We have all, no doubt, seen claims that AI can help businesses improve — including helping SAMs sell. However, we have not seen many actual use cases shared in the public domain…until now.
A recent Harvard Business Review article, Can AI Really Help You Sell? shared several great use cases that definitively answer this question. We here at SAMA loved the article so much that we asked the authors to join us on our podcast to further discuss their findings. Much to our delight, Jim Dickie and Barry Trailer accepted our invitation.
If you want to know where the best is headed in terms of generating value co-creation insights that will be relevant to your strategic accounts, this is the podcast for you.
Listen to the podcast here
Yes! Artificial Intelligence (AI) Can Help SAMs Co-Create Value With Their Customers! With Jim Dickie And Barry Trailer
[H.D.] We have two guests joining us to discuss a pivotal tool that stands to create seismic shifts in strategic account management. That is if SAMs and their companies can figure out how to harness the power of it, deploy it, and use it effectively. I’m talking about artificial intelligence or AI for sales implementations.
It’s my pleasure to introduce Jim Dickie. He’s a research fellow for Sales Mastery, an independent firm that focuses on sales and AI for sales solutions. Also joining him is the Cofounder of Sales Mastery, Barry Trailer, who has had a distinguished career working with Miller Heiman and starting up his own companies. We’ve got the right people here with the right view. On top of it, they have published this great article in Harvard Business Review, Can AI Really Help You Sell? Jim and Barry, thank you so much for joining us.
[J.D.] Thanks for having us.
[H.D.] It’s a pleasure. I’m looking forward to this. It’s such a great article. What caught my attention was the fact that you have use cases and real-life companies applying real-life technology. That by itself was riveting and helpful for me. I heard the term artificial intelligence. It is not new to any of us, but the actual applications that deliver real results and also the applications that you have chosen in the article are varied. I encourage everyone to get this article. We’ll share information about how to download it from the Harvard Business Review. Great job on this article. We look forward to digging into it with you.
[B.T.] Thanks, Harvey. There are a couple of things I’ll say about that. It is a featured article in the November-December issue. Even if you don’t subscribe to them, HBR allows three free downloads per month. The link that you’ll have will allow people to download it for free. Jim and I obviously enjoyed seeing it published. I also want to mention that Ben Shapiro is an icon of the Harvard Business School and a marketing icon. Boris Groysberg is an active professor at Harvard Business School and runs the executive education program as well. It was a high-powered pair to be paired up with. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
[H.D.] Let’s start getting into this. Our orientation is artificial intelligence for strategic account managers because that’s what makes up our community. There’s clearly a lot of sophistication that’s involved in applying this concept, and a great return for you and the customer if you can figure out how to do it right. I don’t think we have the right audience necessarily to go into the deep technical side of artificial intelligence. That’s probably a little beyond the scope of the course and how it works, but how it applies to sales.
We know from the success of SAMs that proactive interventions make all the difference. Proactive means they are coming to the customer with fresh ideas, insights and suggestions. It’s not necessarily product-oriented, but more about their customer’s business and how they can help their customer become better businesses. How does AI contribute to this proactive approach to your largest and most important customers?
[J.D.] To give you a point of reference and for your audience, think of AI in terms of its strength, which is it analyzes lots of data. It can do more analysis in a few seconds than an individual human being could do in a year. That’s its strength. The strength of the SAM is judgment, creativity and collaboration. What if we meld the two together?
Let me give you an example. We found an AI company in Los Angeles that’s aggregating agricultural data. There is data that they can get from satellites that are flying above the field. Department of Agriculture sends drones flying over the fields all the time. There are sensors on John Deere tractors as they go up and down the aisles of a farm. These guys are aggregating it. They’re doing analysis at a level a human being couldn’t. You take something like Farm Credit Services in Omaha, Nebraska. They work specifically on large agricultural clients.
If you were to go back in the past, what they might do is call you up and say, “Harvey, why don’t we set up a meeting and you can tell me about your farm.” That’s one way of having a conversation. Now powered by AI, I can call you up and say, “Harvey, let me tell you about your farm. At the beginning of the season, you said you were going to switch from soybean to corn. You were going to do the planting in early April. You wanted to start a line of credit in February with us to take you through the harvest season. You thought you might have a 97% yield of what you had last year for corn, and that you would be harvesting at the end of September so you’d be able to pay us back after selling your crop in the second week or third week in October.”
“In looking at all the data I’m getting on your farm operation and the three different plots that you’ve got around Nebraska, what we’re finding is you had a late spring because there was so much rain, your planting was late. What we’re seeing right now also is that spring was followed by a dry summer. What we’re seeing now is that the numbers are going to be around 93% yields of last year, not 97% yields. It’s also going to be a later harvest. We think you’re going to be harvesting the crop in early October. To give you time to go out and get the best possible price for this thing, what we think we have to do is not have you pay us back in October, but pay us back in mid-November.”
“By the way, one other thing, looking at 2024, is what you did was you ended up buying three combines this year. You put them on a three-year payment cycle back to us to pay off the loans. Looking at what the projections are and what we think is going to happen in the next couple of years based on produce prices, why don’t we make that end up being a five-year loan so we’d lower your payments? All we want is an extra 1/16 of a point.” It’s exactly what you were talking about. AI is doing what it does well. It’s analyzing all of this data. It’s turning data into insights. Judgment can turn insights into action.
[H.D.] It’s a great example. It adds value to the customer because they could have easily found themselves six months later in a real squeeze for cash or capital.
[B.T.] That’s the whole point of being proactive when you’re dealing with something in advance. It’s the ability to plan for something and respond appropriately or have some choices in how you respond, versus this thing being on top of you and you having to often react not in the most appropriate way. The whole notion of getting ahead of the power curve instead of being behind it is a lot of what being proactive is all about. They talk about the guy who could see around corners or whatever. The ability to look out further and flag some clouds that may turn into something is what people are looking for.Being proactive is all about getting ahead of the power curve instead of being behind it. Click To Tweet
[H.D.] I’m sitting here thinking about it and wondering. This is totally speculative. There’s no right or wrong answer here. I’m wondering how long it might take the SAM to get enough information to be able to have the conversation that AI gave him probably in hours if not minutes.
[J.D.] That brings us to a good point in terms of doing a little bit of thought process first. If a SAM sits down and said, “If only I had access to X, Y and Z, I could do a better job of working with my clients.” Think about that thing first. If only I knew about what the mean time to failure was of the 787 jets that Arab Emirates is buying. If only I knew about what was going on with their property and casualty space. If only I knew about what my competitors are covering and not covering with property and casualty insurance from my biggest customers that are out there. Think about that.
You’ve got the judgment as a SAM. Don’t think about where the data comes from and how AI works. If I could solve that problem and get you that information, you don’t care if I did it with stick pins and wooden dolls. You just want the information. Let the SAM think about, “If I had access to this information, I could do a better job.” Let the IT guys go out and find out where this information exists. How do I get to it? What are the tools we already have? Are there other people out there already solving this problem like the company that we found in LA?
There’s got to be a whole bunch of people that want to access agricultural information. Companies that make pesticides want access to this information. They’ll go out and do it but you got to start with, “I need to have a SAM come in and say, ‘This is a problem we’re solving. I could solve it with information.'” We’ll then figure out how to get the information in their hands.
[H.D.] What I’m envisioning then is that the SAM needs to have IT as part of their team in a way.
[J.D.] It’s like, “IT, don’t tell me what’s going on. Go find me something that gets me this.” You’re giving them a specific shopping list. If you say, “Go take a look at AI,” there are lots of shiny objects out there that will attract the IT guy. He or she will go chase those types of things. You’ve got to go with this specific wish list of, “I need something that gives me X, Y and Z,” and then let them go out and figure out how to do that.
[B.T.] I also think the people in the account, the client company, and the SAM recognize the problem space. IT and other functional areas, maybe customer service or maintenance, understand the solution space. To Jim’s point, whether it’s stick pins and voodoo dolls, AI, hiring a bunch of interns or whatever it is, that’s all in the solution space. Let’s be clear on defining what the problem is and being clear on staying in the problem space. That helps everybody on the team in terms of who should be on it and what role they’re playing on the team.
[H.D.] Focus on a clear problem statement and a clear solution direction. That makes a lot of sense.
[B.T.] The old maxim is if you truly have defined the problem, you’re about 80% of the way towards defining the solution.
[H.D.] About deploying AI and all, I don’t even know if this is a fair question. I don’t know enough to know whether it’s a fair question or not. How long does it take to get an AI sales solution up and running?
[J.D.] That’s like a question of, how long is a piece of string? Here are some things. There are some basic AI capabilities that you can use out of the box. Those are things like the conversational analysis. There are a number of tools out there right now where in a Zoom session like this, it’ll be recording the conversation. As soon as the conversation is done, it will transfer the voice into text, and then it’s going to go through and look for specific trends. It could provide me with information as to how many times they bring up something. When they brought it up, were they using our words about what the solution looks like or are they using the competitor’s words about what the solution looks like? There are things like that. They’re now pretty much commodities and you can do those.
There are things as you’ll see in the Harvard Business Review article that are sophisticated things like what McAfee has implemented, which was a developed project inside the company. The key thing on it, whatever it is on those types of things, is before you do anything if you figured out what the problem is, then you’re figuring out what the cost of doing nothing is. This is important now because we’re walking into a recession. Nobody questions if it’s going to happen. It’s how deep and how long. All of a sudden, in all of these companies, the CFO is becoming the CF No, “I want to do this.” “No.” I get it because she or he is saying, “I will write checks out when I see checks coming in.”
The key thing on it is to go back through and say, “Here’s the deal right now. In our largest accounts, what we’re seeing is when they’re renewing the contracts, they renew them for 5% less than last year. They’re pushing us back on it. We need a new way of selling and showing value to customers.” Figure out what is that 5% costing us. When the CFO says, “I don’t want to write a check,” you go back and say, “We’re already writing an invisible check. We’re discounting 5%. That’s going directly to the bottom line. That check is $10 billion and to fix this problem is $250 million.” The key thing on this thing is to not think about there are things you can do.
There are also right progression things. I could start taking baby steps towards implementing a solution. Getting back to your problem and figuring out what’s the cost of not addressing that problem is the best first step. All the rest of the stuff becomes a lot easier to deal with. You can start down the AI with something that works out of the box, and turn it into something specific for your organization over time. In fact, I’d encourage people to do that.
[B.T.] If we look to CRM, which has now been around for many years, a lot of folks are like, “Get us some of that CRM.” It was a checkbox thing. Everybody, “I’m hearing a lot about it. We need some of that.” It’s like, “CRM, yeah, we got that.” AI, Everybody is hearing about AI, just like everybody is hearing about big data a few years ago. It’s not a checkbox thing. There are literally hundreds of point solutions now in AI for sales. On Jim’s comment about the bright shiny object, let’s get focused on what problem we’re wrestling with that we want to solve, what order of priority, what the benefits are for doing so, and the costs of not doing so rather than, “Let’s get us some of that AI.” That really hurts.
[H.D] With this, I was also wondering what a solution might cost, but it sounds like it depends on what the problem is. I supposed it depends is the answer. Am I right?
[J.D.] It depends. What you should always be on the lookout for is, “Do I know the cost?” Also, “Do I know the size of the price?” Let me give you another example of these things because people get creative. We work for a company that’s in the commercial jet retrofitting business. When you buy a 787 from United Airlines, somewhere down the road, you’re going to start doing maintenance on that thing. You’re going to replace the navigation system, the hydraulics, the avionics or whatever. You’re going to replace all this stuff.
There were several players in this marketplace that are looking to go about doing that business. What they say is, “When it comes time for this thing, we’re going to put out bids for who wants to retrofit this thing for these different projects.” There is a strategic account manager in one of the companies who sat there and said, “Is there a way of doing predictive maintenance?” When GE sells a jet engine to Boeing, Boeing puts it in a plane and sells it to Yakutia Airlines. There are 32 sensors in that jet engine that generate a terabyte of data per flight on how that engine is performing. There are sensors in all the other systems within the plane.
I went back to IT with this challenge saying, “What if we were able to get all the access to this data, which is available, aggregate it and do predictive maintenance? What would that do?” I’m going to go to my customer and I’m going to say, “You’re buying twenty 787s. As soon as you buy them, why don’t you start paying us a per-mile flown fee, and we will take care of all that maintenance down the road?” They go back and pitch the idea to one of their largest accounts. The guy says, “That sounds like a great idea.”
All of a sudden, when the maintenance gets done 5, 6 or 7 years down the road, it’s a done deal. There’s no competitive bid. I’ve got all the data and all the money. It’s that type of thing where it’s creating this creativity for a SAM to sit there and say, “One of the biggest challenges for a SAM is creating competitive differentiation, “Here’s a way to change totally how the game is played.” What SAMs need to start thinking about is, “How do I totally disrupt what’s going on in my industry?”
I was talking to David Schmaier, who’s the Chief Product Architect at Salesforce. He said, “There’s going to be an uber comp to every space in every industry, whether it’s life sciences, finance, manufacturing, distribution or whatever. He says, “If your company is doing that, you’re going to be the dominant player in the space.”
[B.T.] It also gets away from one of the things buyers have gotten better at buying faster than sellers have gotten better at selling. This competitive bid is a race to the bottom. The approach that Jim has described is taking all of that off the table and let’s talk business. Let’s talk about this in a completely different way. There’s real power in the establishment of a genuine relationship.
[H.D.] One of our consultants that’s on the board of SAMA wrote an article about it. He described to SAMA the future as a market maker. When you were telling the story, Jim, you were making me think about you’re making a market. You’re creating a new space to go into. If you’re the first one in and the one to figure it out and the one to scale it, that’s a nice place to be. That’s a great example. That’s fantastic. Thanks.
[B.T.] Since you’ve mentioned the proactive and Jim has given an example of creativity, maybe it’s worth taking a couple of minutes to describe the sales performance scorecard that we introduced in the HBR article. It’s an update and an expansion of a model that we presented back in 2007, which is the Sales Relationship Process Matrix or the SRP Matrix. It has five levels of relationship on the vertical axis and four levels of process on the horizontal axis. What we introduced in the article is an update on the five levels of relationships. Instead of the approved vendor, preferred supplier, solution consultant, strategic contributor, and trusted partner or trusted advisor, we’re now saying it’s the transactional vendor.
What we’ve seen over the years is we’ve always talked about how the lowest level in the relationship pyramid is the rapid repetitive routine that is begging for technology. Technology is constantly eroding the base of the pyramid, but it has become profoundly expressed. We now call transactional vendors as preferred supplier solution consultants. We re-label the upper two levels to a strategic collaborator and trusted co-creator. We’re very much seeing a shift in the last several years and an accelerating change in the last few years from persuasion to co-creation, “We’re in this together. Let’s brainstorm this together. You’ve earned my trust. Let’s have a conversation about what’s now possible or what will soon be possible.”
At the same time, we looked at the four levels of process implementation. We have ad hoc, informal and formal, and we have dynamic as the fourth one. Now, it’s agile because it’s increasingly leveraging technology. We’ve added the fifth one, so it’s now a 5 X 5 matrix. This is a keyword. When I talked about Ben and Boris, the four of us rolled around and wrestled with this one for some time. The word that we came up with was customized.
In large part, when you talk about scaling, the holy grail of manufacturing has been mass customization. In sales, when they talk about scaling, they’re talking about personalization. Either way, that’s a thing that AI is enabling some of these companies in a way that has never been possible before. It’s an extraordinary time to be in sales and particularly for SAMs with global or strategic accounts. The horizon seems wide open.
[H.D.] Now I’m thinking about our SAM members and the heads of SAM programs. I’m sure they’ll get excited about this possibility. They’ll probably go to the CRO, the Chief Revenue Officer or the chief sales officer, and have a conversation that might or might not go well, depending on the day of the week, the budget, and what’s happening to the company. You’ve got to get to leadership to do something like this. I would imagine that. You’re seeing this more than I am. I’m making this up, but is that how it goes?
[J.D.] It goes that way, especially where we’re at now. Because of the economic uncertainty and political uncertainty around the world, things are being scrutinized more than ever before. You’ve got to go in with that business case. It’s also going back through and saying, “This is something that can’t wait.” If David Schmaier is right that there is going to be a new comp to every industry, there’s an advantage to being the first mover. If I’ve got two companies and neither of them has a large account management process in place but one of them implements one, I can show you statistically that they will outperform the other company until the other company does the same thing, and then they’ll catch up.
What we’re seeing in technology is a concept called breakaway speed. Let me give you an example. We worked with a large bank out of San Francisco. I went to their commercial loan officers and they said, “You’re working with the largest accounts. We need to do a better job at cross-selling and upselling.” They used AI to go and analyze their largest accounts and say, “What other products or services are they likely to use and why? What would be the benefit of doing that with us?”
They then came back to their top financial officers and said, “Go call on your strategic accounts. Here are the ones, but only call on the ones that have a score of 81 and above where there are still more opportunities to do something.” They had a 234% increase in conversion rates of existing customers to net new cross-sell and upsell opportunities.
A year later after doing the case study, I called up their SVP of strategy at the bank. I said, “Kai, I want to make sure I got the right number because I wrote it down in my notebook and I can’t read my handwriting all the time. When you did this a year ago, you got a 234% increase in productivity conversion rates.” He says, “That’s the old number.” “What’s the current number?” He says, “386% increase.” I said, “What did you do differently?” He says, “Nothing. The algorithms got smarter.” There’s a machine-learning aspect to this thing.
All of a sudden, we were sharing this with another bank and they said, “Do you think we could get to a 234% increase?” I said, “That’s half the question. The question is, how far behind your competitor do you want to get? They’re not there anymore. They’re at 3.86. If you got to 2.34, they’re already ahead of you. By the time you get to 3.86, what are they, a 4.25?” You may have a sustainable edge by being a first mover in your industry that is a sustainable competitive edge, not a temporary one. You got to watch out for that.You may have a sustainable edge by being a first mover in your industry. Click To Tweet
[H.D.] To infinity and beyond.
[B.T.] There is a legitimate case of sense of urgency that you can create around this because there are facts that show that the first people in establish a lead.
[J.D.] If I was a SAM, I’d go to my boss. The use of AI technology should not be a sales management-level discussion. It should be a boardroom-level discussion. If the board is focused on, “How do I increase shareholder value,” I’m going to tell you this is going to be a game-changer. I don’t care what industry. This is going to be a game-changer in terms of impact on shareholder value.
The thing that people all do is, “What happened?” You take a look at Tesla. What did Tesla do when it started selling cars? “When you bought my car, I got to get access to all the data. I’ve got billions of driving data that Ford and GM don’t have. By the time they get to billions, I’ll be trillions of miles worth of data.” This is a party you do not want to be late to.
[B.T.] When you asked about how quickly you could do it and what it might cost, in the article, we made a point that this can happen at any level. It can happen at the transactional level. Jim gave the example of it analyzing conversations or it can go all the way up to complex and sophisticated solutions. You used sophisticated earlier. Sometimes people think it’s pejorative, unsophisticated versus sophisticated. The complexity of the problem may be another way of looking at it. There are appropriate opportunities at every level to at least be thinking about what AI could bring to the party. What is the impact if we don’t? The cost of doing nothing or the cost of not changing could mean that you got Ubered out of it.
[H.D.] When I was reading the article, there was one example with Honeywell about using AI to improve their forecasting process. I worked for a manufacturing company for 35 years and got plenty of opportunities to provide forecasts. I liked an article that used to be and probably still is in the Wall Street Journal about darts versus professional stock pickers. I might as well take a dart and throw it up and see where it lands and say,” It looks like we’re going to be up 7%. That’s the number. That’s where we’re going to be.” There were many variables. There was no way to what you were discussing.
[B.T.] Back in the ‘90s, I was doing sales process consulting. After ISO and TQM and all of the quality movement, sales and marketing were essentially unscathed by the quality movement. What we used to say is if the head of manufacturing ever took over sales, the first thing he or she would do is shut down the line. The scrap rate is out of this world. Manufacturing had it dialed in. It was because they were tracking metrics, they did have a process, and they were reducing variance over time. We’ve made money on forecasting for the last fifteen years. I even opened for Tony Robbins over in London and he picked up on it. Your odds of winning in crafts are better than your forecast. The odds come out and rolled, and crafts were like 49.3%.
The average win rate of forecast deals across all industries of all size companies in our survey year after year was around 46%, 45.5% and 47%. This isn’t even throwing darts. It’s just a roll of the dice. There’s a massive opportunity. You keep talking about being the pioneers. The old line was it’s easy to spot the pioneers. They’re the ones laying on the ground with all the arrows in their back. Let’s also recognize that the pioneers that didn’t wind up face down also got the best land. There’s a real payoff for venturing out.
[J.D.] Harvey, you also bring up something on forecasting. I can talk about this in general because I can’t talk about the specific case study because they don’t even want the industry to be recognized. We worked with a research client. What they were doing is they went out and said, “Let’s take a look at the last seven Black Swan events. Let’s take a look at 2008. Let’s take a look at the internet crash. Let’s take a look at the recession in 1992 in our industry.” They went back through and talked about how long did that last? What were the issues that happened? What were the early warning signs that a recession was coming? What were the signs that recovery was coming? They went back through and found specific trends that happened over time.
They are applying those again right now to the current environment. Inflation dropped noticeably in this last report. Is that a good thing or a bad thing yet? Is that a fake sound? They’re going in and saying, “I’m not just going to take our word for what we think is happening. I’m going to take outside data. What are the economic variables that are happening? What about an M&A activity in my space?” Also, getting a lot more things on what else could torpedo or speed up this deal. I’ve got more facts and figures. We talked about Deming as Barry’s and my favorite guy. Deming always said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
Let’s get some data. There are plenty of data out there, we just need some analysis. We need somebody like a SAM or a CRO who comes in and says, “This is how we’re going to apply it to us, but I’m going to have insights into where the space is going than my competitor does. I’m going to make better decisions for me and my client, and maybe even for my client’s client.”
[B.T.] That’s a thing that’s worth jumping on as well. There are tons of data now. People are drowning in data and dying of thirst for actionable information and insights. That’s a place where AI can make a huge difference because AI can analyze in nanoseconds what would take a human being a year, and not look at all the possibilities.
[H.D.] I remember one of the examples from your articles saying that you could analyze a company’s 10-K report in three seconds.
[B.T.] It used to take their analyst eight hours what this thing is doing in three seconds.
[J.D.] The other piece on this thing is not only speed to get information but speed to go into action. For example, one of your largest clients sits there and misses their revenue numbers. All of a sudden, you see their stock fall 15%, which is not uncommon in today’s marketplace. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to call up right after that call and go, “Sally, I saw the announcement. I listened in on the investors’ thing. You guys got slaughtered. I know it’s a bad time, but I have a way that we could increase your earnings per share by 6% over the next six months. Do you have time for a call?”
Do you think they’re going to take that call after being slaughtered by Jim Cramer on Squawk Box? Yeah, they are. It’s being able to move quickly and say, “I know everybody right now in that company is reaching for Maalox because their stock price went down. I got to wait for you to deal with this thing and not only come up with insight but something that’s timely.” That’s going to be elevated to the boardroom, “You can increase earnings per share by 6%. Tell me more.”
[B.T.] He’s not making that up. That was an actual case study.
[H.D.] As we’re talking about timing, it’s a wonderful time to have the conversation because we’ve known for quite some time, and I’m sure you’ve seen the studies as well, that after a crisis or any global financial crisis like the dot-com crisis back in the early-2000s or any of these kinds of crises that happen, companies are forced to be, “Are we going to do the turtle thing and withdraw from our shell and hope that we don’t get run over by a car or are we going to invest in our customers and invest going forward?” The companies that invest are the ones that take the share. There have been several crises. I see us at a crisis nexus as we speak. I see this capability in technology that could provide some answers for how you would go about investing and making a wise investment choice. It seems like the perfect time.
[J.D.] Harvey, you alluded to two things. One thing is what could I do to make my navigation of this Black Swan event as smooth as possible? The other is, what could I do to make my customers’ navigation through this thing as smooth as possible? Customers remember, “You helped me out during the darkest time. When you come out of this, I’m not going to forget that.” This is a perfect time to be able to do things for your customer. Help them deal with all of these things.
We have a friend, Joe Batista. He retired from Dell. His title was Chief Creatologist. I was thinking, what are all the other assets that Dell has besides the product we sell that we could bring to the table that would be of value to our customers? Do we have relationships with suppliers or other customers? Do we have patents on things? Do we have access to innovations? Whatever it was, those are things that if we sit there and say, “I know we’re selling, but here’s something I’m going to give you for free or we’re going to do something together on it.” Those are times when if you help, their bank or your manufacturing account or whatever your top accounts are going to navigate this. They will reward you down the road.
[B.T.] Jim, you’ve got to talk about the Marriott example. If we’re talking about dark times and getting creative, that’s the best one ever.
[J.D.] This shows creativity. If you had gone to Marriott twenty years ago and you walked into any Marriott in the country, you’re going to go into your room and in the refrigerator, there’s going to be Coke. There’s an account manager at Pepsi who is constantly going, “How do I break into Marriott?” It’s not happening. I sit there and say, “What are we talking about? We’re talking about flavored fizzy sugar water. It’s Pepsi’s fizzy water or my fizzy water.” Here’s something that the guy did that I thought was brilliant. I talked to a CMO at Marriott. He verified that this happened.
During a time when they had the first Gulf War, Marriott was in a big expansion mode. JW Marriotts are owned by Marriott, but some of the Residence Inn, the Courtyard by Marriotts, etc. are franchisees. Marriott corporate went and got lines of credit for all of their franchisees to be able to have money to update all of their facilities, to go with the new look, the new feel, make it fresh, make everything on this thing. They backed them based on a guarantee of certain occupancy rates across all Marriott properties.
All of a sudden, the first Gulf War hits. Travel goes down and business travel goes down. All of a sudden, there’s a risk of these loans being called. The Pepsi CFO goes, “I sat in on the last earnings call and you talked about we are flush with cash.” “We got a ton of it.” He says, “You decided that you didn’t want to do share buybacks, but you’re looking for creative uses of the cash.” He says, “Yeah, I’m always looking for creative uses.” He says, “What if we went to Marriott which is under a little bit of crunch right now and said, ‘We’ll be a fallback position. If you guys switch from Coke to Pepsi, we’ll be a backup on guaranteeing your lines of credit with our cash.’”
They go and they pitch the idea to Marriott. It goes all the way up to the top. It goes up to the board and they say, “We’re a family-run business with good values. Coke has been a partner for years.” They end up calling up Coke and saying, “Here’s the offer we got from Pepsi. Do you think you could get back to us in 2 or 3 weeks and tell us if you could match that?” They go, “I don’t know how we could get back to you in 2 to 3 months.” They’re not thinking that creatively. They’re thinking they’re in the flavored sugar, fizzy water business.
They sit there and after a couple of weeks, they go, “Time is up.” They switched over from Coke to Pepsi. Here’s the key thing. They never ended up having to go to Pepsi and say, “Can you back up these loans?” Somebody got creative and came up with a new way of doing things, and added value above and beyond the product they sold, which is fizzy water. You walk into every single Marriott location and it’s now Pepsi products, except for Atlanta. Being the home of Coke, they still have Coke in Atlanta. It stayed that way for years. That’s the whole thing about creativity and having access to new ideas and thinking outside of the box. That’s what I want from a SAM. I want them to fight for the resources in the company and make it happen.
[B.T.] Particularly, when people feel threatened or under the gun or in uncertain times, huge opportunities are coming up.
[H.D.] We don’t have problems. We have opportunities. That’s what it’s all about.
[B.T.] Was it George Stephanopoulos that said, “Never waste a good crisis?”
[H.D.] Exactly. One of the use cases and things that I hear in the SAM world from time to time or fairly regularly, usually people grumbling under their breath, is the upkeep of the account plan. There are some that get this once a year. You spend hours and hours putting this thing together. You present it once, put it up on the shelf, and there it goes to rest. May it rest in peace. It seems to me like there’s a real opportunity to be a lot more dynamic and forward-looking with AI in account plans. Has anybody tried to solve that problem?
[J.D.] There are people that are out there and doing that. They’re saying, “Let’s not have the strategic account plans be something that sits in a three-ring binder.” We go through this big long thing. We’ve gathered all this data. “Here’s what we think is going to happen with the economy. Here’s what we think is going to happen to the competitive landscape. Here’s what’s going on with our strategic accounts. Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s what we’re going to go talk to.” The key thing on it is that would be great if we were accountants because they live in a predictable world.
We’re in sales. Sales is a frail ecosystem. What I want to do is strategic account management at the speed of change. That’s what technology is good at. Technology could go back and say, “When we put together this plan, first off, it’s going to sit there and say, ‘Here are the actions you agreed to take. Did those happen? You said you were going to meet with the new CFO of your largest account. I’ve checked their schedule and there’s no appointment scheduled for this thing. You haven’t even tried to reach out to them.’”
It’s going to be a little tap on the shoulder of inspecting you and coaching you to do that. The second is I’m going to be looking at things in the marketplace and said, “You were assuming that GDP is going to grow at 3.2%. Now it’s growing at 4.2%. Is that an opportunity or it’s going at you at 2.4%? What’s that going to do?”
Let it go out and do what it does, update the analysis on those things, check LinkedIn and find out if there’s a new CFO that’s coming in. You haven’t even found out about it yet, but the day they changed their profile, it’s available. Let it do those types of things and make this a strategic account plan that you live in, not that you put on a binder. You live in it every single day. It’s updating you on what’s changing good or bad in the marketplace so you can make more strategic discussions with people, and do it on a proactive basis.
[B.T.] What was the acronym, WORN, Write Once, Read Never?
[J.D.] Sybase talk about WORN files. We write records to a database once and we never read them again. We’re taking tons of disk space and going, “Why are you writing them?” “We’re required to do that.” Many times, we’ve taken out strategic account plans. They sat in the binder and they are forgotten. Unless they’re actionable and somebody is holding me accountable, which technology can do.
It can be tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “You’re not living up to your plan. My manager doesn’t have to do it. If I don’t do it over the long term, it’s going to let my manager know.” She or he can come in and sit there and say, “We have to have a talk.” At least then they could do management by exception. That’s exactly another great use of technology. It doesn’t even have to be AI, but it has to be technology to help make that something you live in.
[B.T.] I agree with all of that. I don’t even know if there are three-ring binders anymore, but there are loads of PDF files sitting and not being looked at. That’s a cultural problem. Technology is not going to solve that problem. If the culture turns onto accountability, transparency, removing friction, and elevating relationships, none of those is technological issues, but they can all be enabled and enhanced with technology once you want to do it. It’s easy for people either to turtle or t-rex, “If I don’t move, I won’t be eaten.” That’s not where the growth is. The growth opportunities are always outside your comfort zone, being accountable, being transparent, being forward-looking, and all of that. That’s why these people became SAMs. That’s why companies have them.The growth opportunities are always just outside your comfort zone. Click To Tweet
[H.D] I’m imagining a future, or maybe it’s today already, where the first thing you look at in the morning is, “What has happened lately? How is that going to change my day, my week, my month, my year, my conversation in four hours or whatever?”
[B.T.] CNN has a thing each morning, “Five things you need to know.” Your AI could do that, “Here are five gauges on your account you need to look at.”
[H.D.] That’s a whole different speed of adaptation and adjustment. I supposed, honing in on what is that thing that’s going to make a difference for the customer. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s got to be. It’s what’s going to help the customer the most. Are there any industries that are specifically leading in this particular space? Are all industries participating? What are you gentlemen seeing in that regard?
[J.D.] You probably hear more of it from technology companies. In the HPR article, we talked about what McAfee is doing. They’re a technology company. We talked about what Honeywell is doing. There are bits and pieces. The key thing in this is to realize that AI for sales is still in its embryonic stage. While we’ve done a study every year, what we did was every year we go out and we look for three cohorts, people who have implemented AI for sales, people who are evaluating it, and people who could care less. In terms of people who have implemented it, it’s single digits.
Here’s the key thing. We’ve got enough of those people that when we’ve asked them, “What do you think the impact is going to be on sales three years from now?” Over 90% said, “This is a game-changer.” You will be significantly behind your competitor if you’re not doing this.” They’re making a decision based on personal knowledge. We have not seen that in the past when you put it in CRM systems. We didn’t see 90% of CRM customers saying, “This is a game-changer. If you don’t have it, you’re going to be out of business.”
The fact that they’re saying that about this kind of technology is key. On the other side of the equation, when we ask people who don’t know anything about it what they think, over 50% say, “I can get by without it.” I can totally get it if you sit there and have looked at AI for sales, understand what it does, compare it to what your needs are and what you need to do in the marketplace, and decide to do something else based on an educated decision. You are foolish, if not negligent, if you make that decision without knowing what it can do.
At the absolute minimum, the companies that are going out there and doing strategic account management, and betting the farm on their strategic accounts where they’re a majority of their future success, at least ought to know what it does and how could it help. They could still do something else, but it’s got to be an educated decision.
[H.D.] It’s industry agnostic.
[B.T.] Let’s go back to what Jim said earlier about what Dave from Salesforce said, “Every industry is going to get Ubered.”
[H.D.] It totally makes sense.
[J.D.] I’ll give you an example. I used to be Chairman of the Morris Animal Foundation. We were the largest source of funding for studies for animals. Not on animals, for animals. We work with all the veterinary schools around the country in that. One of the key things that we found was a huge correlation between modalities that are effective in treating canine cancer and human cancer. To do a clinical study on a dog is $500,000. To do a clinical study on people is $500 million to $1 billion. By applying AI to take a look at all the research done on canines and say, “For bone cancer,” which by the way, if you take a bone cancer sample from a child and a dog, you need a scanning electron microscope to tell the difference.
I’ve reviewed all the articles on this, both the pros and cons of different treatments and modalities that are most likely to have an impact on humans. In oncology, for example, when they go through the whole process of phase one all the way through phase three and approval, 3.5% of oncology clinical trials end up being approved. What if that could be 7%? How would that change your business? It would first off save you billions of dollars in funding clinical trials that don’t succeed, and would get new modalities to market that would generate tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars of additional revenue for your company. That’s where they’ve got their thinking about this stuff.
[B.T.] How many lives could it save? One thing I’ll mention, Harvey, because it came up a little bit earlier. We’ve got a bunch of videos on our website, SalesMastery.com. There’s a two-part video Calling High, which I’m sure the SAMs are familiar with all this, but it might be a nice refresher, especially the first one, which is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I’m not going to tell you why it’s called that, but they might want to check that one out. It’s part one of Calling High, but we have other stuff there too.
[H.D.] I expect that it’s important because what I’m hearing is you’re operating at the customer level. Some of these examples you’ve given have a lot to do with creative financing, the long-term direction of the company, and maybe something that has to go to the customer’s board or your own board or both. This could make you a fairly regular visitor at those high levels for those high conversations. It sounds like something that SAMs should be good at anyway, but they don’t get there as often as they’d like to typically because they don’t have a story to tell that’s worth hearing.
[B.T.] You may get there more often and you better have something to say when you get there.
[H.D.] Also, know how to say it. There’s enough momentum out there that there are clear case studies emerging that it’s working. We’ll give you a long-term sustainable competitive advantage. It seems like something people ought to look at. SAMA members and anybody that tuned in to this, I encourage you to read this article and connect with these gentlemen if you need to know more. It’s been fascinating for me. I’m sure it’ll be fascinating for you.
[J.D.] It’ll make their job much more interesting and much more fun because it will change the level of conversations they have. They’ll be able to talk about things, discuss things, and collaborate on things they’ve never thought of. It’s going to make their self-worth explode in terms of, “I love waking up every morning because I get to do something I couldn’t do 5 years or 10 years ago.”
[H.D.] How compelling is that? That’s great. It’s already a great job. You’re making it greater. I can’t thank you enough. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I hope this isn’t the last conversation. I hope it’s the first.
[B.T.] Thanks, Harvey, for having us in.
- Can AI Really Help You Sell? – Harvard Business Review article
- Sales Mastery
About Jim Dickie
Jim Dickie is an Independent Research Fellow for Sales Mastery, and was formerly the co-founder of CSO Insights. As a research firm, Sales Mastery specializes in benchmarking how companies are leveraging people, process, technology, and knowledge to optimize the way they market to, sell to, and service customers.
About Barry Trailer
We are leaders in focusing on the emerging area of AI-for-Sales and the timeless subject of Sales as a Profession. We partner with Companies facing transformation of their sales organization. We advise clients on leveraging people, process, technology, and knowledge to optimize and evolve the way they market to, sell to, and service customers.