Check out the Sales Tech Talk with Stephanie Johnson. She walks us through SalesTalk, a dynamic tech product that enables sales teams to be conversationally competent with every call.
A recent Forrester report on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is fueling a renaissance of Conversational Intelligence is one of the most impactful I have read in several years. To put into perspective the magnitude of the pending changes suggested in the report of how we will manage and truly COACH sellers in REAL TIME, let us look at some other recent “earthquake magnitude” changes in business practices over the past two decades:
- Software as a Service (SAAS) has effectively replaced Premise Deployed Software in less than 20 years. Salesforce was the first SaaS application built from scratch to achieve record growth. Founded in March 1999, much of Salesforce’s CEO Marc Benioff’s original marketing was focused on the then radical statement “The Death of Software” – he chose a product that was getting traction (CRM), and then brilliantly redefined the purchase criteria to be the SAAS CRM solution that he pioneered.
- “When Amazon launched on July 16, 1995 – as a website that only sold books – founder Jeff Bezos had a vision for the company’s explosive growth and ecommerce domination”. Bezos subsequently became “The Richest Man in the World” by recognizing that the Internet was going to redefine how consumers buy products. He started with a product that was easy to ship, not perishable, etc. – but what is not sold on Amazon today?
- Home Depot gave an “isle of similar tools to choose from” to overcome the few choices offered in traditional hardware stores. The rest is history.
- Costco doesn’t even attempt to have everything you might want – it just selects the “fast movers” they can sell for less because of their volume purchases. They are so dynamic in their merchandise choices that they don’t even label their aisles – they just give them numbers.
THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN SELLING, WAS ACCELERATED BY THE COVID FORCED WORK FROM HOME ENVIRONMENT, AND WILL IMPACT SALES MANAGEMENT AND SALES COACHING THE WAY THE AUTOMOBILE IMPACTED THE HORSE AND BUGGY INDUSTRY.
The June 8, 2021Report from Forrester gives overwhelming facts that this new day of selling is here! Let’s look at the facts in this report:
- The demand for these new AI driven Conversation Intelligence tools is driven by “the ever-increasing importance (and cost) of customer conversations” – when only 5% of the people you call (a realistic average of B2B outbound lead calls in 2021) answer their phones, a live conversation is too precious to waste.
- Forrester defines Conversation Intelligence as: “Solutions for extracting actionable insights from spoken conversations with customers (e.g., phone calls, videoconferencing interactions, or other recorded conversations) for business purposes”.
Example: the screen shots below show how SalesTalk creates a Call Map to Recorded Calls, noting the actual time within the recorded call that a key point is discussed for easy listening to just the important parts of recorded calls:
- “To help you monitor and prompt agents and managers on what to say, what action to take, or what to coach an agent on.”
- . . . upskill sales teams to give the best proof points at the right time, more eloquently, offer customer context, and help the company and sales staff track repeated interactions.”
SalesTalk’s What2Say™ feature uniquely addresses this issue by providing sellers with a personalized TalkTrak™ designed specifically for each prospect based on their digital persona, beginning with an AI generated Opening Statement. As more is learned about the prospect, the TalkTrak evolves to ensure the conversation remains relevant to them.
Example: AI Generated Opening Statements Establish Relevancy.
Art Sobczak of Smart Calling makes a compelling case for a “personalized, customized, therefore relevant” opening statement in his podcast number 177 – “A Recording of a Cringeworthy Cold Art Received:
Below is an example of an AI Generated Opening Statement:
- “Agent optimization and coaching vendors provide real-time agent guidance. Traditionally, vendors helped brands improve quality by analyzing conversations that had already happened. The new breed of agent optimization vendors focuses on real-time analysis of in-process conversations. They then offer agents behavioral cues, dialogue suggestions, and proposed content (knowledge articles, forms, media, etc.) that can help the agent provide a compelling service experience”.
Isn’t guidance during a call a better alternative to selectively listening to recorded calls – and using AI to handle the objection during the call so the rep can “save the deal” – rather than learning how they might do better next time when you “autopsy” the deal you just lost?
Anthony Iannarino humorously makes the point about the need to be Relevant to the prospect’s perceived needs:
“Without insights, you cannot create the value necessary to develop and win deals. There is zero value creation for a client by you qualifying them, nor is there any real value created by asking your client to describe their “hot button,” their “pain point,” or “what’s keeping them up at night.” You have never had a client thank you for confirming they are the authority and have a budget. Nor have you heard a client utter the words, “Thank you for asking us the same questions about our problems as the last seven salespeople who sat in that chair.”
The contest is no longer around the company, their capabilities, or their solutions as much as it about who creates the most significant value throughout the sales conversation. The dominance of value creation has always been true at some level and has now the critical factor in creating and winning deals.
No insights, no value creation. No value creation, no deal.” – Anthony Iannarino – June 13, 2021
EASY AND TIGHT INTEGRATION WITH THE CRM:
- “vendors integrate with your existing systems to add a new layer of conversation intelligence with more advanced, specialized, easier-to-use, and/or cheaper capabilities.”
If something has to be written down, it will not be comprehensive, maybe not even correct. Can you afford for your reps to spend too much time trying to enter what they remember was discussed during the call? Isn’t it better to have the system automatically create a comprehensive Story-So-Far of everything that was sent to, said to, or said by the prospect – with the actual time each point is discussed? Isn’t the actual time a subject is discussed the best indicator of what is important to the prospect?
In Tennis, points are scored on every serve and the game mainly relies on the skill and technique of the players.
In Football, the strategy matters greatly, and points are scored during the game. In fact, you have someone guiding the strategy during the game – the quarterback. The quarterback is assisted by his coach when he wants to take a time out to get advice from someone who’s even more experienced. But the quarterback is calling the plays.
In Curling, execution skills are table stakes! Strategy is the key to winning. No points are scored until after the last shot is made. To a certain extent, a “Curling match” is more like a “sales match” where the seller tries to overcome the buyer’s objections because in both cases it doesn’t matter until the order is signed or the last shot is played. All the efforts don’t matter – the “score is not calculated until the match is over!
There is another huge difference between selling and sports: On “game day” 99% of the sports teams show up . . . in sales only 5% of the prospects answer your call. What are the ramifications of this in sales? It’s critical that you’re Relevant to the prospect. That means you’re competent, and you are talking about what the prospect is interested in.
We try to coach our new sales reps to say the right thing, at the right time, but preparing them for each call is different. Each prospect is different. You need to reflect the unique attributes of the prospect. For example, is your prospect a market leader or with a market challenger? Are you talking to the CFO or a CEO? In both instances your approach needs to be different in order for them to stay on the phone with you and even give you a shot at closing the sale.
Another big difference between sports and sales is you may only play one game a week . . . in sales, you may make several hundred calls a week. If only 5% of the people are going to answer their phone, how can you be adequately prepared? The first call needs to be tailored to the specifics of the prospect and to the experience level of the sales rep, so they come across as credible. If you’ve been in NFL for 20 years, you know what you might want to do in any given situation. But if you just graduated from college and you’re in your first year of the NFL, you may need some guidance on what a good plan for this game would be today. Looking at all the previous games that this competitor has played, how are you going to beat them today? So, you have a strategy and the strategy changes on the field, as it should, but you don’t have it written down. You’re going to try to go on memory. You have a plan, but in today’s sales calls, you don’t have that luxury.
We can use artificial intelligence so that the sales rep is given an opening statement that is appropriate to his experience and appropriate to the prospect. For example, it’s critical that a beginning sales rep not talk about things that go beyond their experience because they lose all credibility. An experienced sales rep can say, “In my 10 years in Sales, I’ve watched AI go from something that was interesting to something that’s really pivotal and key to being effective in every sales call.” However, a younger sales rep who just started working with their company would have to say, “My company has been in AI for 10 years and we have four patents pending.” A beginning sales rep can brag about their company – an experienced person can speak to their personal experience. This is important because there’s usually a huge disparity gap in experience between the sellers and the buyers . . . because the buyers have money (control the purchase budget), which means they usually have more experience than the sellers, at least those in the Business Development role making the first calls.
What happens when you have 100 or 300 calls you must prepare for weekly? You’re going to forget what you prepared for, because the person you really want to talk to didn’t answer your calls. You find that you have forgotten all you prepared to discuss. So, to be effective, a seller needs a system to generate a call plan of what would be the right things to talk about to this prospect, not generically, but reflecting the experience level of the sales rep because you don’t bring things up that are beyond their experience to handle.
That’s why it’s so critical to have a call plan, which is your steady talk track of what you plan to discuss. It’s helpful whether you’re experienced or inexperienced. It guides you on what will probably be the flow of the call, and helps you get back on track if the flow goes in an unexpected direction.
What we’ve done using artificial intelligence is comparable to what a good senior sales rep would do, based upon the flow of the call. It provides you with the ability to immediately pivot if your current solution or conversation is not a fit. The focus needs to immediately change, and that is where the artificial intelligence comes into play. Our Talk Tracks are based upon what has been discussed, the amount of time a subject was discussed, the number of times a subject was discussed, the experience of the sales rep, and the answers that you’re being given to the questions that you ask – everything from the day you first got the lead to what the story so far to this moment in time – is reflected in the talk track.
The ability to dynamically change during the call based upon what been learned is critical to a successful engagement. A successful sale is determined much like a curling match – are you going to get the score or not based on the strategy you used? In curling, it’s the final rock of the final play that determines who wins the game. And it works much the same way in sales.
The recent Unicorn success of Balto.ai is drawing attention to a new category in Sales Enablement Tools –Sales Relevance – which has far greater benefits for sellers than any other Sales Tool. Let’s review the current Sales Enablement Categories and the benefits they offer so we can see how important this new category is going to be.
CRM – CRM was created when it became practical to give sales reps access to computer databases to log the information from their sales calls instead of in their “3 ring binder”. The focus of CRM quickly morphed into a forecast tool that the CEO would use to confidently provide the basis of quarterly and annual forecasts to his Board of Directors. Most Boards, especially those of a public company, place an enormous amount of emphasis on “meeting the forecast”.
In fairness, the Board is guiding budget and hiring decisions based upon the forecast – and public company investors place the highest premium on the dependability of meeting projected earnings. In the Salesforce movie “The History of Sales”, highly respected Sales Consultant, Neil Rackham, said that CRM was a job insurance policy for the CEO . . .he said that “CRM was done to reps, not for reps”.
When CRM systems first became available, sellers were still “the brokers of information” – prospects had to go through them and give accurate contact info to get information on the company and its products. Now, prospects get all the product info (on both you and your competitors) on the internet. In fact, many prospects prefer to never talk to a sales rep.
So, the role of CRM has evolved into “Recording What Happened” instead of “Making Things Happen” (as the next Sales Enablement tools do for us). The leading Sales Relevance systems automatically update the CRM, and the Best Sales Relevance systems create a totally accurate “Story-So-Far” of everything that has been sent to, read by, said to, or said by the prospect.
The Story-So-Far, which can now be linked right into the prospect record in the CRM, can even show the actual duration of every discussion point that was relevant to the prospect. This capability is critical, because the actual time a point is discussed is usually the best indicator of what is most Relevant to the prospect.
Call Recording – gives Sales Leaders an opportunity to hear conversations the sellers are having so they can coach them effectively . . . and know what is happening in the territory. While Call Recording has an important role to play, it is now generally recognized that it takes too much time to select and then listen to the calls that might matter. Even the CEO of a leading Call Recording application admonished his customers that they should spend more time listening to calls for the application to be effective. Call Recording is like a gym membership – simply joining a gym does not get you in shape, and few are willing to put in the time using Call Recording to get the perceived benefits.
There is one thing you can’t get without listening to recorded calls: voice intonation. However, how many calls per seller per week does a Sales Leader need to listen to coach his reps on the proper intonation?
Another often sited benefit of listening to recorded calls is to measure the percentage of time the rep is speaking versus the prospect. Does the seller “show up and throw up”, or do they engage the prospect by asking questions that will lead the prospect to “discover for themselves” that they need your product?
We link into our Sales Relevance system transcribed calls that clearly show who is talking the most. The transcription product we integrate with is especially valuable when are transcribing Zoom or recorded video calls. (and aren’t most sales calls now Zoom Calls?) The sellers get three different sensory stimulations: listening to the words being said, watching the cursor move through the transcribed words as they listen to the voice recording, and looking at the prospect’s face for their reaction as key points are discussed.
The “SECRET SAUCE” TO MAKING CALL RECORDING INVALUABLE, is to direct the Sales Leader to ONLY THE KEY MINUTES FROM ALL THE RECORDED HOURS THAT WARRANT THEIR TIME. If the Sales Relevance system tracks the duration of each discussion point, then it can create a “Call Map” of all the recorded calls so that the Sales Leader can simply drag their cursor to the important discussions in the recorded calls that are linked in the comprehensive Story-So-Far.
More importantly, Sales Relevance system can create lists of the calls that warrant the manager’s attention. For example, calls where: the deal is forecasted to close this month… for over $YYY…and the purchase is budgeted. WOULDN’T THE SALES MANAGER WANT TO LISTEN TO THE DISCUSSION OF THE DECISION CRITERIA IN THESE SELECTED CALLS?
The Call Whisper feature was introduced with the promise that it would allow the sales managers to give guidance during the call, i.e. when the timely guidance could help close sales. But Whisper is too disruptive, so it has few users. Modern Sales Relevance systems allow the manager to just click a button to send suggestions via SMS or Chat to their reps during the calls if they are monitoring the calls – an effective way of Coaching4UÔ.
Sales Cadence – creates a discipline for the often-undisciplined Business Development Reps. Cadence is critical to maximizing the sales opportunities from your marketing dollars – multimode touches (calls, emails, text messages sent regularly so your company is in front of the prospect) creates a persistence which will get the appointment, but not close the sale.
The adoption of Sales Cadence systems has been phenomenal over the last several years. The market leaders in this category are true Software as a Service (SaaS) “Unicorns”. And you see that the market leaders are rapidly becoming the CRM for their customers. However, Sales Cadence systems are primarily “Sales Efficiency” systems – and while critical to leverage your revenues from your leads – they can be made dramatically more valuable when they are leveraged by integrating with a Sales Relevance system – a Sales Effectiveness system that makes sure every interaction is an “Interaction That Matters”.
Sales Relevance – the goal of Sales Relevance solutions (like Balto.ai and SalesRelevance.com) is to make the sales reps more effective on every call – being effective closes business!
Successful Sales Relevance Applications:
- Must be a seamless plugin to your current Sales Technology stack.
- Must go beyond AI voice recognition to know what to say . . . and when to say it.
- Allow the rep to simply click on the subject to get an accurate record of what is being discussed.
Speech recognition does not always give the Relevant answer. How many ways are there to say “Budget” and not relate to the “budget to buy my product”? For example: “Work From Home (WFH) has really benefitted my personal budget – by the auto gas savings”, “My $12 lunch budget is no longer needed because I just eat the leftovers from dinner”, “I save on my laundry budget because no one can tell if my shirt is pressed on a Zoom call”, etc.
By clicking the subject being discussed, the system tracks the actual time subjects are being discussed. This helps in training, but more importantly, it allows the AI to select the next best thing to say based upon what is unambiguously Relevant to the prospect.
Sales Relevance systems with AI allow you to “Pick Up Where You Left Off” on the next call by using AI to generate an opening statement that reflects everything in the Story-So-Far or your “augmented” prospect lead records.
We augment our prospect information with ZoomInfo data. This allows us to always be 100% relevant in our customer calls. We not only use this information to initially establish Relevancy, but this prospect specific data – when combined with the evolving Story-So-Far -drives the AI engine as it rebuilds our Talk Tracks during the calls to maintain our Relevancy to the prospect during the call.
CRM’s evolution of Conversation Intelligence will be as game changing to SAAS was to Premise Deployed Software.
Conversation Intelligence will do to CRM what Grub Hub did to grocery stores – who wants to shop for the food, clean it, cook, and then clean the dishes when you can just order what you want, and have it delivered to your front door?
The CRM industry has a long and interesting history. I know; I founded the first CRM company to go public (Brock Control Systems) in 1984 and have been in the industry ever since. Some of the major paradigm shifts we have seen over the past decades include:
Marc Benioff built the wildly successful Salesforce.com by redefining how software was implemented. In a very gutsy move, he defined his competitive advantage as a simpler, quicker, and less expensive way to implement a core business tool – CRM. He was so successful in leading this change in software implementation that all his competitors had to play catch up to offer SaaS solutions after he had locked down the leadership position in CRM by competing on ease of implementation rather than more features.
Based upon Tom Siebel’s positioning, CRM is a tool for CEOs to impress their Boards with the accuracy of their forecasts. CRMs were purchased by CEO’s and VPs of Sales as a back-office tool, getting to the point where – as one senior sales manager told me – “my CRM has more dashboards than NASCAR”.
Neil Rackham (author of the SPIN Selling methodology) offered an insightful analysis of why CRM was initially “done to sales reps” – not “done for sales reps” in the interesting movie that was produced by Salesforce.com (and is still hosted on the Salesforce.com website) – The History of Sales.
All of these events directly contributed to the evolution of CRM. Several recent events will cause dramatic changes that will render your current CRM unrecognizable. The new generation of CRM will save Seller’s time and make them more effective. Most importantly, Sellers will willingly embrace the “new CRM” as something being done for them. Here are a few of the events that are causing those changes:
The Work from Home (WFH) environment has sales managers scrambling to find a way to get visibility into what is happening in their sales opportunities.
Those reps returning from WFH to the office on a staggered basis will present additional management and measurement challenges.
Sales Leaders finally recognize that sales reps will never take the time to manually update their CRM accurately and comprehensively after every call – even if their memory was good enough to remember all the key points discussed during them. Sunday night batch updating of contact records will never be as accurate as those done during the call.
Call Recording was the hope of capturing what was happening in the sales calls. But it is now obvious that Sales Managers don’t have the time to listen to the 160 hours per week of recorded calls that their direct reports are making (8 direct reports recording 20 hours of calls per week). I was surprised to read the CEO of a major call recording company openly admonish his customers that they are not listening to enough recorded calls.
On the positive side, there are two Sales Metrics that Call Recording uniquely provides:
The percentage of time your rep speaks versus the prospect.
The voice intonation of your reps(are they confident / competent).
These metrics only require infrequent sampling of recorded calls (at most only a few calls selected weekly or even monthly) to give the Sales Managers the insights they need to coach their reps on these metrics.
The Challenges of Call Recording
Call Recordings track the duration of time your rep and the buyer speak before “yielding the floor”. However, they don’t (and can’t) record the actual time a key subject is discussed. Isn’t the amount of time a key subject is discussed the most important metric of what is important to the prospect?
Call Recording attempts to give you a measure of the key topics discussed by supporting “key word” searches. However, is there only one word to describe a key concept? This Context Confusion (the use of many words to describe the same feature) and voice recognition (accents, slang terms, etc.) prevent accurate summaries of the key points of interest to the prospects.
The Next “Best Thing” for Conversation Intelligence – Call Transcription
Call Transcription is now being touted as the solution in lieu of having to listen to recorded calls and is the cornerstone of many software vendor’s Conversation Intelligence solution. However, this methodology has many challenges with it as well.
The Challenges with Call Transcription
Call Transcriptions suffer from the same Concept Confusion and language/enunciation errors that users face when the same AI technology applied to Recorded Calls is used to transcribe the calls. Have you ever compared the automatically generated transcript to the actual recording, only to discover that many key words are mis-transcribed? What do those errors say about the accuracy of your keyword search results?
If you do a Google search, you will see the average person speaks 150 works per minute. If your average sales call is 20 minutes, each call with will be at least 6 pages of single-spaced typing (average is 500 words per page). Will a busy Sales Manager take the time to read the 6 pages of the transcribed call looking for important discussion points – for every 20-minute call?
What Should CRM’s Look Like Next Year?
These challenges above are sure to be felt across all industries to varying degrees as we continue to evolve into our new normal. As a result, I believe these features will need to be table stakes to meet the expectations and requirements for sellers moving forward:
In lieu of Call Recording or Call Transcription as clunky tools for Sales Leaders to use for coaching, a clear Interaction Insight Report should be available that tracks individual calls with roll up at the rep level. One that shows how consistently the reps are following the Recommended Best Practices for what should be discussed and for how long they will be discussed tailored to each deal?
CRM’s must include an Interaction Chronicle (a comprehensive Story So Far) that tracks every interaction with a prospect – and the time spent on each key topic – visible to the entire sales team so that any team member can easily pick up where they left off with the prospect.
Ideally, CRMs should include AI functionality to not only automate the usual, mundane chores of contact record updating, but also provide dynamic AI tools which allow sellers to have Relevant Dialogues with every prospect, based on individual personas, i.e., every call will be personalized to the prospects know that your team can meet (or exceed) their requirements for any solution you are offering – your reps will always be perceived as Competent and Relevant!