AI For Sales, It's Not Just For Lead Generation! With Ben Simms
There are so many ways that artificial intelligence can be utilized and integrated into the sales space that go far past just lead generation. The multiple uses of AI can ultimately make your sales team more productive—and at a relatively low cost at that. Ben Simms is the VP of Commercial Client Services at MarketSource. He joins Chad Burmeister to talk about the many uses of AI technology within sales teams. If you've ever considered picking up AI, in any way shape or form, for use within your sales team, this conversation can definitely help you make that decision.
Listen to the podcast here:
AI For Sales, It's Not Just For Lead Generation! With Ben Simms
Ben Simms, VP Of Commercial Client Services, Shares His Perspective On AI For Sales.
I'm excited to have with me our special guest, Ben Simms. He’s the Vice President of Client Services at MarketSource.
Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.
Thanks for being here. I've had a lot of great conversations with Ben and I'm excited to have him share some of his insights and knowledge about AI for sales. You're in for a real treat. If you're not familiar with The Sales Expert Channel. If you haven’t subscribed yet to the Sales Expert Channel, it's completely free. Go ahead and do that and we hope to have you back on more of our sessions in the future. If you're not familiar with ScaleX and the AI For Sales book, this is what we put out at the end of 2019. We interviewed over 21 leaders of companies, people like Henry Schuck, who’s the CEO of DiscoverOrg. You're familiar with him, Ben.
We use them and ZoomInfo. Now they've merged. We use both products.
People like Roy from Chorus and a lot of interesting AI-powered technology. If you don't have the book, check it out. The technology landscape has changed so much. There must be thousands of different providers in the market. Where do you start? What do you choose? Is AI built just for lead generation or is it used in other aspects? That's what we're going to cover with you. Let's go ahead and start. We like to get to know you first before we dive into business and brass tacks. Tell us about what's your name, who do you work for and where were you born?
I’m Ben Simms. I work for MarketSource. We are the premier outsourcing, but I like to call it insourcing company. Our brands tend to be mid-market and enterprise logos that you'd recognize. They bring us in to augment or segment part of their own sales, go to market function. On the B2B side, we generate revenue for our clients in any part of the customer life cycle. In other words, we're hired sometimes to do lead gen and throw the leads over to our clients for them to close. Sometimes we take leads from them and do the quote to close ourselves. Sometimes we manage current accounts and do customer success to grow revenue. We work in direct channels, indirect channels, field sales and inside sales. That's a snapshot of what we do. It allows me to work for dozens of sales teams and have a conversation about different industries, segments and verticals every hour of the day. I love my job, my teams and my clients. I'm very blessed. I was born in Dodge City, Kansas, home of the OK Corral.
If you go back from where you are now, what did you study in college? Where did you go to school? Where did you get your passion for what you're doing now?
I was born in Dodge City, but I grew up in Michigan. I went to Western Michigan University for my undergrad in Marketing. I went to Haworth College of Business there. I had a wonderful experience, lifelong friends and started in the golf industry after that for six years. My second school was the University of Colorado. I received my MBA there. I always knew I wanted to get in sales from a very early age. It started with a Marketing degree and then my advanced degree later.
I did the same thing, Colorado State undergrad in Marketing and then an MBA in Computer Information Sciences. That’s very interesting. Going back to Dodge City, this was probably before you moved to Michigan. When you were five, were you playing cowboys and Indians? What were you doing as a kid that got you passionate about life?
I've always admired my dad and his career. He grew his career mostly in the television business and TV stations. I'm the oldest, so when I was five years old, he was just getting his career started. He certainly was not born with a silver spoon. He started from the ground floor and worked his way up. His first jobs were as a sportscaster and a weatherman. He's not a meteorologist. These were in small towns. I remember we would have those rocking horses and in the rocking horse would be a wood cylinder that you hold on to by the ears. My mom would take that cylinder out, wrap around tinfoil on the top and make-believe it’s the microphone. I would walk around pretending I'm dad interviewing people in the neighborhood as if I'm a news reporter or whatever. I very much emulated my dad and admired his career growth. He's a very successful businessman still this day. That's probably what I was doing in those ages.
At RingCentral, we had a guy named Zach who started as a sports broadcaster for many years. You can ask him anything about the Denver Broncos and he knows it. He was able to parlay the radio broadcast and some TV experience into his ability to sell. If you're looking to hire a superstar and A-player salesperson, maybe you need to look to the broadcast and radio.
That's exactly what my dad did. He went from being in front of the camera to the sales department. He became a great salesman, sales manager, then general manager.I love to hear you say you didn't have the silver spoon, nor did I. Sales is a learned skill. The number one most important thing according to Dave Kurlan of the Objective Management Group is your desire to be successful in sales. As long as you want it, you make it happen. Let's dig in a little deeper. AI for sales is a hot topic in this day and age. How would you define it? Whether it's you personally or MarketSource, how do you think of this thing called AI for sales?
I agree it's been talked about, maybe over-hyped and even over-promised, but it's here now and we're seeing it. The way I and my peers here at MarketSource define it is when we look at productivity for our reps, we look at the red time and green time. Red time is non-sales activities. Administrative activities you have to do by updating your CRM and doing research on your accounts. Those are not sales activities. Sales activities are conversations, and so that's green time. Whenever we're researching technology and making our reps most productive, especially when it comes to AI, we want AI to reduce the red time away from the rep so that they can spend more green time.
Studies say that sales rep are spending 35%, 36% of their time in actual sales activities. I think that's true. We believe AI can increase those sales activities. A good friend of both yours and mine, Joel Le Bon, he describes it, and I agree with him, where AI is used for all the hard skills that reps are doing such as sending emails, LinkedIn connections, updating CRM or doing research. What you want your reps using are their soft skills, human skills, active listening skills, communication skills, relationship-building skills, the human-to-human interaction. AI should remove the hard skills from the rep's job so they can use more of their soft skills. I like how Joel describes it as well. Those are the two ways I describe AI.
I had it on the topic of OMG. They've scored millions and millions of salespeople and they use AI to tell you if that salesperson can be successful in your organization. They report in red, yellow and green. I had a meeting with the rep who's on my team and he's all green. There are a couple of red spots. We were able to go in and work in a one-on-one. One of the red spots was being able to get to an economic buyer in a sales situation. That's a skill gap that he had and he recognizes it. There are a couple of active deals where he's working with an account executive to take it up to the boss who ultimately takes it up to another boss. Similarly to what you're talking about AI for the top of funnel demand-generation selling motion, getting the right people on the bus in the first place is another area that AI can be leveraged. Outside of lead gen, a lot of people think of AI. Jim Dickie runs a company that monitors AI and they put very highly lead gen as the number one place to be deployed. Outside of that, what are some of the other ways that you think of AI is being used?
All of us already see it being used at the consumer level for current customers. If you're an Amazon customer or whenever you go online or even when you visit retail stores, they have a 360-degree view of you. They know what your past purchases were, what your behaviors are. They know what are mirrored customers like you and what their behaviors are like. They'll make the match and they'll say, “Because you bought this, others like you have bought that.” That's the consumer level but even when you walk into a retail store, they now have captured that in an AI way where they're like, “We have your profile. We've seen what you bought. Let's also recommend this pair of shoes to go with that dress.”That's all happening at the consumer level and we all know this. What happens to the consumer level ends up being followed in B2B eventually. I believe that we're there in B2B. On B2B sales, the reason you want to utilize AI with your current customers is one, it's a disruptor. There was a survey of global CEOs by PricewaterhouseCoopers where these CEOs said the top three disruptors in their industry are regulation, competition and customer behavior. AI helps you identify that customer behavior. There was a McKinsey research that said, “Organizations that leverage consumer behavioral insights outperform their peers by 85% in revenue and 25% in gross margin.” Those are real statistics that you can use to say why we should be using AI.For your current customers and especially customer success methodology, which ensures that your customers are getting full utilization of what your product offers, you're exceeding their expectations. If you have a large amount of data, which is very important and your machine starts learning from that. Using your customer success model to move you from being descriptive and diagnostic with your accounts to be more predictive on what will happen, when it will happen, when are they likely to need more licenses, when do they need more utilization, when do they need to renew, things like that. What activities do they have or even mirrored accounts so that you can be more predictive on knowing when to call them, when to outreach them, how to outreach them and which accounts to outreach? That's where AI is going to help you with your current accounts.We use it in our CRM with some of our clients and some of our programs where if we see activity such as something as simple as a purchase or other activities that the client is making, that will trigger us to then reach out to them or know when to reach out to them. That's not a rep just going through their CRM or database guessing on who to call. That is being predictive on the machine telling them, “You need to call this client now and here's why,” or when you should call the client and how you should reach out to them. Using the network of your customers in your data, it's going to allow your customer success teams to predict their behavior, reduce your churn and improve your product utilization. That's how we're seeing it with the current customers.
I read an article that IBM can predict with 95% accuracy if an employee is going to leave the business just by looking at its email trends and out of office days. There are probably a handful of predictive indicators. If they can do that using AI at that simple level, then it makes perfect sense if you're looking at all the usage patterns. We had one customer who was trying to upload a list into the dialer application that we support and it didn't work for one of the reps. I wish I could say the AI caught that and sent me a notification. In this case, our customer success rep happened to reach out, “How's everything going at the onboarding with our technical team?” He then was able to find that piece of information out.[bctt tweet="Using AI can help make sales teams more productive at a pretty low expense." via="no"]How amazing would it be if that signal were a failed list upload and instantly tapped me on the shoulder through a text and said, “Bob, you should probably call this customer because they had a list failure upload,” that's pretty cool stuff. I think you're dead on. Focus on the customer. Many companies are at top of the funnel, the mid-funnel, the conversion rate increase, the cross-sell and upsell. There's so much that can happen in this area.
I'm seeing it grow tremendously. SaaS pioneered customer success in a way. In a lot of things, they were the tip of the spear. I'm having lots of conversations in several other industries and the interest in this to grow revenue by reducing your churn, upsell, cross-sell, increasing utilization. All of that is becoming a higher priority and focus for all sorts of industries, not just software.
Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Red and green. Right now rep’s green 33% of the time or whatever that number you said, which means 2/3 of the time is not green. Let's say we go from green 1/3 to green 2/3. Does that mean we're going to lose 1/3 of the sales team or does that mean we're going to have an economy that's growing even much faster? What impact does it have on headcount?
It depends on the industry and on the space a little bit. You’ve got to pay attention to the front end. You have to pay attention to CAC or the cost of acquisition. If you have an opportunity to reduce the CAC, I certainly would recommend it and grow your revenue. You're asking a tough question because I do think AI can displace some roles and move some people into other roles. I do think AI can also make your current sales team at a pretty low expense and be more productive. If they're more productive in increasing revenue, even if you're adding an expense of AI into it, but the revenue on the other end increases, your CAC goes down. It can be both. You can make an investment to increase your ROI that then lowers your CAC or you can find ways to use AI to replace.
Dr. Dover from the University of Texas in Dallas is going to be putting out a report. He said he wasn't willing to put it out yet because he needed some validation from LinkedIn and other sources, but I'll give you the high level. The high-level data that is out that he talked about in Vegas and an event I went to is that from 2012 to 2017, the SDR, BDR role grew by 500%. That's a lot of people. In that time over the last five years from 2012 to 2017, think about the number of activities by people. They're using technologies to make them five times more productive or in some cases two times more productive. If they're using AI, they might be ten times more productive, but who's counting? Over the last two years, he said that it's gone from 2017 to 2019 at 84% increase on top of the 500%. That's 1,000% growth in less than a decade, seven years. At what point does that start to top out? I don't think we'll see an 84% growth this year. I think we'll start to see a little bit of a minus as AI tools do things like send emails that are personalized or respond to a lead that comes to the website. Chatbots are here and email bots are now creeping up. If I can program the AI to be more responsive and respond in a way that generates better conversion rates, I'm going to lean on the AI a little more than I've been leaning on a person to handle those.
It’s certainly something to keep an eye on, especially as the AI technology improves and looks more personalized.
What's your favorite sales technology that people haven't heard of, the secret that you've hidden in your drawer? What have you got?
I am going to pull one out that I doubt many people have heard of. You've been introduced to them. They're good friends of mine. I've been working with them for a few years now. They are a true startup. That's a company called DemandMatrix. The reason I'm bringing them up, if anyone is reading this that is in the tech space, especially mid-market and enterprise, they are bringing on some very impressive clients especially in the cloud, but all sorts of technologies. What they do is they're providing these companies with what's called narrow AI where they can detect the technology data that other companies are licensing or reselling.When you combine that with pulling in-search algorithms, as well as machine learning and recognize growth patterns such as hiring patterns or technology adoption. These are intense signals that these technology companies can then use to identify when either their current clients are truly ready to buy more of your product or even your competitors' products are in a position to buy your product. It's used in marketing and sales, but what they have especially for technology companies is extremely impressive. It's a hot space right now. I'm not sure if they were in the infographics. They're that secret hidden gem for technology companies.
It sounds different than Datanyze or the other one that I can't remember their name, but there are a couple of technologies out there that sounds like the next generation of AI power.
The clients who are using them are seeing high accuracy rates, a high increase in some of their competitors' clients that they didn't already recognize, and certainly good intense signals coming in. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention their clients, but they're all brands that you'd recognize. If you're in the tech space, you need to pay attention to DemandMatrix.
Anything else on a personal level? What do you have on your phone these days that you like?
I'm boring with my apps. I'm sticking to the same old stuff. I don't have anything there for you that sticks out.
There are a lot of choices of technology that you can buy as a rep, a manager and a CRO. I've seen some companies empower salespeople to make decisions and to buy their own stuff. What do you say or how should a salesperson decide on it or should they?
We certainly don't do that. We don't let the sales rep decide. We certainly welcome anything. Many of my sales reps have sent recommendations our way. We have a team that does research on technology and we have a pretty complex matrix on where we score the technology. The categories that we have and under each category are ten questions that need to be answered. One is integration and data sharing. We definitely need to research how is everything utilized, automate and sync together. Most importantly, we look at the metrics and reporting that we can get out of the technology and how it will integrate.We look at the platform and the complexity of implementation. The features and functions and we'll score and rate the different ones. The ease of use, how user friendly is it? We'll take a look at that. The agile requirements to get it. How do we iterate on it? What does it look like to improve? What does their product roadmap look like? We like to compare and contrast because one company comes in and we'll say, “Let's look at your competitors as well.” We'll then try to A/B test if possible, but we'll certainly score them against each other in the categories I mentioned. The score spits out and then we decide as a team which one we're going to go with.
That's extremely valuable for anybody reading. I've heard teams where they'll empower a rep to go out and make a decision like this. It's okay to get advice or to say, “What have you seen?” Maybe they go to a trade show or something. It's okay to bring ideas back but empowering a salesperson who doesn't have the know-how across making these decisions, they're complex. You need to look at all those variables when you're making a complex decision.
They say and I agree with this because I'm like, “Salespeople are the easiest people to sell to.” We get excited. We see that bright, shiny object and we go right after it. We've learned probably through trial and error and through failing forward. We've learned with our experience that we need to have more of a methodology around all of the requirements that we need to look into before we purchased. We have a methodical approach and a complex matrix that we use to make our decisions.
Speaking of shiny objects, I'll share with people one of those that I tried. It's an automated voicemail drop. I'm checking with my attorneys. I did it on a very small window because I need to make sure that it's TCPA compliant and that it meets the California Robo Dial laws that came out. What I can tell you is they've got an integration into CRM that if it moved from one stage in Salesforce to the next, it can automatically drop a voicemail. Imagine customer success related items as we talked about, something goes down and then a call from Bob automatically happens. It's voicemail-to-voicemail and server-to-server. The AI is not going to let Bob talk to the person. It's going to show up as a voicemail, “This is Bob again. It looks like you may have had an issue earlier. Here's my cell phone in case you have any questions or I can help with anything.” I think of the level of automation. I looked at it as the mass voicemail drop and that's what I tried from a lead gen perspective. I signed an $18,000 deal as a result of 59 voicemails dropped. I then started looking into the integrations and it does a lot more than just a mass voicemail. This has been exciting. Any last tips or thoughts as we head into the remainder of the year 2020? What's your vision? Where's this going?
Some of the trends of 2020, I’ve posted an article on this on LinkedIn. AI was number one and Intent Data is certainly growing in a big part of B2B sales. Developing your future leaders, make sure you're inclusive in that. Find those future women leaders, those other walks of life that may not be raising their hand. Make sure that you're investing in them. That's a big passion of mine is developing the future leaders. I do think of texting. We're seeing big use cases in texting in some of our programs especially if you're calling on small businesses that work remotely like general contractors, plumbers or whatever. It’s the only way you're going to be able to reach them. They prefer texts. I do think video. I'm a big fan of dropping video in your emails and certainly opening the cameras during web conferencing, and web demos to put the face with the voice and the name. Those are some of the hot trends I see happening right now in B2B sales.
Thanks for joining, Ben.
- The Sales Expert Channel
- AI For Sales
- Objective Management Group
About Ben Simms
B2B sales organizational and leadership development champion. Providing transformational insight to sales strategies and bring them to life by identifying the best talent, processes, and technologies. Dozens of examples of disruptive change to several industries and verticals that grow market share and optimize sales expense. Finds revenue growth from lead generation to specialized sales roles to account development and customer success. #Sales #b2bsales #SAAS #customersuccess #leadgen #CRO #revenue #salesleader