How artificial intelligence is already influencing the digital sales process [Interview]
By John Becker
Whether you know it or not, artificial intelligence (AI) is already having significant influence on the modern digital sales process — and this is only going to increase in the years ahead.
Today, across the country and around the world, machine learning and AI are helping sales reps find the best prospects, connect more effectively, and close deals with more efficiency than ever before.
Chad Burmeister, founder and CEO of ScaleX.ai, who recently presented at IMPACT’s Virtual Selling Summit, shared his thoughts on where AI for Sales is today, where it’s likely to be tomorrow, and why high-EQ is an essential component for AI to work well.
How ScaleX helps its customers
John: Chad, can you first off talk to me about what ScaleX.ai does, and your role in the company?
Chad: ScaleX is an AI for sales platform, otherwise known as pipeline acceleration as a service. There are basically three things that our company does:
We provide data, digital outreach, and dials on behalf of our customers so that they can reach their market a lot more effectively than they would otherwise.
The traditional path to market would be to hire a sales development representative (SDR) or a business development representative (BDR) to build a list of prospects every day, send bulk emails and make calls to the prospects on that list. BDRs typically average 1,000 sales touches per month. That includes phone, email, and social.
When you leverage artificial intelligence and you empower the SDR or BDR with AI augmentation, you can automate a lot of the processes that were formerly manual.
A typical customer of ScaleX will see 10,000 sales activities per month and 50,000 or more digital/marketing touches per month, instead of the normal 1,000.
We believe more activities equals more meetings, which equals more pipeline and more sales.
As CEO, my role is to understand which companies can benefit most from AI-augmentation, ensure that ScaleX has been introduced to those companies, and then track success all the way through from sign up to eventual expansion.
John: What does that automation look like in practice?
Chad: It starts with data. We have a relationship with the three or four best-of-breed providers of data — companies like ZoomInfo and SalesIntel — and these providers have the ability to look at geographic information for customers and technographic data: have they deployed Salesforce, Oracle, or any of thousands of other different software applications?
That way we can get much more relevant, timely information to figure out who to reach out to in the first place. Then, we'll execute an email campaign on behalf of the customer, a social outreach campaign, and a paid ads campaign.
Traditionally, paid-ads might take a full-time resource or a part-time resource, plus up to $4,000 per month per channel, whether it's LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. It can be a lot of money really fast.
We've figured out a way to be much more efficient and actually spend just $500 per month and go cross channel and advertise to the specific individuals that we're reaching out to via phone, email, and social.
Then the last piece is dials.
In traditional companies, the SDR or BDR would do about 500 to 750 dials per month. These are typically entry level college grads who haven't really had a lot of business conversations.
Our model is different. We use what's called agent-assisted dialing. I like to think of it as AI augmentation for dialing. It empowers our 10 to 15 year sales professionals to have 250 (or more) dials per day, and talk to 10 to 20 people rather than the traditional 20 to 30 dials a day.
Really, ScaleX is all about getting our clients more activity and more meetings through the use of AI.
John: Do you work more with B2B or B2C companies?
Chad: Primarily business to business, although we do serve some very unique B2C customers — companies that get a lot of leads that come into their website and they leverage our platform, whether it's email, social and/or dials, to reach out to those leads.
AI is already here
John: You said in your presentation, “no matter whether you are pro AI or con, it's here.” Can you talk about ways that companies are using AI in sales today?
Chad: I did a web meeting with Dr. Howard Dover of UT Dallas, who’s bringing AI into the university. I debated Mark Hunter on a webinar and it was with a big group of students. And at the end of the session, Mark said “at the end of the day, the train has left the station of AI for sales. And so whether you're pro or con, you better be on the train.”
I think most people have heard of conversation intelligence tools that will track conversations and track for triggers.
For example, did the sales rep ask the right number of questions when the prospect mentioned the competition? Intelligent tools can help you convert at a higher rate by making those sales conversations be the best they can be.
Second, everyone’s heard of chat on websites. Everybody's familiar with going down to the bottom right corner, clicking a button, and chatting with the chat bot. Well, the next iteration of chat is email. If you're comfortable corresponding with the chat bot, why can't you do the same thing in email? It's just a combination of zeros and ones.
That’s where AI for sales is heading.
I see that people with high EQ being the types who should build those email protocols. Customers will prefer to have somebody who's empathetic towards their role and position.
Also, this will move some responsibilities over from an entry-level SDR person into the hands of more established marketers.
The third way is around social outreach. There are several tools that automate connection requests. ScaleX.ai automates the connectivity between the seller and their ideal customer profile (ICP) by building a list in LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, or other sources, and then creating a sequence of messages that asks to connect.
Once they're connected, we offer a series of three or four messages through LinkedIn. The trick is you can't just connect with someone and then instantly say, can I come get a cup of coffee with you to sell you my product?
The same thing holds true: high EQ is important. Whether it's an email trail or a social outreach program, you want to build a connection before you ask for something like a meeting.
Those are areas that I see the low hanging fruit for AI for sales.
Where AI will take sales in the next few years
John: Can you speculate as to sales reps’ use of AI in three to five years?
Chad: Everybody's going to have it.
I have a Garmin watch on right now and it will just buzz me out of the blue. And it says, hey, Chad, you just completed 5,555 steps on a goal of 5,555.
The thing is, I didn’t set up the goal of 5,555 steps. I think that's a standard for a day in the life of a fit person, or maybe the AI will move the goal up over time based on my habits.
The same thing is going to happen in sales departments.
You will log into a portal. Maybe it will pull your list out of a data set, or maybe it will go research on LinkedIn.
Right now, it costs $10 for one rep to send one email. It should cost 10 cents. There is a dramatic cost improvement that’s possible.
I think reps will log into a portal and there are the 250-500 calls they need to make that day. They’ll hit the button and dials will happen and it will beep and then it will tell them exactly what to say and how to say it.
And the AI will give them a script. If they’re advanced, they might not need to read every word. They might only need to be 30% compliant. But if they’re brand new, now they have to be 90% compliant.
So, I think we’ll see a lot of things be automated by AI.
I think humans should do work that humans do well, and AI should do work that the AI does well. And the dust needs to settle over the course of the next three to five years.
You may be using AI for sales right now without realizing it
John: You noted that many people are already using AI for sales without really knowing it. Can you explain?
Chad: I went to a conference in December of 2019, and I asked all these CEOs in the room, how many people are using AI — and very few people raised their hands. I asked, how many people are using ZoomInfo, and 20-30% of the room raised their hands. Well, if you’re using ZoomInfo, you’re using AI.
Let's say you've got 500 customers. You can go in with ZoomInfo or InsideView and plug it into your CRM. Based on who your customers are, the size they are, how many deals you have closed with them, it will rank you in a quadrant and show you the kinds of companies you should go after.
That's done with machine learning and algorithms.
How AI can improve the customer experience
John: We've talked about how AI can improve efficiency for sales reps. Are there ways that AI is improving the customer experience?
Chad: Yes, AI can absolutely improve the customer experience.
Think about what we talked about before. If you give emailing responsibility to an entry level SDR or BDR who's compensated based on closed deals, they're going to come at it with a hammer.
They’re going to try to close deals, and that means putting pressure on the customer: When can we meet? Are you ready to buy?
In the face of that pressure, many prospects will opt out, never wanting to hear from that company again.
So maybe that company comes out with something new that would be perfect for you, but because of that one rep who came in with the hammer, you’re off the list.
There are so many ways AI can improve that situation.
First, the email that comes will be better timed, better phrased, and written to that prospect’s personality.
With targeting capability, we can make sure to deliver the right message to the right person.
It comes down to this: if a company contacts you in the way you want to be talked to, or emailed, or advertised to, that's a great experience for the buyer.
Why mindset matters
John: Talk to me about how an optimistic mindset is so important for achieving your goals.
Chad: I put 10 minutes aside every day to meditate. I use the Calm app and it just puts everything so clearly into perspective — what needs to be done for the day, week, month, and year.
I think it's hard to just have a positive mindset. You really have to follow a process. And for me, that means meditation.
TK Kader wrote a book called How to Punch the Sunday Jitters in the Face. He talks about asking yourself where you are and where you’re going, each week. And you just write it on a three by five note card or in the Google cloud.
Maybe last week was amazing. Maybe it was awful. But you list it out, you acknowledge it. And you list out what you’re going to do.
And then you put those things on your calendar. And inch by inch, week by week, you progress toward your goals. And you can boil the ocean in 52 weeks. And most people think that you can't boil the ocean, but you can.
COVID-19’s effect on the modern work environment
John: What do you see as the long-term effect that the COVID crisis will have on sales?
Chad: Eric Yuan, who used to work with me at WebEx back in 2005, is now the CEO of Zoom. Their sales literally doubled. They went from being about a $30 billion company to a $63 billion company since their last earnings call.
I think work from home is here to stay. When you see Twitter, Salesforce, and multiple companies saying, “look, if you don't want to come into the office, when things get back on track, you don't have to,” that's a massive statement.
When Aflac says, “Hey, we're testing an inside sales model,” and they've been around for 85 years, that's sort of eye opening.
How can people learn more about AI for sales and ScaleX.ai?
If you are interested in learning more about ScaleX.ai and AI for Sales, visit our website and sign up for our newsletter.
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