SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Justin Shriber, CMO at People.ai

Improved marketing-sales processes and alignment can help businesses streamline key internal policies while enabling better ROI; Justin Shriber, CMO at People.ai shares a few top tips in this catch-up with SalesTechStar:

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Hi Justin, we’d love to hear about your journey through the years and key learnings / takeaways!

A metaphor I often like to use is that a company is a lot like an amusement park, and you need to treat it that way. You go to an amusement park because you want to have fun, you want to discover new things. At some point, you’re going to get tired of that ride that you used to love. And that’s the point when, rather than just staying on the ride and continuing to go around, you find a new ride(People.ai).

I have found in my own life that there’s always a moment when I say this ride just isn’t fun anymore. And in a somewhat, maybe counter intuitive way, the company has been doing great. And I’ve been doing great in terms of my career trajectory and the compensation that I’m receiving, despite those green lights, if the thrill isn’t there, I realized that I’ve got to move on. And so, for me, what’s driven me more than anything else is just that desire to discover new things, build new skills, have new experiences. And I found that that’s a pretty good guiding light in my life. And it hasn’t always meant that I’ve been on a staircase and just climb one step to the next step to the next step. Sometimes I’ve taken a lateral move. I was in product marketing and an opportunity opened to join sales. I needed to take a little bit of a demotion, but I was excited about the potential to be a sales manager. And over the long term, I had experiences and learn lessons that really became critical to the foundation that I was building and helped me to help set me up for success in some later roles. And if I would have tried to plan out the career journey that I was on it never would’ve materialized. But if you that instinct that you have, which is, I just want to learn new things, you’re naturally going to gravitate to the things that you enjoy, that you’re excited about, that you’re good at, and it all comes together in the end.

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As a marketing leader, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in sales-marketing alignment and handover processes? Some processes you follow to alleviate this?

I think that the first critical challenge is getting on the same page. I often like to say that marketers think in terms of funnels and salespeople think in terms of pipelines and ironically, they’re both triangles, one’s just pointing up and down and ones pointing left and right. And the first job that sales and a marketing leaders have is to figure out which direction that triangle is moving. I find that when you align around pipeline, there is a natural collaboration as a result. It’s critical to recognize that you both own the pipeline. Secondly, it’s important to understand the metrics that matter and that you’re going to take joint responsibility for and having a cadence where you have reliable data coming in related to those metrics and where you’re able to sit down and, and jointly tackle those problems.

One of the things that we do at People.ai is we have a bi-weekly sales and marketing interlock meeting. And on that meeting, we have our pipeline statistics, leading indicators, lagging indicators, and we all do the pre read. What I love about the meeting though, is we’ll sit down and there’s no finger pointing. You didn’t do your job marketing or sales. When we pass the leads, we’ll sit down and we’ll zero in on a couple of key things. Conversion rates at this stage are low. Why are they low? And we’ve got salespeople on them. We’ve got marketers on, and we’re all offering points of view. And what never ceases to amaze me is that the answer to these problems that we’re tackling lies somewhere in between the marketing perspective and the sales perspective, and because we’re all at that table together and collectively trying to solve the problem rather than blame each other, we stumble into solutions that are that much more effective.

What are some of the ways in which you feel sales and marketing teams need to collaborate more to not only tighten internal processes but also create better customer journeys and value?

We are in a B2B business. It’s a heavy orientation towards field sales. And one of the things that you can never underestimate is the fact that salespeople have a finite capacity to absorb and apply information. It has nothing to do with their level of intelligence or their level of skill. The human brain can just only absorb and apply so much. And so, from a marketing perspective, it’s important to stay close to the sales team, to understand number one, what are the priorities in terms of what they need to be successful out there. And number two, be able to deliver that information in a way that’s digestible and at the right rate. And if you are simply throwing information over a wall, you’re never going to have a sense of how full that that tank is. On the other hand, if marketers are out in the field with salespeople, listening, getting information, making firsthand observations, they’re going to be a lot more dialed into what’s happening on the flip side.

Salespeople, if you think about it, have relatively few interactions with customers and prospects, their capacity to engage is really limited based on the number of hours they have per week, that they can apply to their job. Marketers operate at scale. We have tools and technology that allow us to touch literally thousands of different customers a week, sometimes tens of thousands. We have technology that allows us to sift through the data surface the insights and the observations because we’re dealing at that scale. We’re able to gain insight into who are the key personas involved. When do they get involved? What are the kinds of things that they engage in? And I think that salespeople are well-served by sitting down with marketers, understanding the observations that the marketers have, and then applying that at a micro level to the individual relationships and interactions and using that to optimize the time.

I’ll give you a great example of that at People.ai because we automatically capture all the business activity that salespeople represent. We’re literally aggregating this information from every employee in the company. And a few weeks ago, we were able to produce a set of reports and insights that said, here are key personas. If you talk to these people at this stage in the deal, you are six times more likely to close the deal. And the sales team was able to take that information and roll it into the sales playbook that they were using. And we saw an immediate impact on the pipeline and on close rates.

In what ways do you feel sales and marketing leaders today need to rethink their salestech-martech stacks to create a more integrated set up between the two?

One of the observations that I’ve made is that the most successful companies are the ones that have really embraced digital technologies from an integrated go-to market perspective. You have different echelons of usage of data. At the lowest echelon, you have kind of manual data entry asking people to, um, update systems. And this is across sales and marketing. It’s a highly resource intensive process, and it renders results that are suboptimal because a lot of times the data is incomplete, or it is inaccurate. You then have the next echelon, which is what I call affectionately, the data dump, where companies have automated the ingestion of lots of different data, but they haven’t really thought through how are they going to use the data and how are they going to surface the key meetings related to the data that are really going to drive the business forward?

The problem with data dumps is in a way they almost create more problems than they solve because they inundate you with information, overwhelming your systems, but they don’t. And to some extent they shut them down because they don’t lead to action. We believe that we’re moving into an era that I like to call smart data. Smart data is characterized by the automated ingestion of data. Then turn that data into insights that change behaviors and number three, serve that data up in the places where it’s needed and when it’s needed. So that idea of access is critical. So, going back to the tech stack, I think that the modern tech stacks need to be built on a smart data platform where they’re automating the capture of data, embedding insights, and then making that information available in a lot of different places.

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One of the challenges that I see right now with the tech stack companies run is that there are a lot of point solutions that are cobbled together. And because of that, you end up forcing sales leaders and sales reps and sales managers to bounce back and forth between these applications. And on the side, they’ve got to string them together themselves. You’ll often see people with Evernote open, they’ll be taking notes on the side or an Excel spreadsheet. They’ve got five tabs open on their browser. Whenever you see signs like that, you can assume that you’re killing at least a few hours of productivity a week. And if you could take that productivity back, it would unlock the sales team and effectively give you more selling capacity without hiring a single person more.

As B2B data trends evolve, what are some thoughts you’d like to share on the future of data-driven marketing and data-driven selling?

I think that we are, regardless of the amount of time we spend talking about digital, still in a people business that was true centuries and decades ago and it’s true today. The difference is that as, as companies, we can reach larger and larger audiences, but our ability to reach larger audiences doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility that we have to know each of the individuals in those audiences. And one of the challenges I think that companies face today is there is a tendency to play this volume game and just reach out to as many people as possible. They assume that that even if I don’t have the same engagement rate on a percentage basis, the sheer magnitude of people that respond is going to outweigh that. The problem is that I, as an individual, expect to be treated as an individual, you should know what I care about. You should know when it’s appropriate to reach out and what topics to reach out on. So, you have this interesting dilemma that companies face, where they can touch a lot of people, but every person that they typed has higher expectations. So, I think one key trend is that companies are going to have to have a very detailed profile of each of the people that they reach out to. The other challenge is that these profiles are not consolidated in one place. They live in Twitter, and they live on Facebook and on LinkedIn. And they’re embodied in the places that I stop, and shop and companies need to figure out how to aggregate all these disparate data points into one cohesive perspective related to the customer or the prospect.

In the future you can almost think about a company like a living organism, living organisms have senses that they use to interact with their network. And an organism can take all these different sensory inputs and use them to create one cohesive view of their world of companies in the same way. We’ll be reaching out to customers and prospects in lots of different ways, but they’ll need to consolidate all those different touch points into unified profiles. And then they’ll need to know how to use those to drive meaningful relationships. Technology is absolutely part of the problem. Graph technology is critical to make sense of this complex data world that we live in AI is critical because it’s going to help us to surface insights that we couldn’t capture ourselves. And then these automated workflows that move us into action are going to be the third dimension.

A few thoughts on why sales and marketing teams should be capitalizing on channels like videos and podcasts in today’s business environment?

I think that we can take our cues from consumer technology. Consumer technology is probably the closest that you’re going to find to what really drives and motivates an individual. They’re essentially selling things that people are going to want to purchase in their off time. And so, I think that we can learn a tremendous amount from how companies are engaging with people in those contexts. And what we know is that people are raising their hand today and saying, I like to get information via video. Just look at the proliferation of platforms that we’ve seen that really have embraced video. Consumers are raising their hand and saying they like video. The younger generation is raising their hand and saying the same thing.

Another thing is this idea of what I like to call the portable media economy. We want to be able to engage with media on our terms, and that means that media needs to be portable. It needs to go with us. And whenever we have a moment and we want to engage with it, it needs to be there and available. We don’t live in a world anymore that’s dominated by three networks and always interrupted by commercials. That is many decades in the rear-view mirror. So, the beauty of podcasts is I think that they do embody that portable media idea and provide consumers with the ultimate amount of flexibility. So, when you combine those two worlds into video podcasts, which have obviously blown up in the consumer world, I think there are lessons that sellers and marketers that play in the B2B space can take away from those. You meet the customer where they are and you’re able to create value and engagement.

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People.ai

People.ai delivers the industry’s leading revenue operations and intelligence (ROI) platform. Using patented AI technology, it transforms business activity such as email, meetings, and contacts, into account and opportunity management solutions that increase sales rep productivity, accelerate revenue growth, and maximize marketing ROI. Companies such as AppDynamics, DataRobot, Ivanti, Okta, and Zoom rely on People.ai to unlock growth.

Justin Shriber is the CMO at People.ai. For the past two decades, Justin has focused on delivering solutions that align marketing, sales, and service with the customer’s needs. Before joining People.ai, Justin headed global marketing for LinkedIn’s Sales and Marketing Solutions. Prior to that, he led product, sales, and marketing organizations at both startups and large companies such as Siebel and Oracle. He started his career at McKinsey and Company. Justin holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Economics from the University of California Los Angeles.

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