Are Automation and AI BS?

A couple weeks ago, I ended up taking Steli’s click bait and read his thoughts on sales automation and AI. There isn’t much novelty in the comments nor objections presented. However I felt compelled to write a answer. Part of the reason why, is that MadKudu is currently being incubated by Salesforce as part of the Einstein batch. Needless to say the word AI is uttered every day to a point of exhaustion.

The mythical AI (aka what AI is not today)

The main concern I have around AI is that people are being confused by all the PR and marketing thrown around major projects like Salesforce’s Einstein, IBM’s Watson and others – think Infosys Nia, Tata Ignio, the list goes on.

Two months ago, at the start of the incubator, we were given a truly inspiring demo of Salesforce’s new platform. The use-case presented was to help a solar panel vendor identify the right B2C leads to reach out to. A fairly vanilla lead scoring exercise. We watched in awe how the CRM was fed google street view images of houses based on the leads’ addresses before being processed through a “sophisticated” neural network to determine if the roof was slanted or not. Knowing if the roof was slanted was a key predictor of the amount of energy the panels could deliver. #DeepLearning

This reminded me of a use-case we discussed with Segment’s Guillaume Cabane. The growth-hack was to send addresses of VIP customers through Amazon’s mechanical turk to determine which houses had a pool in order to send a targeted catalogue about pool furniture. Brilliant! And now this can all be orchestrated within the comfort of our CRM. Holy Moly! as my cofounder Sam would say.

To infinity and beyond, right?

Well not really, the cold truth is this could have also been implemented in excel. Jonathan Serfaty, a former colleague of mine, for example wrote a play-by-play NFL prediction algorithm entirely in VBA. The hard part is not running a supervised model, it’s the numerous iterations to explore the unknowns of the problem to determine which data set to present the model.

The pragmatic AI (aka how to get value from AI)

Aside from the complexity of knowing how to configure your supervised model, there is a more fundamental question to always answer when considering AI. This foundational question is the purpose of the endeavor. What are you trying to accomplish with AI and/or automation? Amongst all of the imperfections in your business processes which one is the best candidate to address?

Looking through history to find patterns, it appears that the obvious candidates for automation/AI are high cost, low leverage tasks. This is a point Steli and I are in agreement on: “AI should not be used to increase efficiency”. Much ink has been spilled over the search for efficiency. Henry Ward’s eShares 101 is an overall amazing read and highly relevant. One of the topics that strongly resonated with me was the illustrated difference between optimizing for efficiency vs leverage.

With that in mind, here are some examples of tasks that are perfect fits for AI in Sales:

  • Researching and qualifying
  • Email response classification (interested, not interested, not now…)
  • Email sentiment classification
  • Email follow up (to an email that had some valuable content in the first place)
  • Intent prediction
  • Forecasting
  • Demo customization to the prospect
  • Sales call reviews

So Steli is right: No, a bot will not close a deal for you but it can tell you who to reach out to, how, why and when. This way you can use your time on tasks where you have the highest leverage: interacting with valuable prospects and helping them throughout the purchase cycle. While the recent advent of sales automation has led to an outcry against the weak/gimmicky personalization I strongly believe we are witnessing the early signs of AI being used to bring back the human aspect of selling.

Closing thoughts

AI, Big Data, Data Science, Machine Learning… have become ubiquitous in B2B. It is therefore our duty as professionals to educate ourself as to what is really going on. These domains are nascent and highly technical but we need to maintain an uncompromising focus on the business value any implementation could yield.

Want to learn more or discuss how AI can actually help your business? Feel free to contact us

Achieving personalization at scale in B2B sales

I was trying to write a title as pompous and with as many buzz words as possible and I do believe I’m close. Who knows we might even get featured on TechCrunch with these ramblings on how “big data” is enabling the ultimate phase of the B2B sales & marketing revolution…

Over the past few weeks at MadKudu, we’ve run a thorough retrospective on 2016 to flesh out what we’ve learnt, which hypotheses were validated, which were proven wrong.
The exciting learning is that we’re onto something big, something HUGE!
We’ve validated the fact that lead prioritization enablement was commonly sought. But more importantly we’ve realized that lead scoring solutions as they exist today are only duct-tape on a broken process. Since companies aren’t able to handle personalized onboarding at scale, they reduce the scale by focusing on a subset of leads to manually personalize the experience for. Welcome to the world of the inbound SDR. MadKudu is set to change this and bring us one step closer to completing the marketing & sales revolution by operationalizing personalization (channel, message…) at scale.
In essence the main actionable learning is that operationalization is 10x more valuable than enablement. It’s actually a completely different sport.

The Sales & Marketing Revolution

The term revolution is mainly used to describe an overthrow of an order in favor of a new one. But the root of the words tie back to the concept of going full circle. So when we talk about the sales & marketing revolution we mean we’re getting back to a previous state. While we’ll dedicate a specific post to this topic, a high-level history of marketing would go as such:
– Before the industrial revolution, people bought from local stores and suppliers. This was the era of one-to-one personalization of the product to the customer’s needs.
– The industrial revolution changed everything, the product was now king. Our newly discovered ability to mass produce meant we needed to find ways to ship these products. This started the era of the marketing mix’s 4P (product, price, promotion, placement) in marketing.
– In more recent days, the rise of the internet 2.0 marked the rise of the SDR. With online products being available for billions of people and marketing strategies still focusing on bringing in as many prospects as possible, there was a new need to qualify potential customers.
– The “big data” revolution. Data science has started powering personalization and relevance at scale in eCom marketing for a few years now. Amazon led the charge with its recommendation engine and many companies have since then applied data science to make the B2C sales experience more relevant (at AgilOne, we did a lot of this). The shift from the 4Ps towards the 5Cs is another illustration of this trend of putting back the customer at the center of marketing activities.

What “big data” brings to Sales

There is a common misconception that big data equates huge quantities of data and thus is more appropriate for marketing than sales and for B2C rather than B2B. But there are really 3 aspects to big data:
– massive data sets (high volume)
This is what companies like facebook, google deal with. We’re talking trillions of records of data to process. The main challenge here is scalability and is only seen in B2B2C or B2C companies.
– fast data (high velocity)
This is what real time analytics systems deal with. Recommender systems, trading algorithms are great examples of systems dealing with high velocity data.
– complex data sets (high variety)
Here’s the least sexy and known aspect of the lot. B2B companies generate big data with customer records coming from sales data, product usage, customer records, support tickets… While real-time analytics and scalability are challenges the hard nut to crack is the identity layer or combination of all the information in a comprehensible data set. Machine Learning algorithms will only ever be as good as the input they are fed.

Why is B2B Sales broken

The final aspect has been ankylosing the B2B space and has thus become a great source of innovation. Companies are spending billions of dollars to get their data together (getBirdly, Jitterbit), stitching it together (leanData, AgilOne). The hardest part though remains in rendering the data actionable. This is where Big data can help reach the holy grails of sales and marketing: “personalization to foster relevance, at scale”.
Lead scoring tools so far have been built with this in mind. They leverage the multitude of data points available to automate -to some extent- the qualification historically run by SDRs.

BANT Qualification process:
B => mainly firmographic data to determine if the account would have budget for your top tier pricing
A => mainly demographic to determine how close is this person to having a budget line item for your product
N => mainly firmographic to determine if the account likely to be a successful user of your product or at least have a need for it
T => mainly behavioral to determine if the account’s aggregated behavior is indicative of a strong likelihood to purchase your product in the near future.

And so this is where big data has been helping so far. Lead scoring solutions have been doing a great job at getting SDRs to focus on a small subset of leads that they can then write personal emails to through bulk email solutions like Yesware or Salesloft…

Where this approach falls short is that sending emails manually don’t make them personal, let alone relevant. We all receive tens of emails like this every day:

From cartography to self-driving cars

A couple weeks ago, Guillaume Cabane, VP Growth at Segment, made a striking analogy between cartography and B2B sales. Cartography is the representation of the overall landscape of your leads. It is used to determines the routes you need to follow to reach your destination. This is your initial ideal customer profile analysis. The GPS is an automated way of telling how to get to your destination. This is lead scoring as we know it today. The self-driving car is build upon a GPS and executes the commands reliably and automatically. This is the future of B2B sales, the idea of a “software SDR”.
In essence, the great opportunity to seize in 2017 lies in realizing the era of the GPS as a stand alone tool is over. We are now heading into a world of self-driving cars.
Not only are we convinced about this, the early tests we’ve been running so far are encouraging. Our software SDR has consistently outperformed by at least 66% regular SDRs on the amount of qualified demos booked. Not only were we generating more meeting, we also free-ed up time for the sales team so they could focus on what they do best: adding value to prospects whom we’ve engaged with them.

Here’s to 2017, year of the true sales automation!

Image credit : A future lost in time