How Edmunds.com Pivoted In A Pandemic, Powered By Sales Enablement With David Bailey
The COVID-19 pandemic surely derailed many business strategies and put a stop to society's usual routine. A lot of them temporarily closed, some shut down for good, and a few managed to pivot and reinvent themselves. In this age of technology, what does it take for businesses to survive such challenging times? Chad Burmeister sits down with David Bailey to share how Edmunds.com utilized artificial intelligence to overcome the limitations imposed by the pandemic. They discuss how AI can help boost the effectiveness of virtual consultations without adversely affecting human interaction, as well as its impact on the ethical aspects of a business.
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How Edmunds.com Pivoted In A Pandemic, Powered By Sales Enablement With David Bailey
I'm excited to have with me David Bailey, who's the Senior Sales Effectiveness Manager at Edmunds. I’m glad to have you here, David. Thanks for being here.
Thanks for having me, Chad. This is a lot of fun. I appreciate it.
I love the background you have there. I assume that you, like me, are not sitting in a courtyard.
This is our headquarters in Santa Monica, the centerpiece of it. We have a center courtyard and you can see behind me our great room. It’s a little taste of what Edmunds looks like. If you were ever in Santa Monica, we're happy to give you a tour when we open back up.
My best friend lives in Santa Monica. I may have to take you up on that someday. You're with Edmunds, you’re the Senior Sales Effectiveness Manager. What does that mean exactly? Tell us a little bit about Edmunds and what do you do for them?
Edmunds is out there as the premier car shopping and research site. We help facilitate research and sale of cars all across the United States. My role there specifically is I work with our sales team, our tier 3 side, which is our dealer side. I do trainings with both dealership groups, individual dealers. I help with all of our new onboarding and sales training and everything that comes on with all of our new hires. As our product development team comes out with new products and improves the existing ones that we have, I also work in that capacity to help facilitate the training and understanding with our teams and dealers so that they can have a seamless transition and all can be superstars when they're out there in the field.
An example of that would be the chat function on your website. You had said that one of the things that was added during these wild and wacky times of 2020 is the video capability or the video feature much like we're having video on a Zoom video. How did that go about?
Obviously, the whole world back in March went virtual. We saw that was not just a need but it was something that dealers were starting to ask for. They were reaching out using a variety of programs. Some of them were more successful than others. We said that the consumer was starting to adjust to the idea of being able to talk like this virtually. We will accelerate something that was already in the works to add that video capability so dealers could connect with consumers and then be able to put yourself up on a video chat. When you can't have one-on-one conversations or they're a little tough to have, this can still be very personable. You can get a lot of information and help make the connection with our consumers and dealers. That's our goal in the end.
A lot of people, especially if you're in business travel before March of 2020, you go to an airport, you go to check out your car and you can either wait in the ten-person line or you can go to the podium and you can talk to someone virtually. We'd had a taste of virtual video and certainly I’ve been an inside sales arena for a decade. The shift to video happened back in 2005 to ‘07 for some of us when we were with WebEx years ago.
AI is not about robots taking us over. It's everything that we use nowadays that has AI in it.
There have been pioneers for a long time like yourself, and now we took a little catalyst and now the consumer is embracing it.
Now, the early majority and the late majority all moved overall. Thinking about artificial intelligence, we talked about AI for sales and in my book, I interviewed 21 different leaders, as well as data scientists and everyone you can imagine and trying to understand where are they using it. What's interesting is you go to a conference or you are talking to webinars, you say, “How many people are using AI?” Only a few hands go up still. Where you asked the question like, “How many people use Zoom info?” Everybody's hand goes up and you go, “You're then using AI, you just don't know it.”
It's that breach in that definition that AI is not the robots taking us over. Everything that we use nowadays has AI into it.
What it feels like to me is that having done this now for years, we put our toe in the water and all different little pieces of the AI puzzle, what it seems to do is put more pressure on the human-to-human conversation. The more it moves up, maybe you can automate your emails or your social outreach or even the video you're starting. That's whole video automation.
That's a little scary now but I get that.
One company we're seeing will do 98% of the video is the same but then they'll clip in the two sentences that are different. It's true personalization at scale. They stitch it together. It's not quite to the point where you have deep fake. They haven't quite gotten to that level yet.
It's coming probably faster than we think, so I hear you.
What all that does is when you can automate certain processes and let's say an SDR that used to do 1,000 touches a month now can do 5,000 or 10,000, soon to be 25,000. You can move the knob up as high as you want.
To counter that idea, you can also put it the other way that says the AI can also make, instead of me doing 1,000 touches a month, I could do 500 much higher quality touches a month. That data and information that I get allows me to be very pointed, personable and exact in what I'm doing. That's what I would hope that the real vision of AI will do for us is not allow me to do more work but let me do better quality work.
Businesses can be at a huge advantage by utilizing technology when pivoting to support their strengths.
Even with conversation intelligence, have you guys dipped your toe in the water on recording and converting to text?
They've done some things with it. We do a lot of testing and a lot of material that way but in the levels that we're at now, we still stretched the human interaction the variables with automobiles, dealerships and financing and all the little pieces that put together are so complex yet. I know that there are companies out there doing it, they're putting it together. In our system, we value that idea of a human contact that's again assisted by that AI. I'm a human being, I'm having this conversation, but the AI is reading, maybe the questions that are coming to me and giving me that information at my fingertips. I can respond faster, more accurately, more personable but I'm still as a human being controlling that and making the most out of that AI.
It truly is an augmentation type of approach. There's a company called Balto Software. I don't know if you've heard of that one yet. It's pretty new on the market. They'll listen to the Zoom call or whatever telephone system you're using and convert it into text but in real-time, within a second. If someone asks a question about a specific car, it'll know to put up the information in an automated fashion, questions to ask and things to talk about.
It's funny you say that because in my role in sales enablement, some of the tools that we're looking at are doing that same stuff for things like coaching, onboarding and practice pitches. All of that type of material where we can set up a scenario, have a group of salespeople that will use the software, give their speech virtually, sometimes record it, not even have to have the other person on the other side. That text will be automatically spelled out by the machine. You can set up the keywords and the negative words in there so that it creates a scoring system. I’ve even seen some of the tools now are starting to do facial recognition so they can tell if you were lethargic or happy about it or excited and put an emotional quotient to it.
That's the part that I get excited about, because what we start to do then is we start to level set this coaching. We start to level set this training a little bit. Instead of having three different managers who could watch the same video of someone giving a pitch and give three totally different responses to. It’s not that it isn't valuable but if you can level set, you can start to create benchmarks and then move your sales team up that way. That is where the AI is starting to pay off, at least in my departments, in my team as well.
I’ve heard the term coach to neutral elements in sales training and enablement. Here are the ten things we're going to look for in your pitch. It becomes whether it's manager 1, 2 or 3, they're all scored in the same way. You're right, AI lets you do move to a much higher definition of all those characteristics.
You build your rubric and it takes out some of the emotions, some of the fatigue out of all the people and the time. You can then start at a level that says, we got past the initial run and now we can start building on feedback. We can start building on what the next level stuff can be. You start to pull in best practices where you can start to see different people that are successful and you have very different pitches, may score a little bit differently. It allows you to augment that data to see where it's going to be successful for your team. I'm excited about it. I love this stuff.
At the start of the call, we talked a little bit about the latest TOPO conference and Craig Rosenberg, also known as @Funnelholic on Twitter. He said in the keynote that companies headed into 2021 need to focus on flexibility, agility and speed, like time to market. If you add those characters up, funny enough, it's fast. We have to be faster. That's how I was able to put it all together. He had the ordering different, SFA. I was like, “I don't want it to be as fast. It needs to be fast.” You had said, “That sounds right,” but then but you also said, “Companies need to be able to pivot faster.” What do you mean by that?
There's the idea that we put plans together. Many of these companies put in like we were talking 5, 3, 1-year plans. Now it seems like they're 60-day plans. Rather than the lessons that we've had in 2020 is not that we need to tear everything down and start again but we need to be able to pivot a little bit and we need to pivot based on what our consumers and what our customers are telling us and where the market is going. You can get super crazy by saying, “We're no longer going to do it this way. We’re no longer going to do it.” We have to look for more things like hybrid versions of what we've done before.
Don't lose what core has made you successful. Throwing that away is going to hurt you more than anything.
Initially, we didn't have lot of in-person conversations. That's coming back and we use Zoom and virtual pieces a lot more, but we're using them in different ways. We're not using to replace what we did. We're using it to augment. I'd like to see companies more pivot and use the technology to support their strengths versus saying what you have to do. “This doesn't work. Everybody, tear it down, erase the board, start from scratch and let's keep moving,” that fast. That's what I see where we’re at.
It's interesting. There's a friend of our family named Robert White and he's trained 1.3 million people around the world on how to live an extraordinary life through three different companies. His curriculum, his leaders and he's a superstar. John Denver was one of his people. We were meeting a couple of times. He comes to our fire pit at my house every so often, maybe once a month and we're coaching him on, “We should move your stuff to virtual,” or, “If you wait around your classes that cost $100,000, they might not come back right away.” We got to a point where he said, “Let's talk a little deeper about this.” Another group said, “We're bringing the physical event back.” I went to one in Utah with 100 CEOs. To your point, be careful not to rip it all down and throw it out because if Robert would've done that, he might've thrown his core business out the window when we're going to come back to travel at some point
Will it be the same? It may not necessarily be the same. To me, that's where that pivot comes in to say, “We have to be able to shift a little bit and understand this might be a new resource or a new way of doing things,” but you're right. Don't lose what core has made you successful. Throwing that away is going to hurt you more than anything. Focus on what makes you successful and find ways to deliver that in a way that's very similar or is very comfortable to your consumer. You'll be a win every time.
It sounds like you've dug into the technologies. What do you think are the biggest limitations of artificial intelligence going into the new world we're going?
There are a couple of things with limitations. It can be too dependent on the numbers too much of a straight formula. Human beings are very tough to put into a box. I use the equation or the idea that says I’ve trained a lot of salespeople in my day. I have seen some that I thought were going to not make it and some that were and I’ve been dead wrong both times. We've all seen someone that went, “I don't know this person's going to survive,” and they skyrocket to the moon and they do a great job. Based on criteria I'd have had and could have built into an AI, that would have been a failure. We have to marginalize or look to that.
The second piece that is concerned about AI is too much of trusting it. We think that we build something, it wows us. It's very shiny and maybe effective for what we're doing and it's one of those things that it doesn't pan out in the long run. It's one of those pieces that are great for the short-term and it isn't but we depend on, we think that piece is done so we stopped developing in that area. We stop learning, training and putting people in that area because we think the AI has it done. It's a great support tool and I love it very much but there are some of the limitations that will essentially in the short-term can be good but long-term can hurt you and be detrimental to the company.
You could miss something that you can't pick up. You thought you train the AI but you would have kept out this good seller and it's not always going to be perfect. It can be directionally correct in a lot of ways, but you always have human interface on top of the technology 100%. The last question for you is around the ethical side. Thinking about hiring, I had this conversation and they said, “What about looking at a resume?” If you give a sales manager a resume and they read, it says, “Chad Burmeister, Maria Gutierrez, Joe Smith or all the different naming.” Having had managers that work for me, they might look at something because of their prior engagements in life. It might say, “Stack A, Stack B, Stack C,” just by looking at it. They didn't even read the rest of the four. To me, some of the value of AI can be, it can eliminate bias. Now, it could put bias in but it could also take it out. It is going to need, in my opinion, a chief ethics officer at big companies. We're going to have to have CEO 1 and CEO 2.
It’s like anything. You need that check and that balance. The AI can be a great tool. It can sift through 1,000 resumes. It can pull you the top 100. You're right, human beings have our natural biases sometimes or we have we had a bad day that day.
I threw ten out because I was bored.
I couldn’t look at anymore that day or something. I miss some and that's where the AI pulls it in. What we do at our company, we took that process of coaching and stuff, and we took it all the way back to the hiring process. We went back to our recruiting department and said, “When we had these people that were successful or not, we went back and reviewed.” There has to be this constant cycle or circle of review that goes, “We got these people. We went through this process. Now let's go back and evaluate the process.” We would talk to recruiting and say, “This person was great. Use them as the model. These people were not,” and it would help build them a little bit of that process involved with it.
Human beings are very tough to put into a box.
As you said, maybe CEO 1 and CEO 2 or manager 1 and manager 2, and one manages getting those people and the other manages the process. They're separate enough that they are not conflicted of making sure that, “This is the way we have to do it because this is what produces the results.” Finally, long-term, I'm an analytics guy. There's not a spreadsheet I haven't found that I didn't love. One of those things is that the data should help start telling that story. Regardless of who you hired, what you thought of them, or where they went, if the numbers are panning out that they're successful, they're moving the needle, they're doing what they need to do, then that's the model for you. That's what we have to do. I love what AI does is we have to get away from that gut. Our gut tells us this, “I’ve got a feeling about that.” Many times, the numbers will tell a story that is so blatant that if we looked at, make it so that the AI proves its worth in that realm alone. That's what I love about that process.
You're outside Portland. Another very smart individual, Henry Schuck, has been a friend of mine for many years now, the CEO of ZoomInfo and talk about someone who follows the data. If you ever heard him or any of his people, leaders speak, it's very much you come in as a seller on that team and you're at a certain tier. When you start performing against a certain batch of leads, you get moved up to another tier. If you underperform in the next tier and you can go back into tier 3. It's very tied to your level of performance. They've done quite well. They are a $15 billion publicly-traded company now. My friend, Henry, is now a billionaire. That's nice. It proves the value.
Those are friends to have. That's what you think you want. That's fantastic. He let the numbers tell the story. I'm sure that there was a human factor. They didn't just run people out of town if there was another little issue but it's very easy to go, “Here are the numbers, here's the gateway, here's the benchmarks. This is what we're all fighting for.”
Everybody likes the playing field. This has been fabulous. David, for our readers and people who will read this, if they're interested in Edmunds, it sounds like you've got a growing and thriving sales organization and they've got you behind the curtain. How would they reach out if there may be interested in sales rep jobs or leadership or any of that?
If you want to be a part of the Edmund's team, come see this beautiful headquarters and be a part of us, Edmunds.com obviously is our main website. Career is at the bottom. Also, you can see Edmunds.com/industry. That tells a little bit about our products and our services and some of the different things that we're doing in the background with our content and our PR people. We've got the amazing piece that they come to us. We do all these test drives, all the sports cars, and we got tracks down here. There's a whole array. You can get into this auto industry on this company with. It's not just selling. It's a whole aspect of it. We're always looking for engineers, good video people, good reviewers and looking for good people always.
Talk about a pivot. Someone did a webinar and they said, “You're either in the 40% where you're doing well and you're even doing better than well because COVID caused your company to rock or you're in the 30%.” It's like, “I'm okay. I'm waiting until the normal to come back.” The next 20% says, “This is not cool. I need the old way back.” The bottom 10% says, “It's never coming back. I haven't sold anything. Life sucks.” If you're sitting in the 10%, the 20%, even the 30% where things aren't looking progressively better and you're in sales, check out a company like Edmunds because there are a lot of good things that are going on out there. You have to have your eyes open and take the blinders off.
You have to be open to new ideas, open to challenges and be ready to pivot.
David, it’s a pleasure talking with you. I’ll be excited to see where the journey takes you next and what types of technologies Edmunds deploys. It sounds like you guys are at the tip of the spear. I'm excited to see where it takes you next. Thank you for joining the show.
Thanks, Chad. It's been fun. Thank you.
We'll catch you next time on our next episode.