This is the fifth in a series of interviews I am conducting with subject matter experts and practitioners in the sales profession. I am examining where we are today with AI in sales and where we are going.
This interview is with Scott Ingram. Scott is the Founder of Sales Success Media and hosts the Sales Success Stories and Daily Sales Tips podcasts.
Here’s a summary of our conversation and below this summary is the full transcript of our interview.
1. Disrupting the traditional sales model
Scott sees AI disrupting some traditional sales models like geographic territories. He says those may be replaced by more advanced models, like relationship-based account coverage. He says, “what if [my account coverage was] based on my personal relationship map or my own experience in terms of the industries, or where I have done deals and I have worked with customers?”
2. “Best in Breed” vs “all in one”
The sales tool market will likely follow the same pattern that has played out in the marketing tech market. In marketing tech there has been an ongoing battle between companies using a “best of breed” approach, where they purchase many tools, each being the best in its specific area vs buying one tool that does everything–but likely not as well in each area. The key problem with the “best of breed” approach is integrating all the tools, so they communicate to each other.
3. Sales enablement is key
If we introduce new tools, we need to prove to our salespeople that they are worth the investment of time–that they will actually help our salespeople sell more. Per Scott, “There are also just giant enablement problems. How do I prove to my individual seller that this is going to make you better and it’s worth the time getting up to speed and working on this? As a salesperson, is it worth the time and effort? Is it serving me as the seller and helping me sell better and serve my customers better? Or is this trying to serve management?”
4. Non-tech companies have a big opportunity
Not surprisingly software tools, like AI, are usually adopted first by tech firms. Hence many tech firms have large (and possibly “bloated”) tech stacks. However, it’s the non-tech companies that may have the biggest opportunity here. Scott notes that “I’m going to point back to my experience in MarTech on this. I think there are good examples of less technical industries, and individual companies really leaning in and transforming their results because they used technology well.”
5. It’s not all about scale
Some of the biggest opportunities for using AI may not be the obvious ones being talked about now, like having ChatGPT write 100 prospecting emails in 3 minutes. Some things that are not so scalable may be the real opportunities, where salespeople can show they’ve done their homework (potentially assisted by AI). Scott points out “I think there’s been too much focus on scale, scale, scale. And, and all we have done is to produce lower conversion rates.”
Nigel: Where do you see AI impacting the sales profession the most in the next few years?
Scott: I think Moore’s law is going to apply to AI, so the tech is going to get two times better in the next year or two. I think we’re going to see the AI impact everywhere.
It’ll probably first apply to the top of funnel, helping us generate opportunities and get meetings and, and do all of that stuff.
Then I think we’re going to start to see it in all areas of the sales process, for example in negotiations and contract revisions. I may be able to set up my AI to talk to your AI and get through our contract red lines because that’s really standard stuff.
I think AI will also be applied to the customer experience, helping with the way that we do the handoff from sales to service, hopefully detailing all the expectations that the customer has.
As I look further afield, there are opportunities for the traditional sales model to be disrupted. Like the idea of territories. The way that we’ve constructed territories has been lazy and somewhat dumb. It’s been based almost purely on geography and or on vertical. But what if, what if it was based on my personal relationship map or my own experience in terms of the industries, or where I have done deals and I have worked with customers?
It’s been my opinion for years that CRM was built backwards. CRM was built as a management tool, and we try to force reps to put data into it so that we can use it as a management tool, but we can’t. What if instead CRM were built to make the rep better? We’re getting to the point where a lot of this input can be automated. We can pull the transcript out of our call recording. We know all of the emails sent. We have all of this data, and we don’t need to be dependent on a very busy sales rep doing “$10 an hour data entry work”.
Nigel: Certain industry experts are now talking about “sales tech stack bloat”. Do you agree? Do we need more tools in certain areas and fewer in others?
Scott: I compare what is happening with sales tech to some of the work I’ve done in the marketing tech space. There you see these two competing ideas.
One idea is “best in breed”, using really strong niche solutions, whether you’re solving for a particular industry or you’re solving for a particular component of the sales process versus the idea of we need one tool, and it needs to do everything.
Having seen the reality of trying to put “everything into one box,” you tend to end up with a mediocre tool that isn’t specialized, and probably isn’t flexible enough to, to really work for everyone.
The problem with the niche tools is the connectivity. How do I stitch them all together to actually make everything work? That has been the biggest challenge. There are a ton of great tools out there, but if they don’t work together, I’m just creating a bigger issue.
There are also just giant enablement problems. How do I prove to my individual seller that this is going to make you better and it’s worth the time getting up to speed and working on this? As a salesperson, is it worth the time and effort? Is it serving me as the seller and helping me sell better and serve my customers better? Or is this trying to serve management?
Nigel: How do you see the usage of sales tech outside of the tech industry? It seems to me a lot of tech companies have a lot of sales tech, but SaaS companies are about 3-4% of US GDP, so how do you see sales tech usage in the other 97% of the economy?
Scott: I’m going to point back to my experience in MarTech on this. I think there are good examples of less technical industries, and individual companies really leaning in and transforming their results because they used technology well. For example, if I’m a manufacturing company and I really lean into some interesting tools and leverage them to create a great customer experience, I can lap my competitors that are still working with their Rolodexes.
Nigel: How do you see the quantity vs quality thing changing in prospecting? The research out there seems to be showing we need more and more attempts to reach someone. Will this trend continue or reverse?
Scott: Well, there’s what I would like to see happen and then there’s the reality of what probably will happen.
I think the reason that number the number of attempts we need to reach someone keeps going up is that we have trained our prospects to ignore us.
I’ll give you an example. I was talking with an executive friend of mine recently and he told me that when he gets any kind of undifferentiated prospecting email, he creates a filter either for that person or that entire company and he will never see any email from them ever again.
For me, I have always been a huge proponent of quality over quantity in prospecting.
I believe we need to spend at least two minutes learning a little bit about our prospect and what they are up to. Using that we can very quickly demonstrate that we know something when reaching out. That alone puts you easily in the top 10% of salespeople reaching out to prospects today.
So that’s one part. The second part is to show I have something that is relevant and valuable for you. And being able to articulate that.
Those two things, they don’t take a lot of time, but they don’t scale. I think there’s been too much focus on scale, scale, scale. And, and all we have done is to produce lower conversion rates.
The irony is some of the biggest opportunities are in things that don’t or can’t scale. I think this is why personalized video works so well. The prospect knows that I actually had to put some effort in. Or another example would be a handwritten note. How many handwritten notes do you get vs. emails?
Nigel: If you were running a sales team right now, what would be the top TWO things you would look at to see if you are well-placed to hit your 2023 number?
Scott: Here’s my two things.
Number one is I would look at the territories and the pipelines of those on my team to make sure that there is a clear, achievable path for each individual to get to their number. It has to be achievable because I think there are too many organizations where their model sort of is predicated on the idea that we need a superhuman to execute the plan in each territory. But there are not many superhuman salespeople! The plan needs to be achievable by the average salesperson.
The second item is, do the individuals on my team believe their goal is achievable? Do they have the mindset? And do they have the skillset to be able to execute against this territory?
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