From work-from-home policies and digital-first communication with prospects – the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated many trends already in progress for businesses and consumers. Among sales teams, digitally enabling buyer journeys became a must-have almost overnight.
According to Conversica Chief Marketing Officer David Greenberg, the most significant difference from before the pandemic is that “in about 2021, we reached the tipping point where customer experience is more important than the product people by themselves.”
Congruent with trends and developments we’ve seen in financial services, retail and other high consumer-interfacing industries, CX is becoming “king” in the marketing and sales arena as well. And just as in those industries, these trends are being driven by quickly shifting buyer expectations, given consumers’ almost inexhaustible ability to research and gain feedback about products and services they’re considering purchasing.
During a recent appearance David gave on Emerj’s ‘AI in Business’ podcast, he expounded on new approaches to the sales and marketing funnels and what it takes to help human sales teams transfer to a digital-first sales operation.
“Before, the only avenue to learn about the product used to be engaging with the salesperson,” he laments. Today, new buyer expectations mean that “when you engage with sales, you have to be educational, you have to be a thought leader.”
The focus on customer journeys and educating consumers with authentic thought leadership is driving the adoption of AI capabilities – as we’re also seeing in financial services, retail, etc. – along with new techniques pioneered by new leaders in digital-first sales operations. In the process, marketing and sales leaders are finding these capabilities place them in a better position to handle high post-pandemic SDR turnover and decrease friction in the onboarding process.
This article analyzes two critical takeaways for sales and marketing leaders from his conversation on the program:
- Digital-first sales operations and representatives as thought leaders: The speed of new markets and changing customer expectations are driving traditional sales operations to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks in favor of spending more time becoming industry experts in the eyes of their prospects.
- Advanced large language models for truly transformative conversational AI: As conversations become more integral than straight sales pitches in elevating customer experiences, large language models like GPT-4 are driving conversational AI capabilities that can deliver quadruple conversion rates and exponentially higher ROI.
Listen to the full episode below:
Expertise: Marketing and sales funnels, lead and demand generation, integrated marketing, product marketing, Saas and B2B campaign management, and social media amplification.
Brief Recognition: David recently began as Chief Marketing Officer at Conversica in early 2022 and previously served in equivalent roles for Act-On Software and Customer.io. He started his career in marketing in the late ’90s at Golden Books Entertainment. Alongside his current position at Conversica, David has also served as an official member of the Forbes Communications Council since 2019.
Digital-First Sales Operations and Sales Representatives as Thought Leaders
In pre-pandemic models, marketing produced leads that became MQL – or marketing-qualified leads – to be processed by business development teams, usually with a 6-7% conversion rate. These realities meant sales leaders had to play the numbers game and build scale while SDRs needed thick skins to break through often unwelcoming consumer attitudes on approach.
With all the mental health strains of the pandemic, discomforts grew on both the sales and consumer sides of the table – lowering satisfaction and heightening turnover in SDR roles. With antipathy for rudimentary, repetitive work running high already in such circumstances, sales teams are more open than ever to technological innovation that removes the “grunge work.”
David tells Emerj that, when armed with AI capabilities tailored for decreasing friction throughout sales and marketing funnels, sales representatives find themselves with the time and facility to grow expertise in their fields and markets. In turn, they can transform from sales professionals to academic thought leaders and market educators in the eyes of buyers.
David refers to how many Conversica clients engage in “automation 2.0” – or automating their sales operations to the point where, if clients ask for extended callbacks at odd hours, those appointments are scheduled automatically with virtually no responsibility for the representative other than to be at their computer on time.
Use cases showcasing new efficiencies throughout sales and marketing processes now force leaders to focus on rebranding their representatives in a similar fashion. When they do, David tells Emerj that customers are more encouraged to engage with the brand outside the sales pipeline, like visiting company websites and partaking in a broader range of “mid-funnel” activities.
In the process of this industry-wide transformation, as David explains during his podcast appearance, business leaders are now asking themselves new questions such as, “How do I take my high-funnel interest and get them to be ‘hand raisers’?” And, “How do I take my stock database – where millions have likely been invested over the last few years – and develop conversations with prospects beyond traditional marketing brand emails?”
David emphasizes the latter distinction is particularly important. Where marketing and sales used to be focused on delivering the single message – at the right time and place of the funnel – to a customer best primed to receive it, marketers are now finding prospects are gravitating where they’re having the most meaningful conversations, not where they’re merely getting “the best offer.”
The result is a new generation of sales team best suited for making that conversation as meaningful as possible and building relationships with customers along automated systems that must be as empathetic and responsive to changing consumer attitudes as humanly possible.
Large Language Models for Transformative Conversational AI
As conversations become more meaningful in the sales processes than direct pitches, sales teams are looking for new technologies that help them build intimate relationships with their prospects.
Large language models – as exemplified by ChatGPT and OpenAI’s highly advanced GPT-4 language models – are becoming a significant differentiator between surface-level “chatbots” that often plague and obstruct customer journeys and truly transformative conversational AI that drives digital transformation in customer experiences.
Before the pandemic, many of these technologies were ill-equipped to handle nuanced problems beyond facilitating FAQ processes. Today, these capabilities are so advanced that every school teacher must worry about their students’ work being indistinguishable from AI-generated text.
In the process, conversational AI driven by advanced large language models is transforming sales and marketing teams – just as they are transforming call center and customer service operations in financial services and retail – is driving astronomical conversion rates. Conversica’s own conversational AI platforms in their AI Revenue and Digital Assistants have seen conversion rates as high as 40%, David tells Emerj.
When considering that conversion rates for email CTR and direct sales hovers somewhere between high single digits and low teens percentages – nearly quadrupling the volume of prospects from any channel is nothing less than a game changer.
While leveraging solutions like conversational AI is hardly an easy flick of the switch – often requiring a concerted transformation of priorities across the entire organization – David tells Emerj that their clients are finding “24 times their ROI,” but only if they’re willing to put the work in.
For anyone thinking these numbers sound too good to be true, Verse.io Co-founder and CEO David Tal tells Emerj that when companies use conversational engagement, they typically see 50 – 300% lift in engagement, adding that “we have a lot of we have a lot of case studies from huge companies that have attested to that.”
Yet as many guests on the ‘AI in Business’ podcast have noted with their experience developing highly personalized customer journeys with conversational AI: doing so is nothing less than an organization-wide effort to implement and maintain, requiring months of planning and labor to implement effectively.
David discusses assisting their clients in implementing systems that:
- Find errors and incorrect answers in conversational AI responses.
- Flag those errors for correction.
- Place qualified human professionals in queues to remedy those errors and train models in the correct response.
- Are on the constant lookout for opportunities to hyper-personalize customer journeys.
Often these approaches can result in 98 percent accuracy rates, but David tells Emerj that the price of these systems and rates is eternal diligence. “This isn’t like, ‘Let’s throw AI at it and hope it works.’ There’s got to be a smart business process built out so that when you invest in it, you keep making the AI smarter,” he is quick to mention following such impressive business results.