Stop Wasting Time on Clients Who Won’t Close. Here’s How AI Will Make You Better at Sales
By sticking to his strengths, CEO Andy Byrne has gotten Sequoia to back three companies in a row. Can gold strike three times?
This Entrepreneur Hated PowerPoint So Much That She Invented Her Own Presentation Software
With the Digideck, Sportsdigita founder Angelina Lawton created a media-rich sales tool used by pro sports organizations all over the world. Now she’s seeking to corner a new market: the pitch-from-home sales team.
No matter what type of company you have, how many people you convince to use your product or service can mean the difference between success and failure.
While we may use marketing, advertising or good-old-fashioned chutzpah to reach our goals, for many the most reliable way to get people to convert into customers is still using some sort of sales force. Some companies have eliminated the humans that do this, relying on their newsletter signups,landing pages and Customer Relationship Management (CRM)tools like Hubspotto get the job done. Others have full-blown sales teams — but no matter which way you go, the process looks eerily similar.
It’s a problem that Clari CEO Andy Byrnehas seen before.
Early in his career, he started working with Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital, who then funded him in his second company, Clearwell, which they then sold for $410 million. When looking to start his third, he and CTO Venkat Rengan were kicking around ideas on a whiteboard in his garage. They decided to focus on machine learning for the enterprise market. With that simple premise, they approached Sequoia, and with their previous track record had no trouble raising a Series A.
And what is that premise? As Byrneputs it, “In the last 10 to 20 years, the best way to get data was from humans, but that is a flawed approach. The modern approach is to automatically harvest multiple signals from emails and calendars and call logs, etc. As you extend that automation, you can track sales team and customer engagement, behavior and interest.”
Quite simply, CRMs are antiquated.With machine learning and AI, you can have a better chance of closing those all-important sales.
AI frees up people to do useful work.
AI is good at doing repetitive tasks — but not so good at the “human touch” stuff. By minimizing the amount of busy work they have to do (like looking up previous emails and calls), your staff will have much more meaningful interactions with potential clients.
It gives you more data.
Current CRMs are designed to capture the information that people put into them. With an AI tool, you can have pre-populated systems acting proactively, giving sales teams background information they need ahead of time, freeing up more resources.
It captures the right information.
Says Byrne, “CRM’s are designed poorly. The user experience needs to morph to different workflows and speak to the human.” In other words, you’re only as good as the tool you have — and if it doesn’t prompt you for the right information up front, it can’t display it for you later.
Tools like Clari don’t come cheap — as an integration with Salesforce (and other tools), you’ll pay an additional 25 percenton top of your subscriptions. (Similar tools like Spiro and Aviso, incur similar monthly rates.) However, Byrne feels the 300 percentreturn you get from the service is worth it.
“AI will be the death of BI. We won’t be hearing that term much longer.”
With his pedigree, you can’t help but believe he’s on to something.
When Angelina Lawton ran communications for the Tampa Bay Lightning, she could never understand how a company with such an exciting product–professional hockey, for goodness sake–managed to be so dull when it came time to pitch potential sponsors.
Her frustration spurred her to start a boutique agency, Sportsdigita, whichspecializesin making flashy presentations for pro sports sales departments–“a movie-trailer for franchises” is how she describes them. Nine years later, executives at more than450 teams, stadiums, and arenas haveused her multimedia slideshows, called Digidecks, to sell everything from merchandise licenses to luxury suites, she says.
But now the pandemic haspostponed professionalsports seasons, and widespread protestshaveLawton’s bread-and-butter clients–the sales groups–lying low. To keep revenue growing and her company afloat,Lawton ispivoting to target customers in new fields from financial services to health care.
Work-at-home sales teams at all kinds of businesses must now figure out how to close deals from afar–and they can use all the help they can get.
“Covid-19 has opened up people’s eyes to remote selling and collaborating,” says Lawton. “Our product is perfect for that.”
When Lawton first started marketing souped-up sales decks to sports and events companies, the multimedia opportunitieswere obvious.Looking to sell advertising rights to the billboards in the outfield? Show a star centerfielder leaping for a catch in front of them. Marketing the luxury suites for your arena? Play clips of the games, concerts, and monster truck rallies that clients will be able to see up-close from the box.
In 2016, she decided to focus on the hard part, the software–andbegan selling it as a service sosalespeople could produce the digidecks in-house. The move put her into direct competition with legacy competitors like Microsoft PowerPoint, as well as subscription-based online software, such asPrezi. Even so, since pivoting to this software-as-a-service model, Sportsdigita revenue has grown over 200 percent, to $4 million in 2018, which putthe company at No. 1,993 on last year’sInc. 5000 ranking of fastest-growing private U.S. businesses. It ranked at No. 146 on this year’s Inc. 5000 series Midwest list. Today, 80 percent of the company’s revenue comes from software subscriptions, and the rest fromservices. Clients include the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia Eagles, and U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Now, with sporting events on hold and tensions high from weeks of protests, high-profile sports teams don’t want to be seen as tone-deaf amid the unrest. Like entrepreneurs across the world, Lawton was forced to rethinkbasic assumptions about her company and customers.
Her company has already made some early scores: insurerMutual of America, Cargill, the giant food conglomerate, and Jostens, the seller of high school yearbooks and class rings, have signed on as clients. They haveexisting libraries of media–salespeople can populate the decks with pre-loaded photo and video options from their ownexisting ads, and then present them in tandem with Zoom calls or other videoconferencing software.
Next, Sportsdigita is planning to add videoconferencing to Digideckas well, requiring new kinds of software expertise and putting the company up against the likes of Zoom.
For Sportsdigita, the new revenue has offset the slump in sports, andLawton says the company is once again on track with its pre-Covid growth targets.And her new clients? Their presentations may lack the same jaw-dropping action of their pro sports counterparts–but their infographics and bullet points are leaping off the screen like all-stars.