Optimizing AI For The Future of Sales And Marketing With Rob Gonzalez
AI is the future. But what exactly will its role be in commerce? In this episode, Chad Burmeister sits down with Rob Gonzalez, CMO and co-founder of Salsify, and gets his thoughts on the role of AI in the future of sales and marketing. They go in-depth on how they foresee AI will be deployed to enhance and optimize different business processes. Who is leading the game and what are the problems that need solving? Tune in to learn more.
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Optimizing AI For The Future of Sales And Marketing With Rob Gonzalez
I've got a great guest with us. Rob Gonzalez is the CMO and Cofounder of Salsify. We're going to talk about AI in both marketing and sales. We're going to dig in.
Rob, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Chad.
Great to have you here. I like to connect our audience with you as a person before we go into the conversation about your organization and AI in the sales and marketing space. Think about when you were 6, 7, or 5. In that very young age, what was your passion? What did you think you wanted to do in life? When you woke up, what was your deal back then?
That age is one that I don't remember that well. My dad was a GE Capital guy. We moved to England. When I was nine years old, he was transferred over there. My memories after that point from about nine years old on are clear, but before that, it's muddled. For those of you that are on the phone that are Enneagram fans, I'm on a seven. The seven is the shiny object, personality type. It's always been easy for me to get excited about almost any damn thing. Growing up, I played every sport that I possibly could. I loved every single sport and specialized in soccer due to time constraints. I loved athletics. I love building almost anything I could get my hands on, any carpentry or electronics project. I painted miniatures. I had this whole hobby called Warhammer 40,000. It's miniature armies. I was an enthusiast. Anything that I could get exposed to, I did. I had about a billion hobbies back then.
I'm sure I'm a seven, too, because shiny object syndrome definitely runs in my DNA. If I were to ask your marketing team, would they still see that characteristic of the shiny object?
No. They would not see it at all. The big thing that I spend my time on with the marketing team in particular, but other parts of the organization was scaling is a focus in doing fewer things but doing them well and running a sustainable race. We're going to be IPO scale this 2021. There's a lot more road to run after that. Going from $100 million, $500 million to $1 billion in revenue is going to be a long road. We can't have people burning out because they're frenetically running around doing a billion little things instead of focusing on the 1 or 2 things that are going to move the needle. My team sees a very intentional, focused version of me. That's taken many years for me to get to this point. The shiny object is still deep inside but it's been repressed over the years.
Focus on doing fewer things but doing them well and running a sustainable race.
That reminds me of a book that we read at WebEx as an executive team called Focus On The Vital Few, Ignore The Trivial Many. Vital Factor is the name of the book. Cold Stone Creamery was a customer of them. Ever since that read, I always focus on the dashboard. Every Friday, I get an email. It's got the three main things as long as those needles are moving. I attended an event in Florida. A person talked about it as a brick. He said, "What's the brick inside of your business that builds brick upon brick? Like at Footlocker, the brick that they figured out back in the day was measuring the foot size." You come in and most people were like, "Let me show you these Nike shoes." It's like, "No. I don't care about those. I came in for something different." If they changed it and said, "Let me measure your feet for width and length," their sales went up by 800% overnight.
You got to make it simple for people. We've had a mixed bag of success along those lines over the years. If you think about all the things that a revenue engine can do to grow a business, sales and marketing is a team. You could be focusing on social, cold outbound, do direct mail, do networking events, and do the big tent events. There are about a billion things you can do. One of the pieces of advice that I got in the early days is that if you get one channel that you can do well, focus on that. There's always going to be hype around the new thing. These days, it's Clubhouse.
If you stick to your knitting, and you do one thing well, that's amazing. If you can find a second grade, but you're better off doubling down on the brick, you're saying brick and building the business that way, then you are trying to do every damn thing. For us, we do a combination of webinars, content, and cold calling. The whole business is built on that. We're not present on social. We don't do any of the new fancy Clubhouse, TikTok things, or events. We picked a couple of things that were exceptions a lot and drive it home. I like that analogy a lot.
The pre-story was New York and New Jersey were built around the same time. New Jersey had a little head start on New York. It's just bricks. They said, "It wasn't the vision for both cities. It was the execution side of it." It was interesting. It's figuring out. What is that brick for you? Thinking of the new bricks, which are technology, there are all kinds of technologies that are coming out. Keeping the less is more and the simplicity focus that we talked about the vital factors, how are you seeing AI get deployed to enhance that process? Where do you see artificial intelligence playing in your world?
I remember a few years ago, I can keep the entire sales pipeline in my head more or less. I could go on a handful of Salesforce reports, click through, look at deal details, and build a good sense of where the friction is in the business. Is it competitive? Is it messaging? Is it pricing? Are there markets that we should be focusing on more or less? The business has got to a scale where that's simply not possible. We're talking about thousands of engagements over the course of the year, territories and thousands of accounts, territories in the United States and across Europe. Nobody can keep it on their head. We deploy AI in a couple of different ways.
The first is account segmentation. My co-founder, Jeremy Redburn, is the Chief Data Officer of the company. He built a team that includes data science that segments all of the accounts in the world that we know of and ranks them effectively. Our territories are smaller than you would find in a lot of other B2B SaaS companies. They're smaller because we have the confidence that we pick the right account for us right now. That also informs product strategy. You look at the total TAM that's available with the existing accounts. What does the product strategy need to go into the lower fit areas? What will be missing from them? That's one key way that we apply. Since doing that, the conversion rates across the funnel have gone up because we're talking to folks that are high fit all the time.
The second thing that we've done is, from a pipeline reporting perspective, we've been using these monster Excel sheets that originally, my other co-founder, Jason Purcell, built back in early 2017. We export the entire deal history out of Salesforce into these crazy Excel sheets that show you conversion rates over time, give you forecasts and projections based on past performance. Those things don't work anymore. We've implemented a tool called Clari, which is AI base for forecast management. It's a lot simpler. You don't have to be a Mathematician or Computer Scientist to work the thing or understand what's going on. It enables us to put forecasting into the hands of individual sales managers that have AI intelligence built into them.
There are other places across the business that we're looking to deploy that we haven't yet. We implemented Service Cloud. There's a bunch of opportunity within Service Cloud for support ticket management and whatnot to infer for general customer success to deploy AI for better resolution times and better see the status. We're at a scale now where there's a tremendous amount of opportunity throughout the entire funnel through upsell to deploy AI to make the business more effective. It's pretty. It's been working for us so far.
It sounds like a lot of big data, figuring out the 0s from the 1s sitting on top of that Clari, the forecasting company. I had a person on this show. He's in the process of rolling this out. He's done two years of beta capturing the conversations and figuring out the markers inside the conversations that relate to the forecast based on the buyer language. You've got tools like Chorus and Gong that give you the post snapshot of the conversations. Imagine taking all of the data that gets input by salespeople into a CRM, adding it to those live conversations, and even adding sentiment analysis to show was the customer happy at the end of this call. Did they use the right buying terms? It's getting interesting of the types of conversations we're having related to AI these days.
I love the direction of that stuff. We use Chorus, but we haven't been using the sentiment analysis and the signaling. It makes where to spend your time as an executive or as a sales leader a little bit easier rather than the same type of process, management meetings that everyone has been used to for decades. Instead, the AI gives signal to this deal where you should spend some time coaching or this deal here, they're forecasting, but there's a risk that type of oversight makes sales management more efficient and more focused in a way. A lot of companies found it difficult to scale.
I had a professor on from Princeton. He was 10 or 12 years there. He said the number one thing a salesperson could do to optimize their sales revenue. This rolls up to the CRO and everybody in the company. It's work on companies who could spend more money. Not necessarily will, but they could because once you get in and they're happy with your product or service, if they have the opportunity to spend more money, then you're better off. I know that connect and sell when I was head of sales and marketing there.
We focused on funded startups, series A, B, C, and D. A lot of reps would tend to spend time with a small mom-and-pop company. They didn't have a lot of money to spend. Therefore, when we'd go in and say, "This is hiring a team of ten salespeople." They're like, "I would never do that." "I'm probably spending time with the wrong person." That's awesome. What do you think about the future? Where is AI heading? If you look a year out or two years, things change so fast right now. What do you see on the horizon that's interesting to you?
AI is interesting that it's become a thing that's easy enough to do that you can apply it to a ton of specific problems. When I was in college, I did AI research. I was a Computer Science and Math double major. This is before any of the last ten-year deep learning explosion that's happened out there that's made a lot of things a lot more tenable. Back then, you were looking to train corpora of documents to find patterns and do classification. It's come so far in the past years. It's incredible. It's going to depend on the business. AI, the way that it works, is best when it's specific to a problem. If it's specific to a problem, it can be quite powerful. I'll give you an example. In Salsify, our customers are our brand manufacturers. It's the Coca-Cola and L'Oréals of the world that sell through Walmart, Sephora, Kroger, and Home Depot.
One of the key things that they've got to do is manage their experiences online. They have to manage the images, product titles, and feature bullets. The question is, what's good? What works? What doesn't work? How does that change over time with shopping behavior? We've got an AI system for them that grades their content and give suggestions on how to improve it. We can prove the AI. If you take the advice from the system, your search ranking goes up, and your conversion rates go up. There's a nice virtuous cycle there. It's a very specific application of AI to a specific market. It helps them sell. There are 100,000 other ways that Coca-Cola can use AI to improve their business and this is one of them.
AI works best when it's specific to a problem. If it's specific to a problem, it can be quite powerful.
My view here is that a lot of AI looks like that. For us, we've got our own models that we built for the territory assignment. We use Clari specifically for forecasting. All it does is forecasting for us. You start getting into the things that you're talking about Gong, Chorus, and sentiment analysis. All of those are specific use cases. From a marketing and sales perspective all the way through the funnel is that there's a tremendous amount of opportunity and problems in the funnel that are unsolved yet that are big problems where big businesses can grow out of them. That's going to be the next few years. The interesting step is going to be, can somebody tie these together? Salesforce is trying to deal with Einstein. What's the future of a more consolidated, AI-driven player that, instead of solving specific problems, can solve many specific problems?
It makes me think a marketplace is needed for this. If I have, "Let me stack rank my three problems I'm trying to solve for the year," or if I have a department, "Here are my eight things I'm working on." Wouldn't it be cool to post and say, "These are the problems. Does anybody have any ideas on how to solve these with AI?" It's amazing to your point. There are so many things that people are working on and deploying that you don't hear about. They're hidden in someone's product.
Salesforce has an interesting position in the market, given that potential. They touch the whole funnel right now. They've got a marketplace already. You can imagine that being where things land, but also, there are big chunks of the funnel they don't touch. We use Marketo for marketing automation. There are tons of different campaigns we run on multiple continents. We're not doing anything to optimize that on any automated basis right now. It's hard to see doing that with Salesforce in the way that it's constructed. You're right there. There may be an opportunity for a marketplace. It's going to be interesting to see who's in a position to execute on something like that.
It’s one of those things like when people started buying on Amazon. They realized, "This works well." Then they do other things online. It's the same thing too. A lot of B2C AI comes, and you use that. That gets driven back into companies also. It's interesting times, no doubt about it. Thank you for joining. This has been an awesome conversation from England at a young age to what you're doing now. It sounds like the team is focused. The company's about to go public later in 2021. Knock on wood.
We'll be ready within 2021. You know how these things go.
I do. I was with it on 24. It took us about a decade. When I joined, it was, "We're doing it this year." Eight or nine years later, we finally went public. I got the lockup notice in the mail. Three more months, I can sell something.
I saw the odd 24. That's fantastic. Congratulations.
It didn't turn into wallpaper. That was a good exit there. This has been a fun conversation. Companies that could benefit from your organization, what do they look and feel like? Who would be the right audience for you to talk with?
It's brand manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. Everyone that's in the commerce space, The Bashes, L’Oréals and Mars.
Thank you, everybody, for joining. I've been talking with Robert Gonzalez, the CMO of Salsify. What an awesome conversation. Keep up the good work. Thank you so much for all your insights got covered on the show, Rob.
Thanks for having me.
About Rob Gonzalez
I love building things: writing code, writing blog posts, building a company, creating a category, really anything creative. My career has thus been a walk through most of the major functions in an enterprise software company, including 3+ year stretches in each of software engineering, product management, business development, and marketing. This has left me with a broad and enjoyable skill set for building things.
Building Salsify has been a blast. The company's platform empowers brand manufacturers like L'Oreal, Coca-Cola, Mars, and hundreds more to win on the Digital Shelf. We've closed >$250M in funding, have offices in Boston, Chicago, and Lisbon, and are on the path to IPO.
I love the team and culture we've built. We've won dozens of "best place to work" awards and have been included in Wealthfront's Career-Launching Companies List two years in a row. In addition, my co-founder, Jason, has been on several "Best CEO" lists.