AI For Sales In Universities With Greg Accardo
2020 has brought about a dramatic shift in the world of sales. Where people used to prefer field sales, now, with the pandemic going on, more and more have converted to selling online. After all, either you will embrace new technologies and methodologies or let your business die. This shift has brought in growth to AI for sales. In this episode, Chad Burmeister takes the insights and opinions around the matter of the Director of LSU Professional Sales Institute, Greg Accardo. Greg shares what has changed for sales school students at LSU and other campuses, even as far as five years ago since the program started. He then lets us in on his thoughts on where sales school is headed in the future and how much AI will play a role. Tune into this conversation to receive Greg’s insights and more.
Listen to the podcast here:
AI For Sales In Universities With Greg Accardo
I've got someone exciting to talk to. His name is Greg Accardo. He is the Director of LSU Professional Sales Institute. He's been there since 2015. Before that, he started in sales and he is the Director of the department at LSU. Welcome to the show, Greg.
Thank you for inviting me.
I’m excited to talk to you. I want to drill into what's happened that you've seen with your students and businesses around everything that's gone in 2020. We've seen a lot with lockdowns and viruses. Why don't we start there? We were talking a little bit before the show that you've even seen some people that have had COVID-19 and they seem to be doing okay.
Several students, both in the summer class that I teach for the entrepreneurship program and my fall class, have tested positive and there's a strict testing regiment going on at LSU They had these pods set up on campus where students can walk in and get a COVID-19 test. I've had some students who have tested positive, they've been asymptomatic. They're going through the normal protocols where they do the ten-day lockdown. LSU has an online reporting system where you must check-in every morning, faculty, staff and students. Before you come to campus, you've got to check-in and answer a series of questions about any symptoms you may have, then the automatic checker will give you a pass to come to campus.
We have a customer called Alpha Software that was creating those software programs for government agencies, schools, etc. Think about when the snow does start to hit the country in places like Denver. Imagine if you get a queue of students outside in a line and you've got the temperature thermometer gauge, “Line up, you can't come in this place yet until we scan you.” I think that's what some of those software programs help to alleviate.
This is a Qualtrics survey, I get the texts on my phone every morning and I go into the survey, answer four questions and usually, I have no symptoms. I answer none to all of those and a QR code says you're approved to come on campus.
Over the last couple of months here, I haven't been sick at all. We should wear masks all the time. Knowing that these are the times that we're living in, what do you see from a selling perspective? What are you teaching the students? Traditionally, there have been field sellers and there are inside sellers. I remember several years ago, Dave Elkington from InsideSales.com predicted that at some point within 5, 10 years, inside sales will be more important than field sales and he showed this line. It seems to be the year 2020 is the year that the pancake flipped because now field reps like the folks at Aflac who've never sold online are having to sell online. You used to be in insurance sales and I'm sure that was all face to face, belly to belly. What changes after 2020 is a result of what we've gone through?
I think if you look at sales as a whole, sales for so long has been based on relationships. As human beings, we develop relationships by one-on-one contact, shaking hands, going to lunch, having face-to-face conversations where you've built that relationship around trust. Those were all three-dimensional activities where you basically could feel somebody, you could smell. When the pandemic hit, everyone back in March 2020 when they shut the country down, we all got thrown into a 2D environment. There was a missing ingredient there that a lot of great salespeople relied on and were successful in making money for themselves and their companies by going out and building personal relationships. When that got taken away, it was almost like you took away one leg of their chair. The chair was going to fall over.
Really smart business majors sell so that companies can be better at what they do.
It was either you embrace new technologies and new methodologies, or you're going to die off and you're not going to be relevant anymore. From the academic side because we're dealing with students who are mostly all are graduating. Usually, when they're in my class, they're saying, “This is the last semester.” They're interviewing with companies, they're accepting job offers or internships. We saw internships over the summer disappear. Those offers got pulled. We saw hiring for new graduates in May 2020 dry up because companies couldn't onboard people. You're in an office. What was the normal process to onboard a new sales hire? They had to come into the office not only to fill out the paperwork but go through orientation, training, mentoring. They didn't give you a book or a briefcase and throw you in the field. You would spend your hours internally.
It's built on a physical face-to-face world. Maybe a little bit of on-demand to compliment it but not much.
That got shut off. That was done, over. The companies were prevented from hiring. Now we're seeing a little bit of the foot is back in the water, people are starting to feel how do we now come out of this and move forward? Now you're seeing some changes, along with those new changes, you're seeing all the new technologies and new methodologies that are now going to be best practices. We want to call it the new normal. A lot of people say, “Don't use that term new normal. This is not normal.” There's going to be a new normal, that's going to be part of our life going forward, whether you like it or not.
Call it whatever you want but that's basically what it is.
It's going to show your adaptability.
It's interesting at the beginning, probably about two weeks before the lockdown. This was about February 15th, 16th. Me and Gerhard Gschwandtner from Selling Power and Dionne Mischler got together and came up with this idea of SalesClass.ai. The intent is to provide people, students, professionals, future sellers and current sellers access to on-demand and live content based on their needs on a week over week basis. If you think traditionally a school has a curriculum of A, B then C, you must take this class. You're running the capstone class. It's going to be interesting to see where the SalesClass ends up leading us. The original idea was to build Netflix for sales content, you go in on a scale of 1 to 10, you say, “In terms of my mindset this week, I'm a six. In terms of my skillset, I'm a nine. My negotiation skills, I'm a ten.”
Depending on how you answer those eight questions, it spits up, “Here are 2 or 3 courses you could take. Here's a podcast you might want to listen to. Here are three 30 to 60-minute training courses, both live and on-demand.” It seems to me that universities will also change the way they deliver information. You're doing hybrids in nowadays world. What do you envision? We're at the beginning of this. We're at ground zero of the new normal. Have you seen any good things that have come out of this where you say, “That's probably where we should go?” Whether it's educate people better, lower costs or more, maybe it expands the audience. What do you see in terms of the future of education?
It's interesting you asked that because I was on the phone with LSU Online trying to get some questions answered about some software that's available for capturing role-plays, interacting with students on these role-plays that we can record and then give them feedback. I think you're seeing a big shift now not just in business but also in higher ed. Higher ed is going to have to adapt to the new normal also. There are a few schools out there that are in the forefront. LSU has put a huge investment in online education and they did that a few years back, which is lucky because when we got all thrown into virtual classes back in the spring, we were already set up. We had Zoom, we had faculty assistants and tutoring. They would help you develop your class.
It was all there. We all had to rush in and do it at one time. Along the way, now you're seeing more specializations in different fields. For instance, in sales, what you're talking about what's normal and what you offer, I think that's great. Number one because if you're in sales and you're not continually upgrading your skills and your knowledge, you're falling behind. The economy and technology, the ramp-up rate is ramping up fast. It's hard to keep up. I'm an edge in sales education and I have trouble keeping up. I'll go to conferences. I run into people like your good friend, Howard Dover and my colleague at UT Dallas. Every time I'm at a conference with Howard, he makes a new presentation like, “Slow down. Let me catch up with you because you're throwing too much on the screen.”
When it comes to technology and sales technology, what's changing, and those dynamics that are going on, that's happening everywhere. You're looking at your accounting department having to adapt and change finance. All of that translates over to online, higher education in the offerings that you're seeing from those departments. Now you're seeing more certificate classes, you see more continuing ed. Part of the roadblocks of that are number one, you’ve got to have somebody who can teach those subjects. Universities are long, even though we're the home of research for the new discoveries, there’s always been a lag. I don't know if you've ever noticed this, universities would always be lagging behind the people in the business. We will be the first adopters of new technology. Universities will be sitting back. I don't want to call it laziness, maybe complacent.
Maybe it's more the early adopters, the innovators. You have to wait for it to hit the early majority. That’s when a university says, “This is a real product now and a real space.” Think about conversation intelligence. ExecVision came out. It used to be called TeamVisibility and ExecVision bought that company, came out first to market. They were the Betamax of that if you remember Betamax. Along came Chorus and Gong. It became billion-dollar market cap companies or close to that. ExecVision still does fine in certain niches like call center environment, things like that. I guess my point is that now that it's a known space, I think to your point, this is when universities sign up and say, “This is real now,” because otherwise you could be teaching 500 classes on niche-y things that don't end up becoming a space. Those are the types of things we get our hands dirty with, trying all the new things and then collapsing on, “That's a hot piece of technology.”
If you look at the sales technology landscape, getting back to Howard Dover, he'll show that screen with the whole sales technology landscape. What does it look like now? That thing is getting busy. It’s like, “How do you keep up all this?” If I were in business and I had to manage a big team of salespeople and you show me that landscape map and you say, “These are the technologies that you have to deal with.” I'm going to go crazy. I don't have time for that. Show me what's relevant for what we do, what works best for our customers and then we're going to talk. That map is growing. Maybe that's a reflection. Maybe you guys are saying, that's a reflection of new innovations, people, startups, they've got new ideas and some of this stuff works. Maybe some of it doesn't work the best for us, maybe for other people. You've then got a whole challenge. How do you sift through all those different tools and technologies to find the ones that best work for us?
That’s what's been fun at ScaleX because, for example, when we started a few years ago, we standardized on this piece of email software called Nova.ai. Nobody had heard of it at the time. We white labeled it as ScaleX, went to market, signed about 50 or 100 customers within no time at all, which was probably more than the actual Nova had as clients. What they did is it would look at the profile of the recipient. It would look at you as the sender and it would automate and say, “Here are eight pieces of personalization that you could choose from.” Think about when you're writing a Gmail and you start to type a sentence and it finishes the sentence for you. Imagine if it could know based on who you are as a person and who your receiver was and say, “I see you’re a professor at LSU.”
My wife went there for a couple of years. Imagine all those interplays. Neat technology. They ended up getting purchased by another company and they haven't announced to purchase them. They didn't make it as a standalone product on the market. It seems like such a brilliant idea, for whatever reason, the market didn't take it up as it was packaged. They'll probably become part of a bigger company and you'll go, “That's where that feature ended up.” My point of that story is that we've now gone from that email to another one to another one. Each time it gets better and it gets a lower cost. If you're one of the 3,000 vendors in the landscape, I’d rather be sitting on top of the 3,000 vendors.
To your point, asking the question, “What is it you need and you're trying to do?” and then saying, “Let me bring the ingredients to the table, mix them up and build you a sandwich if you're hungry.” Let me sell you the sandwich rather than selling you the little piece of bread or something like that. What else do you think is relevant for the audience to think about as it relates to selling in a work from home world? If you were to rewind the tape and you’re in a field selling position, what are the top 2 to 3 things you would say, “These are the things that I would have told myself. This is what I tell my students to go do?” What are those 2 or 3 recommendations?
Without having to go back and figure out what I would do back in the ‘90s when I first started in sales, I had a pager on my belt back then. This is what I'm telling my students. I say, “You are smart Business majors. We're going to teach you how to sell so that companies can be better at what they do. You're going to bring in a product or service. You’ve got to figure out what does that product or service do that makes them better at what they do?” That message that you're going to have to deliver maybe a little bit different now than it was a year ago. Let me give you a couple of examples. We're pushing the envelope on teaching our students how to leverage video in the pre-approach. I give this example to them all the time.
With two-dimensional video content, you can turn that unsolicited cold call into a warmer call.
Every day I get up, I come to class or I'll go to my office and I look at all the unsolicited spam emails that are offerings. In higher ed, I was shocked at how many companies sell software and products for higher ed because I get emails every day. In there are all templates that I'm getting. You’ve got to break through all that noise. That’s what it is, it's noise because none of what they're selling works for what I do. Surely, it's a great product. I'm not the person who can benefit from it. When you leverage personalized, created video that you can embed into that email that's directed to Chad, “My name is Greg Accardo, I'm from a company ScaleX. I saw the other day there was a new story about ScaleX accomplished X. I think we've got a product that would maybe help you even accomplish more. I'd love to have a discussion about that when you've got a moment. Would next Tuesday work at 3:00 and I can reach out and call? I'm going to call you then.” A little 30-second message that gets straight to the person, it's personal and direct.
Now you build trust with that two-dimensional video content before you get there. It's a better combo as well.
You've turned that cold call that would have been cold, unsolicited into a warmer call because that person on the other end of the phone now has seen your face. They know your voice and they know your name because you sent them a video personalized for them. Now you've separated yourself from that big herd of noisy templated emails that land in that inbox every morning.
It's interesting, we're doing that same thing for a handful of customers. It's in beta. What's unique about it is instead of the quota-carrying seller investing their time in building the video, think about how you scale that level of personalization. We have a BDR that does the recording for our customers and says, “I'm reaching out. Greg asked me to reach out to you because LSU is the leading school for selling online and the new work from home environment. He asked me to reach out to you personally.” You can scale someone who that's their entire job all day, everyday building 1,000 of those videos. It's interesting because most reps if you try to teach that to a team of let's say ten reps, you might be able to standardize on it. Now you go to a 100 to 500 to 1,000 at an IBM, forget about it. The uptick on that is going to be like, “I can commit to two of those a day.” “No, I need 50 or 100 a day.” “I can't do that. I don't have time for that.” When you can scale that as a service, it's an interesting offer.
Getting back to your point on the scaling, if that activity results in an exponential increase in the number of one-on-one phone calls or Zoom meetings, if you can't even get to that point, meeting those quotas is going to be tough. Any tools that you can leverage that get more people to have either a phone call or a Zoom meeting, if we're talking about virtual. If you can get that one-on-one meeting and have that conversation, your numbers are going to increase.
That's from a direct perspective, there's something else that we're in testing with. We've deployed this about a dozen, maybe even fourteen times by now. It's an AI for figuring out who in your network has a relationship with your best prospects. Let's say you have a list of 500 top companies across the country. You then say, “These are the 2 people in each of those 500.” Now I have a list of 1,000 people. It plugs into LinkedIn. It does about an 8 to 12-minute analysis that would normally take months or years because it looks at your first connections and your seconds. For every 1,001st connections you have means you have about 1 million seconds.
The AI goes out and says, “Let's see 1,000. Check the box.” These 50 people can get you a meeting with those 1,000. Now let's go to the seconds, one million people. You go, “Greg, I see you're connected to Dr. Dover. Dr. Dover is connected to company ABC.” If you try to teach that to a human being to run those algorithms, it's not only going to take them forever, they're going to burn out. It's monotonous. Whereas with this higher power of artificial intelligence, those are the things to me that are exciting, also scary at the same time. Who gets to run the AI? That leads to an ethics conversation because who gets to program the algorithm. We've seen some of that in 2020 to things that are going on out there. Who leads? That's going to be a big role and it will be the chief ethics officer at companies. This is a great conversation. We've covered quite a lot. If people want to get a hold of you to schedule a conversation, to attend the school, any and all of the above, how would they reach you?
I'm easy to find on LinkedIn. I like to think I'm easy to find. It’s @GregAccardo. If someone wants to email me, it’s GAccardo@LSU.edu. For your readers out there, if anyone is interested in recruiting some LSU sales graduates, we normally graduate about 80 to 100 graduates a year from our curriculum. One thing I think is unique about LSU graduates is that we're introducing them to the current technologies that are impacting your business. In a lot of other companies, we're using conversation intelligence. We're using artificial intelligence, CRM, video enablement. We're bringing the students into those new environments and teaching them how to leverage those. They get those one-on-one appointments. If you're looking for students with those skillsets who are smart students who can learn fast, reach out to me because I can connect you with some great talent.
That's great and I give you an offer and that is SalesClass.ai. Our intention from the time we opened the business was to give free access to college students. I would say before you hand over the keys to the car, let's get you set up with the license so you can take a peek around. Our thinking is that we want to partner with universities and consultants to build out their curriculum. The difference is now instead of having a YouTube library where you have to find the content, you can based on how you answer those questions, it will serve up the negotiation’s courses for you. Now you get to go say, “Let's make that be part of your curriculum because it's served up at your fingertips.” A future iteration that one of my consultant friends shared with me. He said, “If you could collapse those 60-minute conversations into 5 minutes and give me the CliffsNotes, Reader's Digest version right to the punchline, that might be even more valuable than the access to the 60-minute courses.” We’re thinking about that.
I'd be thrilled to look at that platform and see where there could be some alignment and integration into our curriculum.
I'd love to get your feedback.
If it helps us in moving those students on that journey to be comfortable with emerging technologies and not so much use those for crutches, but use them as leverage to get better results.
Mindset, skillset, toolset are the three core categories. Nancy Nardin who you've probably heard before, she covers a lot of the tools and tech and they're 3 to 5 minutes, “Let's talk about Bigtincan. Here’s what it does. Here's what it is. Now let's talk about Vidyard.” She interviews someone or talks about it and there are 2 or 3 others like Nancy who covers specific tools and texts. I think you'll enjoy that. It's been fun talking with you. Congratulations on your role at LSU Professional Sales Institute. It's been a pleasure talking with you. I hope to see you in the 3D world someday.
I am looking forward to it. I want to make it up to Denver and test out some of those new craft breweries they've been opening.
I am happy to meet you. If you make it up here, let me know. My folks own a place in Winter Park. If you ski and if you give me fourteen days’ notice, we could probably get you a weekend at the ski area too. Thanks for attending. Greg, it was fabulous talking with you. LSU graduates are going to be looking for sales careers. If you're looking for people with talent, look no further than LSU and Greg. Thank you for your time.
- LSU Professional Sales Institute
- @GregAccardo - LinkedIn