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Leveraging Generative AI for Sales Excellence, with Ryan Vaillancourt [Episode 1164]

In this week’s podcast episode, Alastair Woolcock is joined by Revenue.io VP of Sales, Ryan Vaillancourt. They dive deep into the practical applications and impacts of generative AI in the sales domain. Ryan, drawing from his extensive experience on the front lines, shares provocative insights on how generative AI is reshaping research, preparation, and action in sales. The discussion focuses on the top use cases for generative AI in driving team performance, highlighting the transformational role of technology in streamlining sales processes and enabling actionable intelligence.


Podcast Transcript:



Welcome back everybody to this week’s Sales Strategy Enablement podcast. I’m Alastair Woolcock, and I am thrilled to have with me today, our very own Vice President of sales, Ryan Vaillancourt. Ryan, how are you doing today? Alastair, I’m doing well. It’s nice to see you, long time. 




Yes, it has been at least a few minutes, so it is wonderful to reconnect. But look, Ryan, we don’t get to do this that often. So when you and I chat ad nauseam through the day, on most given days on different things, what’s going on and what we’re hearing and seeing in the market. But, just for context for our audience, Ryan is front and center in every enterprise that we work with around the world, helping build our team, has been part of so many of our critical initiatives, and most importantly is on the front lines of seeing what is working and what is not working in generative AI.


Ryan, I want to pick your brain a little bit here today on those use cases of generative AI, because AI and generative AI, it’s a buzz in the market. It’s definitely helping in some productivity examples, but I also think sometimes we get caught up on the hype and lose sight of just practical, good old fashioned sales assistance. And I’m going to read you something here just to comment on out of the box.


That is Gartner released a recent pulse survey of sales leaders and they asked them what did, what is most important to you for generative use cases in driving team performance? I’m going to give you the top three and then maybe the bottom one. The top three was number one, actionable input to the team about the company.


So just helping them with, knowledge, essentially. Next is actually customizing messaging out to customers. Third is intelligence about customers. Now what’s interesting out of the top ten, then also I’m going to give you the one that ranked the lowest. And that was development of simple summaries of sales calls.What’s your reaction to that? 




Wow. It’s that, that, that is it’s provocative because I’d flip you go back to the practical utility and application of what generative is doing to help really not just sales, but anybody in a customer facing role. Those top three examples, if I’ve heard them correctly, are fundamentally about research and preparation, about knowledge, education, and awareness.


And generative is of course, a game changer to make work, which is important, a lot faster and easier. And it’s not really action oriented. I think in its best implementation technology is shortening the time between idea and taking an action that actually, moves a deal forward, moves a renewal forward, moves people forward.


Something substantial and meaningful for the customer forward and research is a piece of that. But let me give you an example of what I mean by taking action and a practical application of what I’m seeing in generative. It deals actually with what you mentioned, which is conversation summaries.


So anybody listening who manages salespeople or, is, has ever managed salespeople before, or if you’ve ever been managed, By a sales manager, which I imagine is a lot of our audience here has spent thousands, maybe tens of thousands of hours, depending on how long you’ve been doing this in conversations that start with my new least favorite question that I would like for all of us in the industry to vaporize.


Here’s the question we ask it and we’ve been asked it, right? What happened? What happened in the conversation? I have personally spent. Thousands of hours and one on ones with sales reps that I’ve been managing my career in order for me to help them. Yeah, I know what happened, right? And I can’t be in every meeting, right?


I definitely can’t be, it’s bad for me to be in every meeting, even if I couldn’t sell. How am I going to give you guidance and advice of, I don’t know what happened. And we’ve been living for the past six, seven years in a world where during this period, I’ve had access to recordings and to transcripts.


I have sold software that provides transcripts and recordings and makes the process of reviewing conversations, easier and more efficient. Hey, I can play it at one and a half speed. I have, things like keyword analysis, say, Oh, in this part of the, this is where you talked about X. And the reality is even the best intended sales managers, sales enablement leaders, coaches, they do not have time.


To review extensively those calls. So even though they’ve got the transcript and it goes back to the one, all right, Alastair. So I know you had the big meeting this morning. I was helping you. What happened? Now, the way this has changed my life, I’ll tell you, honest to God, real story.


This goes back, probably six months ago, but it feels in the age of AI, like it was three years ago. I’m in Los Angeles. I had a a senior enterprise AE on the East coast, our friend, Steve Ellis, and Steve was working an opportunity and it was very late stage and he had a big meeting and I was aware of it was early his time.


And and so I was expecting. An update on how that conversation went. As I was working on my forecast for you. And so I think it was about, 7:30 Pacific my time. He had the meeting a couple hours earlier and Steve Pinkman’s Hey had the conversation, but I need to chat with you through some things like important update.


And and so instead of waiting until 7:30 or eight o’clock or whatever it is, and going to Steve and saying, all right, man, what happened? I went and I reviewed the conversation summary, which took me about 40 seconds. And it was very obvious that there was a last minute ask from procurement in this big deal.


And it was an ask I’ve seen before, knew exactly how to handle the situation. And so get into the quick call with Steve. We’re on video. And this is before he’s used to having this tool. He’s like, all right, let me tell you. And I was like, hold on, let me guess. X, Y, and Z procurement wants L.


He said, wow thanks, man. Like you got, how did you got up early? Did you review that whole call already? He’s no, I literally just read to you word for word, how generative AI summarize the transcript of that call. And so what that does in that instance, that saved us those 20 minutes, but a good leader now can show up to a conversation about a deal in a one on one and say, what are we going to do?


So no more, what happened? What are we doing next? And that is a crazy paradigm shift enabled by a seemingly simple feature, conversation summaries, right? That generative AI is enabling. 




I love the real world example, and I’m glad you’re challenging the pushback on that being again the idea that developing a summary of a sales call is actually quite low ranked.


On that survey, because I tend to agree. And I think there is almost Ryan, this flippancy of the technology of, Oh the summarization is just to give me an email output, right? In the, in that sense, I go, good. I get them. I don’t mind an email output coming from the conversation, but how do you move and better salespeople fundamentally, we do need to coach at the end of the day, to cite another Gartner source from years ago, when I used to work there.


We used to look at what makes effective managers versus non-effective managers, right? The effectiveness scale. And unsurprisingly, ineffective was the constant push on how the number is, where we at dah. You do need that course, but it isn’t the most effective thing. that’s, going to help AEs, SDRs, CSP will be more effective.


What helps them is situational knowledge and advice. So then you go, how do you scale that? You scale it by actually looking at things. It’s something, oh, for the first time in history, to your point, recording a conversation isn’t new, but being able to action it is huge. And I just want to build on your story here is even for myself internally, right?


When I first came to Revenue.io, this is pre-generative AI. We’ve had recordings and all that. I would love to say that I can keep up with. Hundreds of conversations on any given week and go and see what’s going on, but it very simple now with the generative and be able to quickly actually see the summarization and know how did they score what went well, what didn’t, how is that mapping against now 300 calls?


And I get a sense of, Hey, are we actually improving on some basics in the company or are we still tripping up on the same things all the time? Does that drive my enablement? It sure does. So it isn’t just the idea that I have a deal in sight, which absolutely I now have at scale. So everybody can actually get back to doing what is numero uno for effectiveness and sales leadership, which is actually giving functional, tactical, situational advice, but we’re able to do that at a volume, we’ve never been able to do it before. 


And we’re able to then take that aggregated insight and map it against everything that’s going on in the company. And now see are people liking certain things that are going well. Are we seeing people stall out in demos and we’re seeing that show up at the scale of summarization. This is so much more than I think we’re just beginning to get into. 


On this idea of using conversation intelligence. It’s like the Renaissance. We came out of COVID of let’s just record because we wanted to know what people actually doing anything. To now you can actually live up to what we always thought it would be. And that’s actually helping reps be amazing. At any given time.




That last point is really important. If you think about, again, just sticking with this example of the summary, which I think is a mistake to undervalue because the reality is as much as those who are, thought leaders and analysts and podcasts hosts and the people who are studying.


It’s crazy how we could quickly get to the point where somebody may take for granted a reliable and automatic summary. The reality is your average seller does not yet have access to this technology. So let’s like burst that bubble. So there are a lot of people who still need access to this kind of value.


And when they have it, what is it really about? I like to, it’s about increasing action and decreasing the time between idea and action. In the example that I gave, and in the one that you’re building upon, it’s still functionally about a manager being better enabled to provide that tactical coaching.


And I’m right there with you. And if you study how sales reps who have access to this are using it, do they benefit from their managers? No longer asking what happened. Of course they do, but most people selling something are selling something with a team. If you were an AE selling B2B SaaS, you’re working with a sales engineer.


The ease of collaboration internally, a good sales engineer needs to know what happened. If you have a sales engineer in your business and they’re relying on an internal meeting and the question, what happened to prepare for the demo? It’s a huge problem, right? That is a mistake in preparation. 


And it’s actually, I believe it’s at the root cause of why most buyers say sales experiences are worthless, because as they go through the process and more people are involved, the average selling team is poorly prepared. It’s not really damn hard to prepare, actually, when other members are relying on, the notes of the actual salesperson. 




I think you’re bang on and, it’s where we go next. And how you ideate on these technologies, I think it’s so paramount right now. Don’t underestimate the importance there. I, you’ve heard me say this countless times before, for those that listen to the podcast regularly, although this seems like such tactical and uninspiring advice. 


If you aren’t capturing all of your data right now, you’re not automating all your data, and you’re not capturing every conversation, you shouldn’t even be talking about generative AI and AI.


Let’s start with the table of stakes and build from there on there, because that’s the hype from the fiction, right? We, to your point, Ryan, on a maturity scale of one to five, most companies average out to a 1.3. You and I are talking about very advanced technologies. Yes, they become way easier to deploy.


But people aren’t even doing the basics yet on that side. And that’s going to bring me to the part two, I want to pick your brain on here. When we’ve looked at what are people trying to achieve? What’s the business objectives? Companies are prioritizing headed into 2024, again, from a sales leader perspective.


What is really fascinating right now is that at the top of the list is operational excellence. At about 27%. So 27 percent of all sales leaders, they sit there and say, Hey, operational excellence is really important to me. Inside that is things at number one, seller effectiveness at virtual selling enablement.


Okay. So that’s like the top thing. What is fascinating? 9%. Okay. 9 percent is only situated towards growth. Increasing revenue and customer growth is 7 percent and helping ensure returns on strategic accounts is 3%. And you think about that, the sales leader is saying something like that, Ryan, where they’re actually way more right at 27 to 9%, way more focused on how do I just make everybody better?


I actually just need to really lean in now to make my team. Amazing. They’re going to make it at this format that you and I are doing right now. They’d be better than they’ve ever been before. Generative is giving productivity gains, but how are you seeing AI and how are you seeing customers look at this in terms of how am I improving actual seller effectiveness, how am I helping them sell virtually in a more engaging, better way?




I think the first thing to say, this may seem obvious, but it depends on where that company actually is on the one through five maturity scale that you talked about. And it is my experience talking to organizations that are trying to solve these problems and figure out the role sales technology plays in it, that 1.3 seems about right. 


Those of us who are in technology, something of a bubble would make this assumption that, all the other companies out there have access to all this technology, they don’t, and your average mid market and low enterprise companies are actually extremely manual which by the way, I suspect is at the root of why so many operations and sales leaders are saying the most important thing is operational excellence because of the status quo, operational in excellence.


And I should look at the study my, my hypothesis would be that those who put that at the top are saying, if we nailed that then maybe the growth will come. I think there’s some truth to that, but it depends. I’ll tell you another story from the field. There’s a company who who I would describe as being at that 1.3 low to moderate automation of basic activities. 


And they’re actually really interested in modernizing and embracing some of this generative technology. And to your point before, you’re not going to do, you’re not gonna be able to do a whole lot with generative if you’re not automating some basic processes and actually capturing data, but there they challenge.


They have a, someone who just sees themselves as an innovator, a visionary, and trying to bring modernization to a legacy organization. And I, and they are that and they have a challenge in front of them. The thing that sales reps are responding to, because we’ve got to get them to adopt this technology, if it’s going to drive change in the business.


You know what they’re responding to because it’s not the things that you and I might think are the most innovative out there. It’s not using AI to provide automatic contextual guidance and real conversations, which is technology that is available today and is a sort of ready for you if you’re a three, four or five on the maturity scale, you know what those reps really want that generative enables.


It’s something that you mentioned earlier, and we would be at risk of undervaluing. They get out of a phone call or a conversation, and what generative can do is can, they can analyze that conversation and not just have a conversation summary, but they go over into their Outlook or they go into their Gmail about 10 minutes later, and generative AI has written an email that recaps that conversation.


It’s such a, it’s such a fundamental decades old best practice of great sellers. And what I’ve learned about great sellers and making them more effective, if you want to move the middle a little you want to make those core performers in the middle, it’s really all about how do you enable them to have the discipline and the consistency and the damn basics, when I have conversations with customers and buyers every day, what do the top sellers do?


They send a really thorough customer centric follow up email after every conversation and they do it quickly. It’s timely and it’s amazing how by, wow, I’m working with a professional. Sounds so basic. In fairness to the rep yeah, but I had four big meetings today, and I’ve got my notes over here, and, there’s a lot to get in there, it’s intimidating to try to get all that done, and before you know it, it’s five o’clock, and they gotta pick up the kids, or they wanna go golf, or whatever, they, instead, they have this, and they can customize, and they can personalize it. Simple use case. That’s what the reps want. 




I think being close to the customer experience is always key. In this case, the rep is the customer and the rep, how can you move and help make their lives better and easier? Yeah. We have now seen for years, increasing volumes of technology and sales. We have seen less and less customer facing time.


The moments we get have to be amazing. And your tactical example, Ryan, a follow up email. Yeah, I had four big meetings that day. They got a bunch of other stuff to get done. But the customer probably had one big meeting that day with a vendor at least and if you have a vendor that’s all about Oh, no, i’m going to take care of you.


I’m going to help you We’re going to help you solve all these amazing problems and can’t even be bothered to follow up with you until Friday when they get around to it They say they sell tuesday wednesday thursday and they do all their follow ups on friday And you got the other group that is in there going.


Hey, I’m like I got this back out to you within four hours and I’m thinking of you and here’s what else I’m going to do. Because if that’s important to you, why do you want to lose the next 72 hours to do something? Doesn’t mean deals there, but in an age where stall deals are happening, shouldn’t we use technology to action and help our reps action faster?


And I think that’s not giving a dashboard to say, oh, they are or aren’t. It’s literally giving them tools to say, we’ve actually done this for you. You now can instantly action and that, experience is so much better. Ryan, we are gonna run out of time, unfortunately, and we always love to wrap up with a little bit of fun trivia.


So I’m going to put you a little bit on the spot here, but I’m going to give you an easy question and our audience play along there. Okay? So question, you ready? Multiple choice. 




I don’t know if I’m ready, but I’ll go for it. You’ll give it a go. All right, here we are in the spirit of sales, what percentage of sales professionals agree that artificial intelligence can help them spend more time on critical aspects of their role?


  1. A) 58%, B 65% C) 74% or D )A whopping 78%. 




This feels like a trick question. I’ll give the audience some time to ponder. A 58%, B 65%, C 74, or D 78? Everything over 50, which is interesting. 




65%. All right. For those listening in, Ryan is right on almost all of his advice to salespeople that I know among sales professional leaders in the world today.


But in this instance. It is actually 78% – over three quarters – of all sales professionals, the actual people doing the job. Ryan, they believe it can assist them in dedicating more time to the critical aspects of their roles. And I think everything that you have outlined to our audience today, and the way in which you’re looking at what we started with, which is that peer review survey, challenge your leadership teams to think about not productivity, just in the same as I have an insight, but actual productivity gain, that’s going to help the rep do more and get what they know is important, actually done. If we just listen to our AEs, we’ll be able to apply these technologies in an action oriented way.


They know it, three quarters of them believe it will help them. They want it. Let’s go help them be far more action orientated. Ryan, final word is yours. You nailed it. Let’s do it. It’s about that action. 




Ryan, it has been a pleasure. For everyone else, thank you for listening in to us, Ryan. We hope to have you back again. There is, I would love to double click on some of the automation side as well. And just some of the basic process components that I think you, you see every day that people are overlooking. 


Appreciate your insights on generative AI and AI everybody. Ryan Vaillancourt Vice President of sales Revenue.io. Please remember to like and subscribe and we will see you next week on the sales strategy enablement podcast.