Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 145: Q&A with Anil Kaul @anil_kaul
By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
It’s hard to believe it was about 3 years ago we started producing Sales Pipeline Radio, which is live every 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 featured an impressive list of guests and will continue to do so. We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities heading into and throughout the year. Check out the full recordings of past shows at SalesPipelineRadio.com and subscribe on iTunes.
Our guest this time is Anil Kaul, CEO at AbsolutData. We called this one: Is AI Real or Vaporware? Hard Questions and Hard Answers.
We talk about artificial intelligence. This is where we went from using data quite literally and quite directly to now using information to make conjectures and to create new experiences for customers. I think maybe five years ago, the big buzzword in B2B was maybe “social selling,” “social media.” A couple years later “account based marketing” and then we start talking about AI and I think there has been a lot of interest in artificial intelligence, a lot of discussion. I think inevitably that initial frothing turns into, “Well what exactly is it and how do we use it?” And you guys really have been at Absolutdata at the forefront of this.
I ask Anil to talk about what AI means to him and about some of the practical applications that can help more marketers or more business leaders wrap their arms around how to leverage it. Listen in and/or read below:
Matt: We are excited to have everyone join us again here for another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Thank you so much to everyone who is joining us on the live feed. We are here live every Thursday at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern, as part of the Funnel Media Radio Network. So thanks for listening to us at work. For those of you that are joining from the Podcast, thank you so much for subscribing. I think our numbers have grown more in the last eight months, Paul, than the first two years and four months. It’s been pretty exciting to watch the hockey stick, and thanks so much everyone, for joining. Very humbled by the audience that we have now. If you like what you’re hearing today, if you’re hearing this for the first time or maybe the second time, you’re wondering what else we’ve been up to, we’re coming up on the beginning of year four of doing Sales Pipeline Radio. You can find every episode, every past episode of Sales Pipeline Radio, every past, present, and future episode of Sales Pipeline Radio-
Paul: I tried to keep them out of the studio but the crowd is just out there, applauding. I’m sorry.
Matt: Nice, I love that you’ve got the sound effect board. That’s fantastic. You can find all those episodes on salespiplineradio.com. Every week we are featuring some of the best and brightest minds in sales and marketing, especially in B to B. Today, it’s no different. Very excited to have with us Anil Kaul, he is the CEO of Absolutdata.
Anil, excited to have you here. My first question actually is, as you go through your resume and what you’ve done, you have a PhD in marketing from Cornell University, and you don’t see a lot of doctorates in marketing. So tell me how that came about and what was your dissertation? What did you study?
Anil Kaul: Hi, very happy to be on this show. Yes, well there are a few people like me who like marketing so much that they decided to do a dissertation on it. Marketing is something that always fascinated me and I wanted to understand how could you use data to do better marketing. Because quite a rage these days, but when I was doing my PhD, it wasn’t as much. And I actually focused on how to build pricing strategies with data. So that was what my marketing thesis was all about. But I think more importantly it was just me learning how to use data to make better decisions, whether it’s marketing, sales or any other area.
Matt: I think we take that for granted now. In marketing, the data is so, so important, but back in 1995, especially in B to B, not something that was thought of a lot. Talk a little bit about that journey and how you’ve seen that evolve. I mean you’ve been running Absolutdata for many, many years now and have seen that there, but in your time back and McKinsey and as you’ve gone through your marketing career, talk about the evolution of data from when you started to where we are today.
Anil Kaul: The evolution of data and how it gets used has been super fast learning, and I fortunately have had kind of a front-line view of all of that when I started my career. Data, analytics, used to be something sitting in the back of the office that would be two nerdy guys doing something on a computer and the rest of the people had no idea who they are and what they do. And I think I’ve seen all of that grow, come to the front, and now you have entire companies, entire industries that are getting completely disrupted, changed, transformed because of data and what data enables you to do. So that’s been a very exciting journey.
In fact, when I started my career, that was what I saw and I thought would happen. When I was at McKinsey, I could see very clearly that the work that we were doing there entailed a tremendous amount of data analysis, and a lot of times just bringing data that the clients hadn’t looked at, or sometimes had it but didn’t realize that they had the data. So now that is becoming mainstream today. When I sit in an Uber and somebody asks me what I do and I talk about AI and data analytics, we have a very interesting discussion. That wasn’t the case even five years back, so I think here now, data has become essential to what is happening in marketing and sales, and a lot of other areas of the world as well, so I am super excited to see how this whole journey happens.
Matt: So let’s talk about artificial intelligence. This is where we went from using data quite literally and quite directly to now using information to make conjectures and to create new experiences for customers. I think maybe five years ago, the big buzzword in B to B was maybe “social selling,” “social media.” A couple years later “account based marketing” and then we start talking about AI and I think there has been a lot of interest in artificial intelligence, a lot of discussion. I think inevitably that initial frothing turns into, “Well what exactly is it and how do we use it?” And you guys really have been at Absolutdata at the forefront of this. Talk about what AI means to you and what are some of the practical applications that can help more marketers or more business leaders wrap their arms around how to leverage it.
Anil Kaul: AI is actually something that’s been around for a long time. I personally got introduced to AI in 1992, and I tried using AI at that point of time when I was in my PhD program, I tried using AI in ’97, ’98, when I was at McKinsey. So it’s been around. However, the challenges in the past have been all the things that you needed to come together. Which was lots and lots of data, computing power, and some advances in making the computing cheaper. Those are things that were missing. Today, all those three things have come together and AI is suddenly really powerful.
Now of course the question is what really is AI? So if you think of AI, it’s essentially getting machines to act like humans. And what does that really mean? That basically means three things. First is, machines having the power to visualize and sense. So they can visualize, they can hear, and get meaning out of that. So they can see a picture and say if it’s a cat versus a dog. The second is the ability to understand text, which is where all the analytics comes in. So if I have a paragraph that I have written, AI is then able to understand what is the message that I am trying to convey through that. And the third is ability to make complex decisions. And in complex decisions hardware, you have to weight in a lot of different factors, you have certain rules you follow, there are certain things that we have to be able to achieve. Those are the three things.
So AI is about sensing, about understanding, and then making complex decisions. What happens typically is when you read about AI in the media, the big focus tends to be on the first two pieces, not on the third one. But it’s the third one, the decision-making piece, which is the most applicable area for businesses. That’s if I’m a salesperson, I need a tool that can act like my smart assistant and help me make those decisions. And there’s so much more data available today, there is so much information available today. Somebody needs to go through all that. I can do it if I have the skills, but then I don’t have enough time to do it, right? So it’s the skills and capability and time, all of those things is where AI machines come in handy. My and my sales teams’ life would use it.
Matt: So we’re talking today with Anil Kaul. He’s the CEO of Absolutdata. Talking a little bit about artificial intelligence and sales and marketing.
Should I be thinking about AI as replacement for people? Should I be thinking about it as a way to make the required people in my business smarter, better, faster, making better decisions? I think as people think about 2019 and think about, “Okay, if I need to think about an investment in artificial intelligence, what does that add, or what does that replace, or reduce?” And it could be multiple of those answers but curious how you think about the ROI or the cost-benefit analysis around that.
Anil Kaul: There is of course a lot of discussion about AI replacing people and people not having any more jobs to do, and I actually don’t agree with that. Because I see AI as a tool that makes people better and more effective, and lets them do the things that they really like and want to do. And I don’t think AI is going to be ready to replace people. In fact, there are quite a few examples where what we have seen is the best AI combined with people is what beats everything. We just go down to a simple AI can’t compete with that. So I think the future is an AI enabled world, more than AI dominated world. So now I think it from a sales perspective. Think of it this way: today, as I said earlier, there is so much information available, there is so much data available. And as a salesperson, my core skillset is not data analysis. My core skillset is not my ability to read these 500 reports that showed up in the morning. My core skill is to take that information and assemble it and move that process.
So the AI is really good at what I, as a salesperson, am not really skilled to do. So AI will understand all this data, understand and tell me for this particular customer, what should my game plan be? What should I do today, what should I do tomorrow, who should I connect with, with what product, with what message, what channel, and then I of course still have to execute on that and do that, and hence I become a lot more effective as a salesperson with that.
And this is where the second part of your questions comes in from an ROI perspective. The ROI of AI is, by the way, very high. Very quickly, very high. And the reason is because it suddenly takes your sales team and literally removes 50, 60 percent of the work that they don’t enjoy doing, that takes the time away from the actual selling, that takes away the time from actually connecting with the customer. And on top of that, provides you information and a very deep understanding of what the customer really wants. From the moment you have that, you can take an average salesperson and turn them into as good as any of your superstar salespeople.
Matt: In addition to that, not only making those sales reps more efficient, there’s a rising tide for everybody. There’s a level of consistency and predictability in performance, in efficiency, that can happen across the board. And it seems to me that’s particularly exciting in selling because you’ve got inherently, even with systems in place, even with a equal number of leads, equal quality of leads, you’ve got different reps that have different abilities, different skillsets, and different levels of performance. And so the ability to create a sustained and higher and more predictable level of selling efficiency and results gets pretty exciting.
Anil Kaul: Let me give you a couple of examples. We have a client that sells industrial supplies. And in the industrial supplies world, whenever you find out that the customer is opening up a new manufacturing client or a factory or a new workshop, that’s good and exciting news because that’s where I’m going to get a lot of sales. What we found through the AI solution was that the best time to call was about 6 to 8 months after the announcement of the particular plant opening. Now, what is happening in the real world? As a salesperson, as soon as I saw that a plant was being opened, I would get on the phone and start connecting with those people. So I was literally wasting 6 months of my time and effort in connecting when the customer wasn’t ready to buy. With AI, you find that out, hey, this is an opportunity. Don’t call them now, call them after 8 months, and by the way, as an AI assistant I will tell you a week in advance, this is the right time to call them. That’s one example of where suddenly AI is now increasing efficiency of any salesperson who’s there.
The second example is for actually a telecom equipment manufacturer here in Chicago. So we took the sales data, applied our AI engine on it, and we were able to generate $180 million worth of leads that were not in their CRM system. And think of it that you have a Lead generation happening without the salesperson having to do a single sweep. Then we were also able to find out about $250 million worth of leads well in advance of what a typical salesperson finds out about. As a salesperson now, my lead pipeline is getting filled on its own without me having to do something about it. That is where we suddenly start seeing the power that AI starts bringing to you as a sales team.
Matt: Love it. We’ve got Anil Kaul with us today on Sales Pipeline Radio. He’s the CEO of Absolutdata. We’ve got to take a quick break, pay some bills. We’ll be right back with more on artificial intelligence, how to get started, how to get this train rolling to improve your business. We’ll be right back on Sales Pipeline Radio.
Paul: Hey here’s another thought as you head into the holidays and look at the new year coming rapidly at us. Think about it, are you tired of sending sales emails and wondering if they’re ever even opened? Forget about reading them, did anybody even open them? Well if so, you need MailTag. MailTag is a Chrome browser extension for your Gmail that allows you to track your emails in real time. You receive alerts right away on your desktop as soon as an email is opened. And as a special thank you for being a listener of this show, we’ve teamed up with MailTag to provide you guys with a special discount on a future subscription. Think about this, could be something to start the holidays, or something to give one of your employees or friends or vendors. Might be something that would put you on their radar for the next year.
If you’re interested, you can use the promo code “HEINZ”, H-E-I-N-Z, and you can get 50% off for life. Not just for a year, but for life. So be sure and check out mailtag.io to start your completely free 14-day trial. Check it out, see if there’s something you can use, no credit card required. And if it is, use that promo code “HEINZ” and get 50% off for life. That’s just smart for the holidays. From the man who brings us all sorts of smart ideas, Matt Heinz.
Matt: Nah, every once in a while. Thank you, Paul, and thank you so much for our sponsor of Sales Pipeline Radio, mailtag.io. I can’t recommend them enough, and I think oftentimes you think about, “Okay, if I’m in sales, I want to see open rates and click rates and see that activity on my emails.” But if you’re in business development, if you’re trying to get any kind of engagement with a prospect and trying to figure out who to call back, it’s a great tool to use. Yes, Paul.
Paul: You know, I just made that up on the spot but maybe it is a crazy idea to give, let’s say you’ve got a big client or a big vendor and you want to thank them. Don’t just give them a bottle of wine or a gift certificate. Give them the gift they’ll use all year long, maybe forever here.
Matt: It’s the gift that keeps on giving there, Paul. And that’s what we try to do here at Sales Pipeline Radio. Speaking of the gift that keeps on giving, we are here through the end of the year. We are going to pre-record a couple episodes here for the last couple weeks of the year. We’ve got Alex Shootman who is the CEO of Workfront is going to be joining us in a couple weeks. And then in January, we’re going to start off with a bang. We got Scott Ingram. He is the author of “The 1%”. It is the stories and success and best practices from the top 1% of salespeople in the country. And then Tiffany Bova, who is one of the chief evangelist at Salesforce. She’s going to join us as well, and talk about her new book.
But today, we’ve got more time with Anil Kaul. He is the CEO of Absolutdata. We’re talking about artificial intelligence impacting and improving decision making throughout the enterprise. Particularly in sales and marketing. I think one of the challenges with AI in sales and marketing is approachability. I think it feels like a big, intimidating thing. I mean, you’re sharing some success stories that are compelling but might actually be intimidating for folks. What are the best ways for some people to get started with artificial intelligence? If we’re looking at dipping the toe in the water, if that’s even possible at the beginning of 2019, where do you see people most successfully getting started?
Anil Kaul: AI is quite intimidating when you look at AI itself. However, from a used perspective actually it’s not. Let me give you an example of something where you use AI every day and nobody usually is much intimidated about it. GPS. All of us use a GPS for driving. Now behind the GPS is a tremendous amount of data. There is a huge amount of AI that in real time, tells you what route you should be taking as you go from point A to point B. And good AI solutions are built exactly like the GPS. And that’s by the way, what we do at Absolutdata, that’s our focus. Because as a salesperson, I don’t want to give you something where you have to spend hours learning how to use. It should be something that exactly like a GPS, tells you where you are on your sales process and making a sale, and what you should be doing next to get to the end point of signing that account, signing that big sale that you want.
So the AI products have been designed, and by the way there are quite a few of those out there. They make it very easy for the user to use it. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, how do I get started? Now as an organization, I have a very long answer about how to do that. I won’t get into that. I will focus more if you’re a salesperson, there are quite a few tools out there that help you with automating some of the easy tasks that you have to do manually otherwise. For example, we have a tool which captures all the news about a particular account that you have, goes through the new items, and figures out the ones that are relevant to you for your selling. So for example, if you are selling a sales tool to a client to let’s say FedEx, if I’m selling a sales tool, I don’t want to hear about FedEx doing something on their back end, on their freight. I want to focus on the things that are related to it. What this tool does is researches articles and only gives you the ones that are relevant from the sale that you’re going to make’s perspective.
So there are a lot of tools like this that are available that you can sign up, test it. Because most of the time, they are relatively quick to build, they are quick, cheap to test, and you can start learning. As I said, think of AI as your assistant. Think of these tools starting to become your assistants in helping you do some of those tasks and some of those things that you have to do to become more effective as a salesperson.
Matt: Got it. Well we are at the end of 2018. We’re not going to get into prediction time, but I want to go back and say: okay, if we were a year ago, what are some things this year, Anil, that have surprised you in B to B? What are things that you’ve noticed that you didn’t expect that you think might have an impact or have implications for sales and marketing leaders heading into 2019?
Anil Kaul: I think the most surprising thing for me has been how quickly sales and marketing leaders have adapted the idea of getting AI in. It’s smart in most places, however I think in the beginning of the year the big challenge was going to people and saying, “Hey, you should be thinking about AI.” Today, the challenge is not that anymore. It is about how to do it. And I think that’s a very deceptive change, that’s a big change that’s happened in lots of industries, and that I’m very surprised. I thought it would take a couple of years before people would be completely convinced that they should do that. Today, the challenge for us is just managing and maintaining all these people who are coming and saying, “Help me do it. I don’t need to be convinced anymore that I should be doing this.”
Matt: What are some mistakes people make when they get started with. We talked about some of the best practices of getting started, but what are some mistakes that people make that keep them from seeing the success that they want with AI?
Anil Kaul: I think the biggest mistake that people make with AI is they think, “To solve my business problem, I need AI.” I think that’s the biggest mistake and I’ll tell you why I think that. You do need AI, I’m not saying you don’t. However, you actually need three other things along with AI. You need to have great AI that has analytical models behind it so it can actually solve your problem in an efficient manner. That’s the first thing. The second important thing is that it has the ability to pick up your context. Because AI is very good at making recommendations, very good at telling you. It’s really bad at picking up context. So what happens is, if you haven’t built the tool in a way which is able to pick up your context, if I’m a salesperson, my context, it gives you recommendations that don’t make sense. It tells you do to things that are not right. So building these AI tools without the right analytical models, without the right context, and then finally, putting the technology in a way and building a solution that is easy to use. If it’s not something where a person who’s using has to do anything beyond asking a question and getting answers.
I think those are the kind of mistakes that I have seen that we have people who make this great AI model but when the user goes and looks at the interface it’s like, “Oh my god, I somehow have to 20 hours of training before I can use that.” You lost it, it’s not going to happen.
Matt: True. Wrapping up here, last couple minutes with Anil Kaul. He’s the CEO of Absolutdata. First of all, Anil, what could people learn more about AI, more about Absolutdata, and especially just to go deeper on why AI and how AI on your website.
Anil Kaul: On our website if you go to our NAVIK AI, which is the platform that we have built, that section is actually a lot of educational material that we have put. In fact, my job today is basically education. Because everyone wants to know, “Explain to me what is AI in simple terms. What can it do for me and how do I go thinking about it and adopting it in my organization, in my day-to-day life?” We put a lot of educational material on that, if anyone has any questions on that, I am always happy to have conversations on this, and I write a blog, I publish quite a bit about AI. In fact, I just published an article talking about how you can have dynamic playbooks for your sales team using AI, so there’s a lot of information available out there which is very useful and happy to share that.
Matt: Love that, thanks for doing that. That article on dynamic sales playbooks were definitely worth reading. You find that on the HubSpot blog. Go check that out. Well, I want to thank our guest today, Anil Kaul. He’s the CEO of Absolutdata. Some good insights into AI and I think there’s a lot of frothiness and a lot of words used around AI and I think a lot of people are asking the question reasonably of, “How do you translate data into some real value for sales and marketing?” I think we got some good ideas here today. If you want to share this episode with others on your sales and marketing team to help further demystify artificial intelligence for sales and marketing, we’ll have an on-demand version of this Podcast up on salespipelineradio.com in a couple days. We’ll also have a transcript with notes and links to Absolutdata on our website at heinzmarketing.com here in about a week. Thank you very much for joining us. On behalf of my producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. We’ll see you next week on Sales Pipeline Radio.