Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 99: Q&A with Alex Terry

January 22, 2018 Sheena McKinney

By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

Late in 2015 we started producing a bi-weekly radio program called Sales Pipeline Radio, which runs live every other Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific.  It’s just 30 minutes long, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We’ve already featured some great guests and have a line up of awesome content and special guests into 2016. Our very first guest was Funnelholic author and Topo co-founder Craig Rosenberg.  Next we had Mike Weinberg, incredible writer, speaker, author, followed by Conrad Bayer, CEO & Founder of Tellwise.  Recent Guests: Jim KeenanJoanne BlackAaron Ross; Josiane Feigon, Meagen Eisenberg, and Trish Bertuzzi.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. We’ll publish similar highlights here for upcoming episodes.  You can listen to full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.

We were thrilled this last time to be able to talk to Alex Terry, CMO at Conversica to talk about the findings of the highly regarded 4 P’s Report.

For the third year in a row, Conversica commissioned an in-depth study tracking lead follow-up efforts of B2B and B2C companies across a number of different industries. In 2017, they found that a staggering 77% of companies under-touched their leads.

For more on this topic, Join us 1/23/18 11am PST for a free 60-minute, live webinar on this topic as well (on-demand afterward).  Terry will join Nancy Nardin of Smart Selling Tools and I to give our “lively” perspective from the Sales (Nancy) and Marketing (Matt) fronts on lead follow up failure AND share best practices for how to do it right.

ABOUT OUR GUEST:  

Terry is an accomplished and award winning Internet business veteran with strong track record of driving results and growth. He founded or co-founded three companies and one division within Fortune 100 corporation. From idea to revenue generation, to profitability to exit… he is able to manage all aspects of consumer or enterprise service or product business. Focus has been on SaaS, operationally complex services which required disruptive new technology development.  He holds multiple patents for Internet services.  Alex received his MBA at Harvard Business School and his BA at Dartmouth College.

Matt:  So thank you everyone for joining us on Sales Pipeline Radio. For those of you listening to us live on the Lead Funnel network, I appreciate you joining us. We are live here Thursday at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. Thank you for joining us. If you’re joining us live, we know more and more people are doing that every week. If you’re joining us from the podcast, thank you, as well. You can subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a single episode at the Google Play or iTunes Store. Every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio past, present, and future, always available at salespipelineradio.com.

Every week, we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is no different, Paul. This is episode number 99. This is the last of the double digit episodes. Next week, we set a milestone for Sales Pipeline Radio. But to celebrate number 99, very excited to have with us today Alex Terry. He is the CEO of Conversica. They are a leading company in the B2B space, doing some really impressive stuff we’re going to talk about here in artificial intelligence for sales and marketing organizations. But first of all, Alex, thank you so much for joining us today on Sales Pipeline Radio.

Paul:  Well, let’s bring him on again. Are you there, Alex?

Alex Terry:  I sure am.

Paul:  Okay, sorry about that.

Matt:  Well, Alex, so thanks so much for joining us today. Sales Pipeline Radio. Excited to talk about artificial intelligence and what it does within sales and marketing, but first, just let people know, what does Conversica do? Obviously, I’ve spent some time on the website, but talk in layman’s terms about where you focus in the sales and marketing space.

Alex Terry:  Absolutely, Matt, and such a pleasure to be here with you today. Conversica, as you might expect from the name, we look at ourselves as the leader in conversational AI for business. We think we’re the only provider for AI-drive lead engagement and marketing software, and we target marketing and sales organizations. When I say we’re the leader here, part of that is because we’ve built this conversational AI platform and used it to create AI assistants, and we deploy these AI assistants using a SaaS model software as a service model to help solve very specific business problems.

So that flagship service is our AI sales assistant, and that AI sales assistant becomes part of our customer’s sales or marketing team. What I mean by that is that AI assistant, she or he has a name, a title, an email address, a phone number, and using AI technology, that AI assistant automatically contacts, engages, qualifies, and follows up with leads using natural 2-way conversations in email or SMS, until that leads converts into an opportunity, and then we would introduce that lead to a human salesperson, or that lead ops-out. We speak multiple languages, up and running in 13 countries, and it’s not just a science experiment. This is a real business. We have well over a thousand companies that use Conversica. We have about 200 employees here, been doing this about 7 years, and we’ve reached out to over 40 million leads on behalf of our customers. So it’s a real business.

Matt:  Well, it’s absolutely a real business. A real business that has taken quite a bit of money in venture funding, as well, and has been growing, as you mentioned, just some great customer momentum. I want to spend some time today talking about the sales effectiveness report that you guys just published, your third annual version of that. I want to spend a little bit of time talking about artificial intelligence in sales and customer engagement, because you guys are leading the space here and proving that this works with the customer volume you have. I think a lot of people that aren’t yet on the wave there sometimes wonder and worry that you can’t really bridge the gap between artificial intelligence and creating authenticity in conversations. So people worry that a bot can’t nearly replace a human interaction from a personalization authenticity standpoint. Give some people some insights or some examples of how that has actually worked well and how that is authentically helping people scale the kind of conversations they want to have with their customers and prospects.

Alex Terry:  You raise a really important point, Matt. I know you and the folks at Heinz Marketing have really focused on personalization. Having these really personalized messages, frankly, just work better. So one of the ways that we think about it is, AI is really the only way that you can have mass personalization. We think about it like, what would you like your best SDR to say on their best day? Then, how do you do that every single day, thousands of times a week or a month, and always bring your A game on those communications? Part of our methodology using the four Ps is to try to define what are the best practices? And then how do you implement those best practices every time, and close what we call the compliance gap? So the gap between knowing what the best thing you should say is, and being able to actually do it every time or almost every time.

Back to your point, having really personalized messages work better. I’ll give you a specific example. Let’s say someone stops by your booth at a trade show, and for most companies, you might follow up with that lead maybe the next week, or maybe not at all. But hopefully you follow up the next week, and people might cut and paste a standard message. But if your best SDRs might say something like, “Dear Customer, thanks so much again for stopping by our booth at Dreamforce last Tuesday afternoon. It was great talking with you,” and then go from there. Or if that lead came into, let’s say, a webinar. The automated response might be, “Dear Customer, thanks for attending the webinar,” but it would be better to say, “Hey, Matt. Thanks again for attending our webinar on lead engagement software earlier this afternoon,” and then reference the specific thing you did in that first message, and then every other message in the sequence.

Again, it’s very personalized, mentioning activities that you’ve done, both to refresh your memory and also to, frankly, get into a spam folder. Like if you get a message calling you by name, referencing something you just did, you know that’s not a spam email. You’re like, “Yeah, I did just go to that webinar. That was a pretty good webinar, and I do have some questions,” so the personalization is really important, as you’ve highlighted many times on your show.

Matt:  Yeah. It’s super important and I actually think an artificial intelligence tool can often do a better job of personalization and a more authentic job than sales reps. I think that’s sort of the dirty little secrets. We assume that people can do this on their own, and I think you and I have both probably been on the receiving end of terrible attempts to personalize, or the opposite, which is, everybody gets the same email from the sales rep saying they just want 15 minutes of our time, with no personalization, no customization at all, no context built-in, and that just doesn’t work. So the ability to drive real personalization and do it consistently in a more standardized way that delivers real authentication and results, I think that, to me, that is one of the big opportunities with artificial intelligence. You referenced the four Ps, and I want to talk a little bit about that with this sales effectiveness report that you guys did. It’s the third annual report on sales effectiveness that Conversica has published, and you talk about the four Ps here. Can you outline what the four Ps are and why those have emerged as particularly important parts of lead engagement?

Alex Terry:  Absolutely. We look at the four P’s as promptness, personalization, persistence, and performance. Our CMO Carl Anders kind of coined the term of the four Ps, a little bit relating back to some of the four Ps in marketing classes in business school in undergrad. We think it’s a really helpful way of thinking about best practices for lead engagement. And we can just go really quickly through, and this isn’t only our own research. Many other companies have spent time understanding just what works best, and there’s pretty clear benchmarks here. The first P, promptness, other companies, as well as Conversica, have identified that if you reply quickly or promptly to requests for information, you’re more likely to engage with that prospect. So if you get back to someone within the first five minutes, it’s better than the first hour. But the first hour is better than the first 24 hours, and so on.

If someone’s at their desk or at home and are interested in your company, they fill in a form like, “Tell me more.” If you get back to them within five minutes, you might catch them while they’re still there, or certainly while they’re still thinking about it. So promptness is pretty obvious, I think. Personalization, we just talked about it. Having an auto-responder is better than nothing, but a very personal message that relates to the thing that they just asked about or the things they’ve done is going to get you better results. Persistence, this is a really important one. There’s a lot of research that shows when you’re replying to an inbound lead, in particular, you’re going to want to follow up five to eight time to maximize the chance of setting a sales meeting. A lot of studies have proven that you’re just going to get better results by following up multiple times at the right time interval, like at the right cadence. But still, a lot of companies just don’t do that.

The last P is for performance, and it’s really, especially in an email, it’s how do you make sure you get an inbox, not get stuck in the spam filter? Or when you’re sending an SMS message, how are you getting permission to send that and to be able to send that text message? It’s really about doing all the things behind the scenes to increase the performance and chance of landing that message in a way, in a time that someone’s going to respond to it. At a very high level, those are the four Ps. Of course, in the study, there’s more details on each of these.

Matt:  So we’re going to have a take a break here in just a couple minutes, but a quick follow-up on the issue of promptness. I think some people assume that being too prompt might actually be a little bit creepy. Is there any rules around when to be prompt and when to not worry about getting in touch with someone in the first minute, or has your research found that fairly universally, it actually stands out and is impressive to prospects when you do reach out sooner than later?

Alex Terry:  That’s a great question, Matt. When you’re dealing with B2C or B2B verticals, and across, we support over a dozen different industry verticals at Conversica, but we’ve done a lot of research. I’ve talked about reaching out to 40 million leads, over 300 million messages through the platform, it gives us a big data set to fine tune and do a lot of AB testing. The quick answer is, we tend to target a window of between three and six minutes after that lead has taken an action. So you’re right. Even though the software could instantly send back a message, that would seem a little creepy. So we tend to target a three to six minute window as what tends to work best and not seem creepy. We don’t want to wait too long, because then they might’ve moved on to another project, another task, or they might’ve closed their browser or left their desk, or whatever it might be.

Matt:  We’re going to have to take a quick break here on Sales Pipeline Radio, pay some bills. When we come back, more with Alex Terry. He’s the CEO of Conversica. If you like what you’re hearing, want to learn more about the company, or get a copy of their pipeline performance report, talk about the four Ps, you can go to conversica.com, and we’ll have a link to that in our show notes, as well. We’ll be right back. You’re listening to Sales Pipeline Radio.

*Break*

Paul:  All right, let’s pick it back up with Matt and his guest. Matt being the one person I know, maybe the only person I know, whose intelligence is not artificial.

Matt:  Oh, man. If I’m the only person you know, I’ve got all kinds of questions for you, Paul.

Paul:  I’m just trying to, you know, tie it together here with today’s topic here.

Matt:  Oh, Lordy. Well, thank you again for joining us and coming back on Sales Pipeline Radio. As I mentioned at the beginning of the show, this is episode number 99. Next week, we are going to be celebrating episode number 100. Our special guest, former President Barack- No. I’m kidding. That’s not who it’s going to be.

Paul:  Oh wow. Wow.

Matt:  Next week, actually it’s pretty close, we’ve got Lauren Patrick. She is the chief storyteller for Terminus. We’re going to be talking a little bit about what her company’s doing, but really, I want to talk about the importance and impact of storytelling as a function, as a medium, as an art within B2B-

Paul:  Should we bring like cocoa and little marshmallows? Is it going to be story time on Sales Pipeline?

Matt:  Not that kind of storytelling, no. But I think, to that point, I think too often in B2B we assume that we are buildings selling the buildings, and the last time I checked, buildings don’t write checks, people do. We like stories. We like to hear stories. How many times do you go to a conference and the presenter gets up on stage, if they say some version of, “Well, let me start by telling you a story,” like laptops go down, phones go down, people lean in. People pay attention to stories, and if stories have a great finish, have a great message, and can lead to a message. I mean, you look at some of the best presenters, some of the best writers on the conference circuit, they talk in stories. So the idea of focusing on stories in B2B, I’m really excited, couldn’t be happier to have Lauren Patrick join us next week for episode number 100 for Sales Pipeline Radio.

Today, want to spend a little more time talking with Alex Terry. He’s the CEO of Conversica. We’re talking about artificial intelligence in business and in sales, in particular. Right before the break, we were talking about the four Ps that are highlighted in their third annual sales effectiveness report. I’d love to go a little further into those. I think persistence is another place where I think a lot of companies fall down. You’ve got, you’re delivering regular leads to a sales organization, they do great sort of follow-up for the first round, maybe a phone call, maybe a voicemail, maybe there’s some research that goes into personalize that.

Then we expect them to continue to follow-up with those leads, and we know that continued follow-up up to a certain point increases yield, but then tomorrow, we’re going to give them a whole set of brand new leads, and then next week, a whole new set of brand new leads. So even with some sales engagement tools, polite and professional and personalized persistence, boy, that’s a lot of Ps, that really is what separates the winners from the losers in terms of lead management and lead conversion. Talk a little bit about how important AI is in short cutting the steps in a good way to make that persistence possible.

Alex Terry:  Matt, first of all, you’re absolutely right, and you’re really underlining a number of challenges that almost every marketing and sales team face. You’re absolutely right. These marketing organizations spend a lot of money to generate these leads, and then someone has to turn those leads into paying customers, and that’s usually the sales team. There’s a lot of manual work in that funnel. What we often see, just as you described, is leads come in, and then most organizations do a pretty good job of following up with those leads, but as you mentioned, you get more leads the next day. They typically do a pretty bad job at consistently following-up to maximize the amount of leads that turn into sales appointments. So we see a lot of finger pointing and frustration, where marketing teams are frustrated that the sales teams aren’t following up quickly enough or thoroughly enough, or aren’t following up as many times as they would like. Therefore, they’re leaving some money on the table in terms of marketing ROI.

You also, on the other side, you see some finger pointing from the sales team saying, “Hey marketing. You’re giving us low quality leads or too many leads that aren’t really thoroughly vetted, and you’re kind of wasting our sales team’s time.” So we at Conversica help bridge that gap between marketing and sales by doing exactly what you described. Having those personalized messages with the right number of follow attempts over the right cadence, and those vary dramatically from company to company, or industry vertical to industry vertical. So we feel like we’ve solved that gap there, the handoff between marketing and sales. We’re going to just, ultimately, generate more sales meetings out of a population of leads than just a human team alone. We think that’s worth a lot of money.

Matt:  Oh, it’s worth a ton of money. I think companies that do the napkin math on that and figure, “Okay, if I can do a little more persistence, if I can reach a lot more of our prospects …” I look at this, because I read through the research, for the third year in a row, it looks like the automotive industry has the highest rating of promptness, but it’s relative. Like only 28% of auto dealers in your poll followed-up with incoming leads within 5 minutes, and then it just goes down from there. So of the remaining 72% of companies, I wonder how many of them actually know they’re leaving money on the table. How many of them know what their promptness level is, and what their personalization level is, and their persistence level, and how many of them have even done the math to understand the opportunity costs they’re leaving on the table by not addressing these challenges?

Alex Terry:  It’s a great question. I think very few companies actually audit their own performance. People make an assumption that if smart people doing a good job, and you just assume that they’re going to follow the policy and that they’re going to consistently do what you expect and what you want them to do. Very few organizations actually do like a secret shopper, like what we do, and go periodically audit themselves. This really started three years ago when we were out talking with a lot of companies, and we were explaining to them that our AI software did a more thorough job at contacting, engaging, qualifying, and then following-up with those leads. We wanted to generate some data, just how big was the problem and how widespread was the problem? That kicked off our first sales effectiveness study. We’ve now done this three years, most recently, this third year, which we just announced 866 different businesses across 13 or 14 different industry verticals, and this year the way the study works is, we contact a company. We basically hired a number of researchers who contact companies, and present themselves as a very interested buyer. We say, “We’re interested in buying whatever.” “Hey, Comcast, we’re interested in buying Xfinity.” Or if it’s an education company, “Sign up for your education classes. Here’s my phone number, here’s my email address, please have someone get back to me.” Then we sit back and we track what they do. We see how fast they respond. Do they respond by phone or do they respond by email? How personalized was that message? How many times did they follow up, and using what channel? Then we score them on the quality of their personalization. If they send an email, did it get stuck in a spam folder, did it not? We actually use third party tools to help score some of these things.

This year, one of the changes is, we actually followed up with every single company twice. In the past, we’d go back to these companies and said, “You didn’t follow-up even a single time to a direct request from a lead.” Sometimes, the company would say, “Well, you caught us on a bad day. Oh, that must’ve come in on a Friday after 3 o’clock.” They had some excuse that it was a one-off, “We just got unlucky.” This year, for every one of these 866 businesses, we contacted them twice: different days of the week, different times of the day. You would expect that would actually help them get better results, but we generally saw slightly worse results this year, and I’ll give you one stat to start off, which is about 38% of those 866 businesses did not reply at all to a direct request from a perspective customer. That’s just a mind blowing statistic, and that’s pretty consistent with the previous two years, by the way. It’s about little over a third in the previous two years, but this year, 38%. As the CEO of a company, man that makes my blood pressure go up, but to imagine that if someone came in and specifically asked to be contacted, that we just wouldn’t even have the courtesy to reach out to them at all. That’s hard to believe.

Matt:  Well, as we record this episode here today, it’s the beginning of January, it’s the beginning of Q1, it’s the beginning of 2018, and a lot companies are looking at the number they have to hit and trying to figure out, what do we do to get to that number? What do we do to get enough opportunities? Unfortunately, I think a lot of companies are looking at buying more leads, buying more media, getting more at the top, based on existing conversion rates. And boy, if only 38% of companies did not respond to a direct inquiry, that tells me that there’s an awful lot of optimization on the table. I know we’re going to run out of time here, just one more quick question. Before we go, just want to make sure people go, conversica.com. Scroll down the page, you’ll find a link to get a copy of the sales effectiveness research. Really want to thank our guest Alex Terry, CEO of Conversica for joining us today.

Alex, last question for you that we always ask our guests related to sales and marketing, as you’ve grown up in the business, you’ve been running companies and selling companies for a long time. Who are some of the people or what are some of the sources of information that have been most valuable to you, that you’ve learned the most from? Typically, we’ll ask this relative to sales and marketing, but in your case, relative to sales and marketing, business development, leadership. Who are the authors, the mentors, the speakers that have had the biggest impact on your professional growth?

Alex Terry:  Well, first and foremost I’ve got to list Heinz Marketing. Let me tell you. I don’t know if you realize this or not, but I’ve been following you for a couple of years on social media, and one of the things that we at Conversica and I personally like is you really do focus on delivering measurable results, and I feel like you’re like a data scientist at heart. We’re an AI company, we have a lot of AI and data science geeks here, but we’re kindred spirits in that regard. In addition to that, we work with a number of different analysts, for example, Elona Hansen is someone that we’ve paid a lot of attention to. We look at different case studies. Salesforce has been an incredibly successful company, and we pay attention to what they’ve done. We look at Marketo and Eloqua and others that have been in this space, and really created new sub-categories in industry. We try to stay up to date on who’s getting most effective on turning dollars into engaged leads and into closed one business. So we try to help optimize that funnel.

Matt:  Awesome. Well, thank you again to Alex Terry. He’s the CEO of Conversica for joining us here on Sales Pipeline Radio. If you like what you heard today, make sure you get a copy and share it with your team on salespipelineradio.com. We’ll have a summary of this episode up on our blog at heinzmarketing.com in a couple days. Join us next week, episode number 100. We will be featuring Lauren Patrick, chief storyteller for Terminus, talking about storytelling and B2B. We gotta run. On behalf of my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thank you for joining us again for another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.

The post Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 99: Q&A with Alex Terry appeared first on Heinz Marketing.

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