Leverage Your Investments: Using AI To Successfully Drive Conversion With Don Simpson
A lot of companies are now investing in AI to optimize engagement. But how many more ways can you leverage AI to develop your business and increase revenue? Sometimes, the answer is right under our noses. In this episode, Chad Burmeister sits down with Don Simpson, the Founder and CEO of MarketLinc and Lift AI, who he shares his take on how to utilize AI into increasing sales and conversion. Don proposes a way you can use bots not only for qualification but also for completing sales. His unique insight is what has allowed him to successfully lead his two companies. Tune in to learn more.
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Leverage Your Investments: Using AI To Successfully Drive Conversion With Don Simpson
I'm talking with an expert who has been at it for many years. MarketLinc is the first company that he started several years ago and has a lot of experience around sales and marketing. A spin-off out of that organization called Lift AI is doing amazing things for some pretty cool companies and AI is a big piece of it. Don Simpson is the Founder and CEO. Don, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
It’s great to have you. Before we get into AI and all the fancy conversations about what's going on in the world of AI, I would like to get our readers to understand who you are. The best way I have found to do that is to go back. When you are a younger kid, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12 when you have some of your first memories, what did you like to do when you were younger? What was your passion, if you can think that far back?
Every sport known to mankind, I love to play, watch, read about and participate in. Everything was sports. The more sports the better. We have been in this business for a long time. When you asked me that question, I'm glad you said 8, 9, 10 because I literally started the business just finishing university. I was 21 or 22 years old. That's most of my memory going back. This is something that we have been doing for an awfully long time. All around sales, marketing and business development. We started as call centers, and then it went to the websites and now it's evolving again with the chat, AI and everything around conversations. It's different but on some level, it's all the same.
What do you think about sports? Was it the team sports aspect? Was it the competition? What was it that you love so much then that now you are finding yourself living that same approach to life and business?
It's the best reality TV. From watching your perspective, the drama and the relationships are the best if you are playing. You can always have a coach that said nobody can hide when you get an elbow in the mouth and everybody could see exactly who you are. I'm Canadian so that's a hockey term.
In sports, when you get knocked down, there’s nowhere to hide or pretend.
That happens from time to time.
It applies to every sport. When you get knocked down, everybody, including yourself, it's pretty raw and real. There's nowhere to hide or pretend. I like the competition, the realness of it and the relationships you build. I still have a lot of friends that I have had since I was in high school from playing sports together. You develop a bond with people that you don't anywhere else. I find working with people, if you go through a lot of trials and tribulations, you build those same kinds of bonds.
Where you do anything for them almost as if they are part of your family.
We have some people in our company that are 10, 15, 20-year people. When you go through trials and tribulations, the ups and downs. You develop a bond that you can't develop any other way. It's like sports because there are wins, losses, celebrations, tears and all the stuff that goes with it. From that perspective, it's very similar.
In your several-year run at MarketLinc, where did you first start seeing AI show up? Was it a decade ago or did it come into play more recently than that?
For our users, it's pretty recent. We had an outbound demand gen business, that's how we started. We worked for companies like Xerox in the ‘90s. We cut our teeth on that, learned a ton and got good at it, and then we started working with technology companies. We worked for some of the best, doing outbound business development, demand generation evolving into sales. Several years ago, we had one client that had a website that I knew that they have invested a lot of money in and they weren't getting the customer renewals they are looking for. They asked us if we would help them, traditional stuff, put a 1-800 number on it and put a live chat and let your customers talk to you. I think at that point, if we have a website, we are not going to ever have to talk to our customers again. They are going to come to the website and buy. When they were losing all their customers, they went, “We need to do something.”
We started testing and using live chat, 1-800 numbers, things that customers could ask questions and engage. We went from there. One of our clients is this company called Crystal Decisions. It was the reporting engine behind a lot of OEM and Microsoft. Years ago, it was the biggest success story in Vancouver history for the largest exit value. They were a big customer of ours. They’ve got sold to Business Objects, which got sold to SAP.
The backbone of that company was built in Vancouver. They were a client of ours in a lot of different ways. We’ve got those analytics into our DNA, we started building and using analytics extensively in our business. What we would do is we would go to a client and get access to their Google Analytics or Adobe SiteCatalyst. We would look and analyze all the data and traffic on their website and say, “Based on what we see here, we think that you should be generating X amount of revenue.” We were essentially using analytics and predictive analytics to do that.
On one client, we were doing $150,000 a year in live chat sales. We did our analysis and we said, “We think you can do $50 million.” That's a $100 average order value. They thought we were crazy but we did $16.5 million in the first year. This particular client had 77,000 different pathways on their website. That's just pathways, not how long were they on the page, what was the referring URL. It's literally 77,000 different ways somebody could navigate the website to get to the purchase point.
We are using analytics and we had a couple of hundred different invitations testing at any given time on the website to attract, engage and try to convert those visitors. We have smart people that are good with analytics but it's too much. You can't keep up. You have a hypothesis that comes with it but you can't keep up. It's too much data and too many patterns. We started looking at AI. I have made the joke in the past that I couldn't spell IT but I'm in the IT business. I have moved that now to AI. I can't spell AI but I'm in the AI business. I read a book I bought at some airport and I looked at the book and I thought, “This is interesting.” I read it on the plane and they are exactly talking about what we are doing. I went back to our smart people in our company and I say, “What they are suggesting here to use AI for, this is what we are doing. This is exactly the application that we should be using AI for.”
We started to test, take, tweak and learn. If we can use AI in this capacity instead of having the hypothesis, “This visitor does all these things, here's what we think.” You would let the machine learn and let the AI, the model score and predict the conversion intent of that visitor, and then based on their conversion intent, what we do is we are going to engage each visitor on the website based on their propensity to convert. That was the whole background, evolution and genesis of the business. We would come up with this hypothesis that would take days or weeks to build and then everything is changing. By the time you deploy, it's already changed.
The reason we built it, where it came from in that whole background is that what we were doing was cutting edge but it wasn't easy, accurate or good enough so we built this AI model, which as we have used it, was so powerful in so many ways. When we first started the chat business, there were maybe 4 or 5 companies in the world that were chat companies. Now there are so many, you can't count. There are a few that are insanely good companies. They are well-run, smart and super world-class companies. The one piece of the puzzle that we felt, “There's one thing that we can add to every single company,” is using that AI to predict the conversion intent of an anonymous visitor. There are other uses of it but the one thing that we do is that AI and using AI that predicts a conversion intent based on their behavior. It’s entirely anonymous. It’s all based on their behavior. We don't have to know a thing about them other than this is how they are navigating.
One of the biggest challenges with sales management is trying to close that gap.
It reminds me of when I was with WebEx, pre-Cisco merge. On the sales floor, there were 30, 40 people in Phoenix, Arizona. If you gave a lead to me or Jim, we would sign that customer between $15,000 and $16,000. It was pretty much pennies difference or maybe $1,000 max. If you gave it to another person, say maybe Joe, he might come in and say, “Let me get you in at $50 a month.” That's a $600 a year customer. The gap between $16,000 and $600 was massive. Training humans how to handle those conversations, it's hard. When you've got all the analytics on the backend of a website that you are monitoring, I would have to believe that probably there were deals that Jim and I closed that were $15,000, $16,000 that could have been $35,000 or even $100,000.
One of the big challenges with sales management is trying to close that gap. We have had as many as 300 SDRs or sales reps at any given time so your top 5% to 10% aren't so out of whack with everybody else. It’s the whole sales management game. How do you get your hiring, recruiting, training, compensation, coaching, all of that, so that you close that gap as much as possible? That's entirely a sales management issue. What we are talking about is how do you engage a visitor on your website? What's happening now is a lot of companies, there’s an opportunity right under their nose but they don't even know it. It's largely ignored by many. Even the good ones, there's such a gap.
You and I had this conversation when we first met because I was looking at your website and it's 99% of the websites that are out there. People are asking for an email address way too early because they don't know that it's an anonymous visitor. You don't want to tie up your sales resources with somebody who's anonymous but if you know that there's high conversion intent of that visitor, then you know, “I want to get them to chat as quickly as possible. I want to get them to my sales rep.” You can make decisions about, “I want to get my best prospects to my best sales reps. I want to get my best prospects to a sales rep, in general.”
You might decide, “Those are going indoor number two.” We never know.
This is most of them. That's reality. We see it's about 74% on average is low intent, 17% that's medium intent and 9% is high intent. There's a finite number of visitors on your website that are high intent opportunities. With those individuals, you don't want to ask them for their email address, you want to talk to them. If you are on a forum page purely for sales, if you have a customer that wants a demo or wants to talk to a sales rep and go to your contact us page and get through to that point, maybe 60%, 70%, 80% of the time they will give you their email address. They will fill it out because they have done enough research that they are going, “I'm committed to this now.” Anywhere else on your site, homepage, blogs, you will find that if you ask them for their email address right away, you lose at least 80% of those people.
I did some research for two reasons, one in preparation for our conversation. I went out to the force to report on Conversation AI. I went to a couple of “competitors” in the space. In one competitor, you wouldn't believe, there were twelve fields, first name, last name, country. When you typed in U, it didn't even bring you to the proper United States. It wasn't at the top of the list. It was the most horrific form I have ever seen. This is an AI chat company. I was like, “What are you doing?”
We have to engage everybody. It's a live sales agent service. Now we can use bots to glean those individuals out that aren't good prospects and save your sales resource. What a lot of companies and people are doing is they come at it from the reverse. It's like, “Let's put a bot on the site and make it difficult for anybody to get through it. If they get through, then they are going to be qualified.” A good analogy as I like to say is, if there are 100 people at Nordstrom, there are not going to be 100 people that are good prospects. The reps can look at the body language to figure that out. If you are one of the individuals that walk up and take a jacket off the hanger and you are looking at it, the sales rep isn’t going to walk up to you and say, “I will help you with that jacket but I'm going to need your email address first.” It's crazy, the way it's configured.
We are using bots, off-hours, different geographies. We have pushed bots as far as they can go and use them predominantly for qualification but sometimes you have to use them for completing the sale. With smaller transactional stuff, you can do that. We still find that a bot can close on Saturday evening at 8:00 at 1.5%. If you have a person talking to that same individual or conversion-ready type visitors, they are going to convert at 6%. You are going to get four times as many sales still from people as you are from technology. The way I look at AI is not necessarily where you are going to replace Chad at that $16,000 sale versus the guy who's doing $500 with the same thing. I don't know if that's going to be possible. Maybe one day but I don't think it is now. The way we look at AI and use AI is, for every visitor that's on my website, how do I glean through them to say who are the ones that have the high conversion intent? Ideally, you combine them with those identity tools.
Now, I know somebody from Coca-Cola is on my site. I may not know who the individual is. I might if I have been able to get some information from them. I likely don't know but I know they are from Coca-Cola. I can use that in the AI tool to say they have high conversion intent. I know they are from Coca-Cola and they have high conversion intent, therefore, I'm going to get them to a sales development rep right away and invest the time to converse, qualify and talk to them. The economics of doing that versus the economics of, “I'm going to make my 400 outbound attempts at this company to try and get in there,” doesn't make any sense. If somebody is shopping and they are on your website, the quicker you can define who they are, who that prospect is, and get them engaged in some type of sales process, the better.
I was in Florida at a Board of Advisor meeting. Not my board of advisors but there’s a Mastermind called Board of Advisors, one of the presenters talked about Foot Locker. At Foot Locker, they were having a little slump in sales probably in the ‘80s or ‘90s. What they found is that the reps would come out and say, “What are you here for?” They are like, “I'm looking for.” Before they can even say what they wanted, they are like, “Let me show you these Nike Air Jordans. They are amazing. They are cool. The black ones are cool with the red stripe swoosh on them.” Time out. You didn't even find out what their body language was. Unfortunately, 70%, 80% of sellers aren't great at understanding and qualifying to a level.
I have been talking to a couple of companies that say, “If you put the qualification in the bot, it’s going to follow directions 100% of the time because it's artificial. It's an intelligent form of communication.” What happened with the Foot Locker story, when they trained all the humans to say, “Stop selling, you are selling too fast?” They gave them this little thing that you would put your foot in that measured the width and the length, their sales went up by 187% within a week across all the Foot Lockers because they shift from selling to qualifying and getting to know the prospect. When you talk about the 1.5% versus the 6% at 8:00 at night, what that makes me think about is there might be a time where it will move up because it helps defeat the problem that humans have, which is jumping in and wanting to sell too fast. At least, get that person over to the seller after that work has been done, which then maintains the 6% close rate and the salesperson can get out of their own way because those questions are already teed up for them.
In the B2B environment, it’s where we spend most of our time now, somebody that’s trying to solve a problem for their organization but they don't know exactly what they need, they know they have a problem. The sales job is to help them define the problem and help them understand what is the reality and what are you trying to accomplish. A good salesperson can do that. A good BDR, MDR or ISR, you can call them a lot of different things but essentially, you can train bots to do that and do it well. I've got 1 or 2 things that are unique to me. That's the same in a consumer environment as it isn't a business one. We have a unique problem, it's a one-off question, scenario or situation. Good sales reps will draw that out by asking questions, listening and understanding. If you give that customer or prospect that feeling of, “You listened to me and what I'm trying to accomplish. You've got a good understanding. By talking about it, you have helped me figure out what I'm trying to do. Now, I'm a much better and more qualified prospect.”
Leverage the investments that your companies are making.
The faster you can take people through that instead of, in a B2B environment, asking them to fill out that crazy form you were referring to, how long until you even get followed up with? I know a lot of stats out there about if it's followed up in the first 30 minutes, your conversion rates go up. If you can follow up and if you are in within 30 seconds, you are the first one in the conversation. If they start shopping around, you've got that opportunity to position yourself in another league versus your competitors. You are more responsive, you know more about them already. I would argue for those high-intent opportunities, the faster you can get engaged with them, start qualifying and understanding, the more you are going to convert.
One thing in my research that I found is that when a person comes in via one channel, maybe it's chat, SMS, WhatsApp, and then many or most websites are saying, “Thanks for the WhatsApp. Here's our 800 number,” 63% of those buyers will never buy from that company just because they took them out of one lane and put them in another. Do you see that as one of the biggest problems in chat? If you were to stack rank the biggest weak points, what are the top 2 or 3?
I don't have a lot of data on that. One vendor technology platform we use has all that functionality, all the SMS, all of that stuff but because Lift AI is built and works based on website behavior, we have been tunnel vision on that.
You know it’s there and it’s serving up the right channel at the right place at the right time.
We have been so focused on building that machine learning model. We have been very precise and narrow in our focus. We say, “We just want to predict the conversion intent of somebody who is on your website.” Those other channels, are there and I know we use them but I hardly pay attention to them. I’ve got a one-track mind.
We have been talking about people that visit your website, maybe they are anonymous and you are seeing the behavior and then you can figure out, “This is someone you need to get to sales faster. This 80%, 74% of the group, let's not get them to a salesperson.” Talk a little bit about account-based selling because ABM, TOPO, which is now part of Gartner, they track B2B lead generation demand gen. ABM has been the hottest term for the last several years in sales. How do you apply ABM techniques to chat?
ABM is a wonderful breakthrough. I remember the first time I read about it, I was like, “We need to do this tomorrow.” That's the first thing and you go, “Why would you do it any other way?” The way to think about it is, if somebody is on your website, you want to use the available tools, whether it's ZoomInfo, Clearbit or companies like Demandbase, 6sense, or Drift Intel where they have baked those identity tools into their product. You want to be able to identify this individual and what company they come from. Even if you are wildly successful at doing that, maybe half the time, you are going to know what company they work for but they might have 10,000 people in the company. How do I narrow this down? What do I do? I know they work for Coca-Cola but what now?
What we do with Lift AI is we marry the two. We say, “You have a playbook based on the conversion possibilities or potential of somebody because you know they worked for ABC company. Here's how we are going to treat them accordingly, the way we have segmented our market, who our key accounts and named accounts, whatever the case may be, however you do that in construct your sales team.” You have that but if you layer in, “I know what their conversion intent is in real-time,” because a lot of times companies are using ABM data, identity data, in-market intent data but it goes into your Marketo or your Salesforce but it's not in real-time. It sets up your, “Who's a priority for my next outreach effort?” Whereas what we do with Lift AI is we say, “You've got a company prospect that's on your website right now. We know they have high conversion intent so we are going to initiate a playbook to engage that customer as quickly as possible and to a resource that's going to convert as many of those people as possible.” It's blending the two.
It's leveraging the investments that companies are making. The ABM makes perfect sense. It's great to know what company they are but if you know what their conversion intent is, it's a catalyst to allow you to then say, “I'm going to make a further investment in that prospect because I know they work for Coca Cola, they are high intent and I'm going to spend the money to engage them and qualify them with a live sales resource or a quick qualification bot that gets them to a live sales resource as quickly as possible.”
What are your thoughts on tracking the closed-loop of that lead? This is someone green at Nordstrom's. They walked through the door and you are like, “That's a hot prospect.” You give it to a salesperson and they only signed $20,000 this entire year. Another person signs $1 million. How do you take that feedback loop and say, “Rep A got $1 million worth of pipeline and closed $20,000, rep B got $1 million of pipeline and closed $400,000?” Is that on the side of the customer or do you feed that into your model?
As part of our model, we bake in-service hours because our background is in that sales management and we are used to building and designing playbooks. We have a whole professional services component to do that but we also historically worked and have worked on a straight commission model. We were used to it flowing right through and saying, “We are going to feed our sales reps and track.”
You have to give it to the top person or you didn't get paid.
When you go through trials and tribulations working with people, you develop a bond that you can't any other way.
You had to build up everybody to try and be within a pretty good tier. I'm Canadian so it's more trying to get everybody moved up the ladder. I always say that Americans, the top 1% are the best in the world. We were selling outsource labor. There are a lot of bench strength in Canada. There are a lot of smart people. The smartest of the smarts that I have seen are in the US. As a general rule, you try to bring your whole team-up. You can manage that whole process, from my perspective, your feeding them and the next piece of the puzzle is, “How many are you converting?” We have all that background in our DNA as well. We do have clients where we manage it from, “This is how many visitors you have on your website. This is how many each rep closed and everything in between.” We report on the whole thing.
My CFO sat down with me and said, “Let's take a look at everything.” She's got basic models and she’s like, “That example I gave of the $20,000, that's a real thing. That person got most of the leads. They didn't close most of the deals by any stretch.” When you can solve for both the top, the numbers coming in at the highest propensity to buy and get them to the right people. Two companies that come to mind when I think about that, SelectQuote are advertisements on television. They do the same thing, they built their own CRM to handle that because it needed to route to the next best person who had the highest ability to close. If you were the spillover, the bench team, then that team better close at a high level because you can move up to be above the bench team. The other company is ZoomInfo. DiscoverOrg was a huge proponent of that kind of lead routing based on close rates. I would love to see more companies use that philosophy because as you said, the rising tide raises all boats. If it becomes a competitive work environment like that, then you know you better be closing at 30% or you are not getting those kinds of leads anymore.
We talked about stuff like that about being like an Uber. With your star rating, the ones with the highest star ratings are going to get the next ride. Your highest converting reps are the ones that are doing the most with everything they are given, they are always the next stop. You make sure that they are as full as possible, and then you go down to the next year. That has a good incentive to those people at the bottom to move up because if they are not performing, they need to perform and make something out of everything that they are given or they are likely going to be looking for another job soon.
The last question, thinking forward to where things are headed, one thing I'm seeing in call center environments, especially on the phone is that if you align a certain type of resource with their personality traits to another person with their personality traits, it doesn't have to be like to like. It could be this person lines up well with that person. Have you seen anything of classifying a dataset based on who the seller and the buyer are yet or are that still a little way off?
That skill-based routing and all that stuff, we have dabbled with and used for years. I don't know if we ever mastered that or felt like we have mastered it.
It seems like traditionally, it takes, “I need you to fill out this 100-survey questionnaire, then I'm going to know everything about you.” Now, what I'm just starting to see in these kinds of conversations are, “This tool is going to look at the LinkedIn information. Based on the words that are there, we can tell beyond a reasonable doubt what your personality is.” You feed that into the engine and you get a brand-new skill-based routing that you never have access to that in the past would have taken a lot of work to get. Now, you can just append that scale and route leads differently.
It makes perfect sense because we have that full call center background. We did have and have used that skill-based routing extensively and it always made sense. It's almost like your good salespeople, they trump all of that. The reason why you were selling $16,000 and the reason why you are doing now, the algorithm can account for that. There are superstars and they are built, they think and work differently. You can try and replicate that but I suspect you can't.
Dr. Joël Le Bon is a professor, PhD-level doctor, he used to be at the University of Houston, now he's in Baltimore. He wrote the foreword of the book. He said, “In sales, time kills deals. In AI for sales and in modern sales, AI kills time because now you can do more and get the right lead to the right person at the right time and shorten the cycle times, which is where the leakage happens.” When he looked at the skillsets where the human should be engaged in those processes, it's in the build trust. Wherever there's a need to build trust is where you should have a human-to-human connection.
What’s going to happen is people's ability to have better human-to-human conversations, that's where the stress point is going to be. In the past, if you are a seller, you could make it up on your ability to do more activities, calls and emails, pack the pipe and get a 10% close rate. That's fine, you have a bigger pipe. Nowadays, if you are not able to execute at a higher level, especially in mid-market, major accounts, enterprise and all of the bigger sales. Building trust is where the human should focus their efforts in the sales motion.
When you were talking about the Foot Locker story and if you change the process, I think that's true but you are not going to have that same level of trust. You need to, at some point early in the sales process, if it's significant enough sales opportunity to make that investment, is to have that salesperson be an actual person so that they can build that trust. A lot of that trust comes from listening and it’s the one-off, “I understand you and what you are trying to accomplish as a customer.” There's a bond that gets created there that I don't know if technologies are going to be able to do that.
Versus the thing like, “The solution you need is A solved by B.” It's harder to put a finger on it. This has been a fun conversation. Don Simpson, Founder-CEO of a couple of companies, MarketLinc, as well as Lift AI. If people want to get ahold of you, Lift-AI.com is the website.
Thanks, everybody, for joining. It’s another great conversation. If you are using a different tool, Intercom or Drift, it doesn't matter, this is separate from that. Lift AI can help you enhance what you are doing with those other technologies too.
It's not a chat tool. It works with all chat tools. We work with everything under the sun. We have our favorites but we can work with most, if not all.
We are doing some work with one of the big ones now so we will have to bring it in after our first month of piloting with this company.
It’s great to see you, Don. Thank you for joining.
Thank you, Chad.
About Don Simpson
We have pioneered the use of customer engagement to drive revenue for global brands for 3 decades. First in building call centers and inside sales operations, then leading in the use of live sales chat, and now we are pioneering AI to score website visitors conversion potential to trigger optimal customer engagement with Lift AI.
98% of your website traffic is anonymous, which means you're missing out on a lot of potential revenue. Until now.
Lift AI identifies the buying intent of anonymous website visitors in real-time, allowing you to trigger conversion tactics such as live sales chat or chatbots before the visitor leaves the site.
Lift AI’s proprietary machine-learning model is based on over one billion captured web journeys and real-time behavioral analytics, working out-of-the-box to deliver results for companies like PointClickCare who saw a 4x increase in conversions in just 90 days.
So, instead of casting your rod into a dark, invisible pool of anonymous visitors, you can now use AI to illuminate the full potential of your website and, like a commercial-grade fish finder, direct you to that shoal of high-intent visitors exactly when the time is right.