Written by GrowthX Academy students, Vadim Goretsky and Tyler Kreitz

On January 11th the How to Talk to Humans discussion series featured Sean Sheppard, the co-founder of GrowthX and GrowthX Academy as well as a successful entrepreneur. Sean interviewed Jon Miller,  Co-Founder of Marketo, a Top 10 CMO and now CEO and Co-founder of Engagio. On its own, the conversation between the two was compelling and worth revisiting. If you viewed this with a wider lens, it was a distillation of the larger conversation around the need to scale.

Scaling is everything in Silicon Valley and with improved artificial intelligence and smart machines, we’ll soon be scaling processes and work flows that were previously untouchable. However, with increased scale, there is something intrinsically lost in feel, touch, and authenticity. Whether it’s a band that goes from clubs to stadiums or businesses that go from garages to campuses, the connection with your supporters or customers fades.

So how do you scale (in anything) and remain authentic? Sean and Jon didn’t have their discussion to answer this. Nonetheless, they brought up interesting ideas, challenges, and solutions facing businesses and sales professionals trying to do just that.

 Sales needs to be authentic, this is not a revolutionary idea but a proven strategy. As technology advances, human and product expertise is required to retain authenticity with a customer. To do this at scale requires an evolving set of tools.

This idea has inspired Jon Miller throughout his career. The One to One Future by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers was particularly influential on Miller. Specifically, scaling the 1850’s corner store customer relationship ideal using large amounts of data, analysis, and processing.

Think back to the corner store of the mid 1800s. When a customer walked into that store, shopkeepers relied on personal knowledge to drive sales and customer loyalty. They knew you and your family, whether you liked brown eggs or white, and what was happening in your life that affected your buying habits. This customer-merchant relationship was strengthened by proximity, community, and family connections. Often, each shared a vested interest in the others’ prosperity. Their rapport was genuine and their relationship authentic.

To scale authentic human relationships, Miller brought up the idea of using collected data to drive authentic connections.

“How do we use data to analyze customer relationships, to understand the customer better, make better decisions about how to be more relevant, more valuable, more human?”  Miller’s belief was that with bigger buckets of data, more analysis, and better processing, we’d be able to say something more relevant and poignant to customer Michael than to customer Sara.

With the massive amounts of data now available to make these types of connections, is the local shopkeeper ideal still a relevant model for sales professionals? Or taken from another angle and without waxing nostalgic about the “good ol’ days”, what can we learn from the 1850’s corner store and apply to today’s modern world?

First, we know that people are wired to make emotional decisions and that it’s easier to connect emotionally and establish rapport with someone if there is a shared affiliation, common interest, or even language, culture, and community.  Second, a sense of trust and rapport is best developed over time through mutual understanding of each other’s’ needs and commitment to the other person’s well being.

We see this more and more as customers move towards purchasing more personal experiences rather than buying new and different things. For customers to make these purchases, they need to feel closely aligned on values with the merchant and in control of their situation. When customers do, they’ll share more opportunities to connect and exchange with the merchant, thus growing their rapport. The end result is that potentially more useful data will become available to merchants to identify leads and nurture prospects on customers’ terms.

With all of this data in greater abundance, it is now easier to collect and describe the consumer than ever before. This is a blessing and a challenge for sales professionals.

In the need to be authentic in their interactions with customers, ‘How good is your data?’ will become a defining metric of sales success.

Instead of making salespeople obsolete, Miller sees an opportunity for salespeople to separate themselves as information and tools level the data playing field, “Ultimately we (marketing leaders) aspire to challenge sales style conversations.” In challenging the typical identification, discovery, and solution sales matrix with data and tools that can accelerate sales conversations, Miller’s goal is to identify, “Who are the most effective salespeople out there?”

This opportunity emphasizes the humanistic need still required to be an effective salesperson– something that Shepperd emphasized. Even today People in marketing organizations are armed to the teeth with data, but they have to engage the humans on the other side of the screen to truly know if [their product] is relevant or important to them.” The key remains to empathize with your customers in order to deliver value, and to work with customers to understand their ecosystem and competitive landscape.

But how does that goal resonate with today’s data collection tools? Today, data is focused on making things happen at scale rather than focusing on each interaction between merchant and customer being more effective. Sales automation tools have been effective in sending more spam and spam filters have become more effective at filtering it out. Thus, the race continues between marketers and filters for email supremacy.

Note, however, that human nature still reacts to spam. As Miller and Sheppard pointed out, a mass message is more likely to elicit a response from a customer if it’s sent directly from a VP or a CEO at your company than from a junior executive or manager.

As the battle between marketing and spam filters continues, at least until we stop purchasing goods, the most pressing need for anyone involved in sales and marketing is having an idea of what comes next?

According to Miller we’re heading towards, “More relevance, not more spam.”

  • Intelligent CRM assistants will help to understand customer’s needs and orchestrate engagement and conversion all through the relationship lifecycle. This will allow salespeople to connect with their customers on a personal level and scale this connection to many more customers while fostering a deeper understanding and commitment
  • Artificial Intelligence will become more accurate in charting your daily progress and anticipating your needs so that marketers can build automated relationships and insert relevant products and services into your routine. For example: I like to have my coffee as I head to the train. My AI assistant will order ahead and remind me to pick it up.
  • Moving forward, more and more information about people will become available and machines will make more and more decisions for us, based on our personal algorithms. Future marketers and salespeople need to plan for this trend and figure out how to sell to both these machines and to the people behind them.

While this is indeed exciting, there is still a recognized need to remember that customers are more than a spreadsheet of data. This overarching concept is what highlights our key takeaways from the conversation between Miller and Sheppard.

First, to be successful in the field of sales and marketing, you should identify the human values that truly matter. Specifically, as I the consumer share more with you the marketer, please don’t spam me; don’t distract me from what really matters to me. You will know what I like so act accordingly and I will respond in kind.

As a society it’s necessary and important that we keep track of what we are sacrificing for the sake of comfort, convenience, and productivity. Successful sales processes will come from knowing this and giving customers more meaningful and relevant options, not just more options. If you can understand my needs and process, and help me do my work more effectively, then you will have me as a customer.

If nothing else, just know that people want to connect with authentic people, not machines.