, especially the mid-level managers out there because what do you have them for. In most sales organizations, I see the parachute manager. He parachutes in and saves the deal because he has a little bit more experience. He is a little bit more refined with senior executives and so forth. A great manager would allow for the reps to get to that point and not save the day as a hero every single time but continuously bring increased performance for each of the reps on their team.
I have had a handful of companies. My company focused on the top of the funnel, mainly outbound. What I find is even if you crank up the activity knob by 10X at 10% of the price because that’s what we do. We use technology to move the needle at a high-quality level even if you are doing outbound properly, and the value of fixing the middle of the funnel by far outweighs, not to belittle my technology but it the value of moving an entire group that are selling and closing to a higher percentage. The math works out into, to your point, 100, 200-person company, it’s millions of dollars. It can happen in a quarter or two when you start honing in on these skillsets. What happens if you increase your close rate by 3% and then by 5% and by 15%? The 15% of $100 million are a lot of money.
A great manager continuously brings increased performance for each of the reps on their team.
You start it with going after that potential of the deals. All of a sudden, you have an understanding of, whether you can maximize, that’s another skill that we were tracking what we call Deal Maximizing, which is the ability to turn each account into more money.
One thing that I would give you as feedback or something to think about is that, quite often, your point was when you go from 2 to 100, how do you get the other 98 up? Why doesn’t it scale just like it did with the first two? One feature that I would love to see in an application like this would be to show me my bottom 20% and show me before they miss their number at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. If you can show me that quicker, then I can probably get by with a team of 80 versus a team of 100. How do I move some of the funnels from the 20% over to the top performers or the middle performers and getting that optimization correct? People could be working with leaner teams with technology than they traditionally have been.
We finished a video with that. We call it the tale of two ramping reps and does exactly that. You are seeing month by month what are the signals of a great versus a failing rep and understanding that you can see these patterns long before someone either makes or not makes quota?
Last question, what do you think the future of AI holds? One of the big questions is around ethics because whoever programs the technology gets to insert their ethics so it seems to me, Chief Ethics Officers will be a thing of the future. What are your thoughts on this?
There are a tremendous amount of conversations and concerns around bias, data security, privacy, all of those things. We work a lot in making sure that those things are not considerations when we are making analytics. We never tried to determine the gender or anything like that of a prospect or a rep. Those things should be isolated out and not taken into account. At the same time, we try to make sure that we have masked all identifiable information, etc. This is a big concern for most IT organizations and corporations. We spend a lot of time on that stuff. Those things can be solved. They are being sold in various ways right now in different industries and they can be sold in AI for sales as well.
You are in AI for sales. I am in AI for sales but the vast majority of sales leaders still are not yet truly in AI for sales. Some people are getting benefits from automated deal scoring and automatic call scoring and so forth. The big thing is when you take all of this data that’s usually bad quality, try to make sense of that bad quality data, fill in the gaps or fill in the blank and then start understanding the tire sales process. What happens doing lead gen? What happens during prospecting? What happens in the first deal? What happened after that? You can either screw it up or not. Are you able to turn that from maybe a $50,000 deal into a $1 million deal? If you can do that, all of a sudden, you have that very rapid multiplier of delivering value from the sales team.
If people want to get ahold of you, Cien.ai, and how could they get ahold of you directly, Rob?
Thank you for joining the show. It has been a pleasure. Out of everybody that I have talked to over the last several months on this topic, you have some advanced 401 level thinking on it. It’s always a pleasure to talk to someone.
Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I enjoyed the conversation, Chad. Keep up the good job. I have listened to some of your other ones. Thank you.
Take care, everybody.
About Robert Käll
• Accomplished Entrepreneur with 3 Successful MM Exits in 10 Years
• Versatile Leader that has served as Startup CEO, Corporate Exec & Technical Founder
• Able to solve Technical, Business & Operational Problems on both Macro & Micro Levels
Specialties: SaaS, CRM, Hi-Traffic Websites, Cloud, ML, Data Analysis, Biz Dev, Team Recruitment & GTD.