Social networks are a fertile ground for sales, but using it to actually try to sell to people may go against your favor. The concept of social engagement goes beyond this urge to pitch sales and focuses on engaging with customers and building rapport with them. Brian Cook of Grapevine6 joins Chad Burmeister to talk about the future of social engagement and the role AI has to play in it. Brian explains how putting content out to social networks through AI can be an effective way to generate customer engagement while doing away with all the hard work in research. AI certainly has a growing role in the future of social engagement and Brian is right on its forefront.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Future Of Social Engagement With Brian Cook
I’ve got Brian Cook, the Chief Revenue Officer from Grapevine6 with me. We’re going to talk about the future of social engagement. Notice it’s not the future of social selling, rather the future of social engagement. Brian, I’m sure we’re going to talk about how that’s changed over the last couple of years. Thanks for being here. I appreciate your time.
We’re glad to have you on the show. For those who are new to the Sales Experts Channel, you’ll see a few links and the ability to contact Brian through social. For those who are not familiar with AI for Sales, we put out the book in the middle of 2019. There are 21 chapters of interviews with people Brian talking about how they use AI for sales in their selling motion and that’s exactly what we’re going to talk to Brian about. How are they leveraging AI and how social engagement is going to change in the coming years? This will also be broadcast on the show through the C-Suite Network. With that, let’s get started. Brian, I’ve heard of Grapevine6 before. In fact, we know some of the same people in the industry. How did Grapevine6 come about and where do you leverage it in your selling motion?
It’s an unusual name. I’ll explain where they came up with the name. They were five founders and they came up with the idea for the company on a patio in someone’s backyard underneath actual grapevines. There were five founders who did their undergrads in computer sciences together. You would say, “Why isn’t it called Grapevine5?” They reserved the sixth place for the customer. The company was chosen as Leader by Forrester Research, in the area of social engagement. It used to be called social selling, but somewhere along the line someone thought the term selling had a negative to it so they changed it to social engagement. A smart lady from Forrester, Mary Shea, did the evaluation and coined the new term of social engagement.
Social engagement also sounds to me broader. Social selling, you might think, “I’m going to reach out to you on LinkedIn. I’m going to book a meeting with you and I’m going to sell something to you.” Engagement feels a lot broader. It’s almost like digital selling has a broader connotation. Do you find that in Forrester’s new definition is engagement more than reaching out to somebody on social and trying to position your product with them, I assume so?
The reasoning behind it is, a trap that people can fall into in sales is to use social networks to try and sell to people. I certainly get a lot of people trying to sell me via social media. Whereas if you’re using our platform, it’s more for engaging with people on social networks. I can give you some examples of how that’s worked for me.
That would be great. Let’s dig into that. How does it work and where does AI fit into that process?
When I started social a few years ago, at that time, the people in compliance were the ones saying, “We don’t let people use social networks.” If you look at their corporate LinkedIn page, you’ll see that they had 75,000 people that were on LinkedIn already. They had to evolve to be able to provide content for them to share that was fully compliant. It had to go through compliance engines to make sure that took place.
In our scenario, we use artificial intelligence to pull content from 11,000 different publications every day, but 150,000 new pieces of content every day and we use it in several ways. We make the content authentic to the individual. We use AI to analyze everything we find out about you on their social networks. Chad you’re a skier, we do see that from your social networks. You live in Denver, what you do for a living, where you went to school and where you’ve lived. The engine pulls in present content specific to you, for you to be able to post.
This is to make yourself humanize yourself on the social network so you’re not only posting content about your company. One of one scenario, I’m a guitar player and I’ve got a piece of content sent to me by our agent on authentic vintage electric guitars. I posted it and two days later, I had a phone call from an executive vice president of a large US Bank, who also collects vintage electric guitars. We spoke on the phone for 30 minutes and he wants me to come down and present, assuming we get on airplanes ever again, on innovation. That’s the way we take the content and how to engage with people versus trying to sell.
I went to a conference. It was in early March 2020 or end February 2020 and it’s the B2B Marketing Exchange Conference and Pam Didner was the keynote. She did about an hour-long presentation on AI as it relates to marketing. About halfway through a presentation she talked about, “Who wears the pants and the relationship between humans and AI?” This makes me think of that because you get served up this message about the guitar. I’m assuming that you can still confirm or deny whether that gets posted. You haven’t turned the keys of the car over to the AI to auto-post, you probably can but that becomes an individual decision of, “How far do I let the AI go in that relationship?”
That’s true. The individual is the one that picks. You’re presented with hundreds of pieces of content that are relevant and timely. As part of your selling DNA, you’ll go in and pick 8 or 10 pieces of content. The best practice is not to post more than a dozen pieces of content at any given time. Our system will auto-schedule that content out across the timeframe at the most optimal time for traffic on social networks, which we analyze.
That is powerful. It’s AI augmentation. Let’s dig in a little bit. You’ve said a few years. Thinking about college and your career post-college. How did the bobs and weaves of your career take you to the point where you’re now in social engagement?
It’s fascinating. When you look back and you say, “How did I get to where I am?” When I did my undergrad I was going to be a lawyer and now, I’m in social media and social engagement. It’s interesting. I’m Canadian. I was supposed to be a professional hockey player. By the time I was six, I knew that was never going to happen. I did an undergrad in math and economics. I went into tech. I’ve been in tech for quite a while.
You once stayed in Peter Schwartz’s house. It’s a story that I remember. It wasn’t served up by AI, but it was served up by you.
I don’t know if I’d call it a house. It was probably 25,000 square feet. It was quite the villa in Provence.
That’s outstanding. I was talking with Brian earlier and I worked for Descartes Systems Group, so Peter Schwartz was the CEO of Descartes. This was back in the dot-com bust days when we went from $2 a share to over $100. On paper, I thought I was doing quite well at those times and it went back down to $2 or $4. Since then they’ve recovered quite nicely and had a good run at it.
They’re doing quite well. It can be a success story.
Did you study law in school?
No, I did my undergrad in Math and Economics. I saw how miserable my friends who were lawyers were, so I went into tech.More people are telling their stories on social media. You can find a lot about someone before you pick up the phone and call them. Click To Tweet
Did you go on the sales side of tech? How did you start in tech?
I have always been on the sales side.
This is always fun because connecting the dots between those days back to when you were a young professional hockey player wannabe. I assume you were competitive. When you were younger, what were you passionate about?
I was a street hockey kid. I was never destined for the big show, but I kept passionate about guitars when I was fairly young. To this day, I still have a little rock band. They’re made up of professionals that also realize that they weren’t going to make their living in music. I was approached by a headhunter about this social media company out of San Francisco to start Canada for them. I took that on and I met some interesting people who educated me on the whole idea of social selling at the time. I viewed it as where selling was going and how people wanted to interact with you. The reality is, when you cold call someone, the first thing they do is they’ll check out your profile on LinkedIn.
At the time, my LinkedIn profile needed a lot of work. I was fortunate enough to meet someone who’s a social media guru and has been an advisor to me ever since and taught me what things I needed to do. It’s amazing how many people in sales, and a lot of people will go and check, but don’t have their contact information in their LinkedIn profile like their corporate email. I always say that ladies shouldn’t put their phone number in there, but certainly your work email. That was one thing that was an eye-opener for me.
I looked up a CEO of a company, one of the people that were on the ski trip with me and they’ve got their personal address there.
That’s good. A high percentage of people don’t. Rule number one, if you’re in sales, you have to be fundable and reachable.
That makes sense. We’re doing a little bit and social. I’m curious if you have seen other companies do this. We have a partner that’s out of Austin, Texas, that powers this approach for us. Let’s say you have a list of 100 target accounts through an ABM approach, “Here’s my top 100.” We will go in and map the customers or in this case, I did my own. I have 18,000 connections on LinkedIn. I probably know 10%. A lot of people connect with me. They’ve downloaded the book, buy the book, seen me speak at an event, or whatever. I reach out to a lot of people to connect too. Maybe it’s 20% that I know, but we map up the list of 100, 500 accounts or whatever you want to go after, and we analyze using AI what the best path to those 100 prospects is, rather than a direct outreach. What we found is, when you direct outreach against the list, you don’t trust me yet. You don’t know Chad and ScaleX from Adam, so why would I take a meeting with you?
However, if you can map your connections in your LinkedIn network to those end prospects and send a reasonably well-written note that says, “Brian, I see you’re connected with,” fill in the blank. “During these crazy COVID times, there’s an interesting way that we can help companies. Would you mind forwarding this note?” I’ve got eighteen meetings with top private equity investors in America. I have no idea. I’ve never met a PE and personal investor but through my network, I was able to do that. How does Grapevine do those referral-based and processing it all through your platform?
If I’m Toronto, Tony Chapman, he’s a keynote speaker, but he’s also a futurist. He has a great expression, he says, “Content and social is the new oxygen.” I like that term. More and more people are telling their life stories on social networks. It’s amazing how much you can find out about someone before you pick up a phone to try and call someone. We have something called interest graphs. What we use that for is we can find out a lot of people based on what they posted on social networks before we call them. If I was doing it the other way around versus having that PVP from the US Bank call me, I could point the interest graph at him and find out that he’s not passionate about vintage electric guitars, for example. That’s one mechanism for doing your research before you pick up a call, the phone or your keyboard and send an email to someone.
Can you write that? I would assume that information could be written back into custom objects in your CRM. I’m thinking if I could automate the level of personalization before the call. I was the head of sales and marketing for ConnectedAndSell a lot of our customers would say, “I do research all day for five hours, and I pick up the phone and make a call.” What they didn’t tell you is, “I do research for a long time. When I call someone and they don’t answer, all that research was for nothing.” They do it again and again and therefore they’ve only made ten phone calls for the day. They talk to zero people. We always had the vision of how do we serve up relevant content so when the phone beeps in my ear and I’m talking to someone that I don’t have to go do the research because it’s already presented for me? That’s what you guys do. You provide that level of personalization.
You can take our content, put it and use it to post it on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, or you can take a piece of content and send it via an email one-to-one to someone because they have an interest in powerboats, for example. You can take that content and use it to populate your personal website. We’re seeing more and more of that happen with people. The key thing is, the content before it comes into our engine from those 11,000 publications goes through a compliance scan of 150 different regulatory and compliance rules like SEC, FINRA and things of that nature. When it comes into our platform, when you go in and pick a piece of content you want to post and hit share this week, it goes through that same engine again and checks against 150 different threat vectors because people can put comments with the posts and sometimes they get themselves into trouble. Our major value proposition is the content that’s going out to the social networks is fully compliant.
That’s pretty cool. Let’s dig in with a couple more questions. We’ve learned through the conversation today that social selling is now social engagement. Reps care about it because they’re hitting their quotas this way but if I’m at the executive roundtable, I’m a C-level, a VP or a CRO, why do I care about social engagement?
There are all kinds of stats out there, Chad. The one I read was that people that are active on social networks posting content are 40% more likely to hit their targets than not. We’ve designed our platform so it’s easy to use and doesn’t take much time. Advisors are making this part of what I call selling DNA. Once a week, I’ll go in for 5 or 10 minutes. It’s got to be easy and fast. I’ll pick ten pieces of content. I’ll hit Share this Week, I close up my notebook and I’m done. The system then goes and schedules these pieces of content over the next 7 to 10 days. When you get low on posts that are scheduled, you’ll get an email saying, “You might want to go in and pick some more content.”
At the end of the month, as a salesperson, I’ll go in and I’ll look at my reports. It will tell me that I posted 52 pieces of content but I’ve got 255 clicks. I also got fourteen repeat readers. I can’t tell you who those people are, but I can tell you what they’ve clicked on. This person has been back three times and they’ve clicked on retirement planning. The next time that person comes in to look at content and posting, we’re going to present an offer that says, “We’re holding an event in Denver on retirement planning. If you’d like to register, please click here, or please register here.” If they register, then you’ve achieved the GDPR privacy rules. You’ve also taken someone from anonymous to know and that they’re interested in retirement planning. That’s one way that we use the system to convert content clicks into the funnel.
The last question here is there are a lot of tools and technology. Let me make this an A and B. If I think about what my initial reaction when you’re saying, “This is used by sales teams,” I think of a bigger company. At what point, if I’m a listener to this webinar and podcast, do I need to have 500 sellers? Where do you guys find the sweet spot for leveraging this platform?
Traditionally, we’ve been rolled out and some of the largest most conservative financial services firms that have thousands of advisors on our platform. One example though is SAP, the world’s largest software company. LinkedIn refers to SAP social selling platform as the most successful social selling platform in the industry. SAP uses two products. They use Grapevine6 on LinkedIn Sales Navigator. For example, they have publicly stated that the use of these two platforms has generated their cost to €2 billion in a net funnel. That’s an example of one of our clients generating business from using social media.
If I have five sellers, would this be applicable to me as well?
Historically, we’ve been focused on the big financial services firms, but we offer a free version of our application from the app store. You should download it, Chad.
I will, that’s why I’m asking.Social engagement is still about people to people. AI’s role is just to generate conversations more efficiently. Click To Tweet
Last I saw, we had about 4,000 individual users out there using the tool to post content on the social network. They don’t get all the functionality from the owner enterprise version but it gets them started. I’ve talked with many and I like calling up even their small companies to tell them about the tool or give them a quick test drive. It’s cool.
I’m going to check it out. Think about the outside of Grapevine6. Let’s assume it didn’t exist for a minute and you are the CRO of a tech company. What are the top 2 to 3 tools? CRM has always been the obvious one. Navigator seems to be like, “I need to get that as my second thing.” What are the other 2 or 3 must-haves? What are the up and comers that you’re seeing that are something you should think about?
I would always say business intelligence analytics has always been key because that’s the dashboard on how your business is doing and there are some cool players in that space and startups. MicroStrategy is one of them. That was the leader in the enterprise, but there’s like Click, Tableau and others that are cool companies. People are visual. If they look at a dashboard, they can get a much clearer sense of where their business is headed versus looking at numbers. That’s one area. Look at where we went through with Coronavirus.
Governments have underinvested in technology and their employees are trying to do their jobs from home and aren’t properly outfitted for it in some cases. Mobile is critical and where that’s all going. I’m seeing amazing advances in CRM from smaller users than the traditional big ones like Salesforce where the value prop for a small company can be cost-prohibitive so there are some other cool little CRM firms that are coming in that are helping small companies be able to manage their business at a lower cost point. What are your thoughts?
It’s interesting because every time I ask, and I’ve done probably close to 25 of these conversations, nobody that I can think of has said AI in this particular area. It feels to me, we’re still ahead of the curve. I’m seeing tools and there’s one called Balto Software. I’m a huge believer in cold calls and using the phone. Ultimately, what is digital and the social engagement for it’s to generate a conversation. It’s still about people to people. Imagine your tool gets me a meeting with someone and I have a team of five sellers.
If you get seller A, B, C, D or E, you will have different user experiences as the end customer. Unless you’re someone like RingCentral, who invested millions of dollars and put in infrastructure, training and sales enablement, people, and technologies. What Balto Software does is let’s say you’re in a Zoom meeting having a dialogue and I open up the call, it gives you not only a talk track and a script of what to generally say. It doesn’t have to be word for word, but it listens to my conversation to see if I’m asking you the questions.
Maybe you want to do bank qualification. Don’t tell Keenan that because he is not a fan of cold calling. If you ever see him, he will light you up. You get the drift. Imagine if you could go in and you’re starting to talk questions, somebody brings up a competitor in the conversation, “This sounds that company out of Charlotte that used to be around years ago. Do you know those guys?” Another screen pop comes up and it says, “Ask these three questions.” That’s cool. It’s amazing and it checks the box to make sure that the rep is paying attention and generally asking the question. We’re still early in the rollout of AI before long it’s going to be important. You’re augmenting the ability to pull content from 11,000 sources and that’s amazing. That’s going to be more and more prevalent in all different kinds of applications.
Have you looked at a company called Seismic?
That’s rather interesting from the ability. They do a lot of things well but one is real-time updates on the slides for financial services and financial reports. That was cool.
There’s another one that does competition analysis. SimilarWeb is the name of them.
I’ve come across them.
That’s neat because if you’re RingCentral and you’re competing against Zoom, they used to be a reseller, so now Zoom and Ringcentral compete. Imagine if in real-time, it monitors all of the pricing page updates, and all the special promos and offers. If you’re in product management, the AI sits there and crawls and records it so you can see if there was a change made on Friday at 10 AM by Zoom and RingCentral’s inbound leads start going down. There are some pretty interesting competitive real-time analysis updates that are going on there.
You’re thinking of the human being out of the process altogether. I can’t even believe I forgot to mention Zoom. I’ve been living on Zoom since this lockdown.
I noticed that they’ve announced the security update on the platform.
I saw that.
Brian, this has been awesome. My initials are CB, and every time I’ve had an interview with another CB, it’s been highly successful. Yours are BC, so that’s the same initials but in a different order. I enjoyed this conversation.
I’ve enjoyed it too, Chad. Thank you so much for having me.
May your product continue to help enhance companies that are using the technology in this crazy and wacky new world that we live in.
Thanks, Chad. May you and your family stay safe during this time.
I appreciate your time.
- AI for Sales
- C-Suite Network
- Forrester Research
- Mary Shea – LinkedIn
- B2B Marketing Exchange Conference
- Pam Didner
- Descartes Systems Group
- LinkedIn – Brian Cook
- Tony Chapman
- Free version – Grapevine6 App
- Balto Software
About Brian Cook
A seasoned professional technology sales executive with over 30 years of sales and sales management experience internationally and in the Canadian financial services marketplace. I have a passion for earning and maintaining an executive-level relationships with both business and technology with a focus on solving business issues with technology as the enabler.
I have a consistent track record of obtaining and exceeding the business quotas assigned to me and I am attracted to companies that have a solution set that can be effectively utilized by the relationships that I have in place.