Sales Pipeline Radio, Episode 211: Q & A with Jim Benton @jim_benton

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By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing

If you’re not already subscribed to Sales Pipeline Radio, or listening live every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Pacific you can find the transcription and recording here on the blog every Monday morning.  The show is less than 30 minutes, fast-paced and full of actionable advice, best practices and more for B2B sales & marketing professionals.

We cover a wide range of topics, with a focus on sales development and inside sales priorities. You can subscribe right at Sales Pipeline Radio and/or listen to full recordings of past shows everywhere you listen to podcasts! Spotify,  iTunesBlubrry, Google Play, iHeartRADIO, or Stitcher

This week’s episode is entitled You’re Hired, Just in Time for a Pandemic! a lively Q & A with Chorus.ai CEO Jim Benton”.

Jim was new to Chorus when the pandemic hit!.  Listen in or read the transcript below to hear from Jim who has a front row seat in terms of seeing how conversations have changed.  I ask him what prospects are talking about and how sales teams are pivoting some of their messages as well.  We talk about what he has seen by mining their own data and by listening to those changes and what they’re finding about the way sales teams have really pivoted in this time.

Surprising to some, connect rates are at least holding steady, if not going up.  Prospects are more open to talking to sales reps, especially those who have shown they can provide some value.  It’ll be interesting to see if that continues as we get into more back-to-the office or more of a hybrid work-from-home-work-from the office, wherever we are mode. Jim shares some of the data that supports this and how that can give some optimism to sales teams.

This and a lot more!

Paul:  Hey, welcome back everybody. Time, once again, to grab your board and start paddling. As we swim out into that sea of ideas here. And see what we can churn up today here. Hey, what do you think of that news? Matt Heinz, you’re a baseball nut, you think baseball is going to happen or not here?

Matt:  I hope so. I mean, I think we’re a sport that is facing more competition than ever. I think it’s critical that they put something on the field. I think they missed a window to be one of the first major sporting leagues back playing and really having a little more ownership of the airwaves.

Paul:  Isn’t it true that baseball attendance and viewership has been down anyway? Maybe it’s just attendance…

Matt:  Well, sure. I mean, baseball is not, as huge a baseball fan as I am, we call it the national pastime kind of out of tradition. It is not the most watched sports. It is not the fastest growing sports. If you look at younger people, the news is even worse for baseball.

Paul:  Yeah, right.

Matt:  So you would think that they would want to do anything possible to create a resurgence, to have some fun with the schedule to say, listen, this is not going to be a normal year, so let’s have some fun with it and let’s let the kids play. So far that has not happened. So I’m disappointed in baseball so far, but boy, I need, I miss, especially in the summer, I miss being able to just turn on a game and just waste away an afternoon. I miss being able to turn on the radio work and in the garage and, and just have the dulcet tones of an announcer calling balls and strikes.

Paul:  Well, it kind of fits in with your topic today here, the good news is a baseball still around the bad news they can’t figure out how to play it during the pandemic. It’s kind of what you guys are trying to do, figuring out with sales. Hey, the good news is you’re a sales person. The bad news is go figure out how to be a salesman in the worst time to sell anything in the planet here.

Matt:  It’s pretty rough, but I think now that we’ve been doing it for a few weeks or a few months, we see that there are plenty of companies that are figuring it out.

Well, let’s get into it. Thanks everyone for joining us on another episode of sales pipeline radio. If you’re joining us here on the live on the funnel media radio network, thank you for making us part of your workday. I assume most of you listening are probably still working from home, but I know a few people are starting to return to office or wherever you are on a Thursday. Thank you for joining us. We are live every Thursday at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern.

And for everyone who is listening on the podcast, thank you so much for subscribing our numbers, Paul, continue to go up. Loving the time people are spending. I think instead of commuting, maybe they’re going on walks, maybe they’re going around the neighborhood.

Paul:  Instead of watching baseball, instead of watching baseball, they’re listening to Matt Heinz. That’s been their past time.

Matt:  If I can’t listen to the Chicago Cubs, if I can’t listen to the dulcet tones of Jim Hughes, for those of you Cub fans and know what I’m talking about, I might as well listen to some podcasts. I’ve got a few favorites. I actually, Paul, we could talk about this. I don’t listen to any business podcasts.

Paul:  You don’t.

Matt:  I know I should. There’s a bunch of episodes-

Paul:  Great ones, yeah.

Matt:  But I listened to a variety of other podcasts. It just kind of helped me get away from things, especially if I’m out walking. But anyway, let’s get into it. We on this podcast here at Sales Pipeline Radio past episodes available at salespipelineradio.com are always featuring some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing today is absolutely no different, very excited to have with us today. The CEO of Chorus, Jim Benton.

Jim, how you doing?

Jim:  I’m doing great, Matt, great to reconnect.

Matt:  Thank you for agreeing to do this. We haven’t had a ton of time to connect, but I was honored to be part of your morning, all hands call towards the beginning of the pandemic. I think, you guys were one of the first to set up with a remote team and a remote audio, just a morning, pick me up and the morning set up inspiration and ideas.

I want to talk about Chorus and I want to talk about you a little bit, but let’s start with that. Where did that idea come from and how has that evolved since I did it?

Jim:  Yeah, I was four days in on the job and realized that we had data that the world needed, that we could show that sales teams were being incredibly productive as they had moved from offices to their homes. And it kind of is counter to what you’d expect and we wanted to get it out there so that leaders can make the right calls.

They were looking at how to optimize their teams. And two, I just wanted to connect with people. So even our call that morning and just the human side of how we were all adjusting and what we could share was incredibly helpful.

Matt:  Yeah, no, I was impressed. And I think that it’s been impressive to see a lot of companies pivot to doing things that are relevant in the moment, both relative to the pandemic, relative to black lives matter and really combining what their maybe typical business message might be with thinking about and understanding the humanity behind what we’ve been dealing with over the last couple of months. And really resonating more on a personal level with people.

Especially in B2B, sometimes we’re not very good at that. We tend to be talking to buildings when it’s really the people in the buildings that are those that still have a heart still breathe, they’ll have emotions. And I’m still trying to figure how to get through this. And so kudos to you guys for doing that.

Jim:  I appreciate it. I think we were in crisis mode. It was this wartime mode of how do we connect daily. It’s not a podcast, it’s not a webinar. It’s just like the raw data. And now we’re beyond that. We’re in a different zone. Now we’re starting to settle in on that. It’s more a weekly approach to a much deeper dive on the metrics. It’s now more of a sharing in a more classic webinar podcast way and we’re really kicking that off June 25th.

Matt:  So you mentioned, and part of the reason I was excited to have you on here is you were less than a week on the job when you got that going. So for those of you who don’t know, Jim, long time he’s been leading organizations in the Cisco cloud computing for a long time was co-founder and chief strategy officer at ClearSlide not that long ago. Boy, that was just a couple of years ago. And he’s been out with the CEO of Chorus for four months.

You joined in March and when I saw that, I kind of thought in my mind, okay, like welcome to the new job, here’s your pandemic. Right? And so there’s plenty of leaders that have had little time on the job to figure out their strategy, to get their sea legs under them. And then face headwinds like this. You had it all basically in the first week, what was that like? What was that like guiding a business through that and a group of employees through that, but then also doing that when you are yourself a brand new employee?

Jim:  Yeah. Well, I give a lot of credit to zoom it sure made it a lot easier to onboard remotely. So my very first day was March 16th and the office was closed. So doing it from home and meeting the great Chorus team that’s across the globe. And I think that program like the daily briefing, we kicked off in four days because of the remarkable team.

So our marketing team, Natalie Severino, running that program with us and our research team out in Tel Aviv, pulling the data. It was just incredible to see the group come together and do that. But I think from my side, look, I co=founded ClearSlide back in March of 09, right when the market bottomed at 6,500. So I do think that during these times you sometimes get the best out of people. And I think as you think about even the sales motion that we were talking about, we are seeing the best of people right now. We’re seeing people connect and really human level. We’re seeing teams come together in a more thoughtful way to go solve really immediate problem. These are sometimes the times I think you can do your best work.

Matt:  No doubt. We’re talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Jim Benton, he’s the CEO of Chorus. And you guys really have kind of had a front row seat in terms of seeing how some of those conversations have changed. What prospects are talking about, how sales teams are pivoting some of their messages as well.

So could you just kind of briefly kind of share what Chorus is, what Chorus does for people that may not know, and then talk a little bit about what you have seen by mining your own data and listening to those changes and what you’re finding about the way that sales teams have really pivoted in this time as well.

Jim:  Sure. So Chorus.ai is a conversation intelligence platform, which means that we’re in a conversation, those moments that are the most important to the zoom meeting, the call that you have when you connect to a prospect, we capture that interaction, the video, the audio, and we as a top AI 100 company, we deeply understand what’s really happening in that call. What competitive mentions, what signals are we asking the right questions? And we can do coaching at scale.

It’s driven by our AI and our machine learning, but our ability to help reps to do their best work, to understand what moves deals forward, and then just share those learnings. And so, one data point that we’ve seen just in the last month is that we’re seeing it 53% increase in managers taking coaching actions with their teams. And that’s 53% since before COVID. So there’s more coaching happening right now across the entire Chorus platform than we saw in the good times, and that’s just incredible. I love that stat.

Matt:  That’s pretty amazing. And I think that when a lot of this went down and people start to work from home and prospects became potentially a little less available, I think there was a lot of concern among sales teams that connect rates would go down. And I think in a lot of cases we’ve seen from smart sellers, we’ve seen the opposite. And I think it’s actually been quite contrary to the cold calling is dead conversations that you hear a lot of the modern sellers talk about and social sellers talk about.

But it seems like connect rates are at least holding steady, if not going up– that prospects are more open to talking to sales reps, especially those that have shown that they can provide some value. And it’ll be interesting to see if that continues as we get into maybe a little more back to the office or more of a hybrid work from home work from the office, wherever we are mode. What’s some of the data you’ve seen that’s supported that that can give some optimism to sales teams?

Jim:  It’s exactly right. Look, code calls are down 27% since January. So we are seeing a decrease in cold calls being made, though connect rates have held steady. They’ve been in the nine to 10% more and that’s been really interesting. So if you do make a call right now, people are willing to connect at the same rate they were meeting before.

And we consistently heard from the CROs out in the community that the calls are working. People have their office phones routing to their cell phone. People are at home and have more time and want to engage. And the empathy on those calls is really the a unique stat we’ve been tracking, looking specifically at when does the demo start?

So we use to find that the demo, when a call would shift into kind of demo, screen share, we’d start with about 10 and a half minutes in, on a call back in February. And now it’s close to 12 minutes in May. So we’re finding that people are spending more time getting to know each other being authentic and that leading to demos starting a bit later and being about 8% shorter now than they were pre COVID.

Matt:  Well, that is interesting. We’re going to have to take a quick break here in a second, but I wanted to get a sense for, with your own sales team I would imagine you guys are seeing an increase in demand for this as well as you have a remote team that is not able to sit on, on calls and sit together and do live coaching that the need for managers and coaches, to being able to remotely coach teams based on how those calls are going seems to me that that kind of demand and need right now has gone up significantly.

Jim:  We’ve seen significant demand, especially at the enterprise field level, but teams that used to walk the halls. I could see the reps feel the energy feel really disconnected and Chorus is allowing them to do that digitally. We understand, but we’re finding sales cycles where very large teams are saying by Tuesday, I need that entire group in on Chorus. And look, I mean, that’s our role. That’s what we can do to help people right now. And so we want to do that as much as possible.

Matt:  Awesome. We’re going to take a quick break, pay some bills. We’ll be back with more with Jim Benton he’s the CEO of Chorus. We’re going to talk more about increasing the need and the impact of sales coaching, and providing that in a remote environment. We’ll be right back.

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Paul:  And with that, we had back to Matt and his guest. And I can ask you a question. I don’t get a chance to talk to these kinds of guys very often here. Can I throw in my six cents, my two cents.

Matt:  Yeah, go for it.

Paul:  I wonder you talk about in the spot, we just ran here about predictable revenue. Has that term gone out the window for a while? Can we predict anything in these difficult times? Like how many sales we’re going to make or what our revenue numbers are going to be? It’s all over the board, it’s either coming back or it’s going to take forever. I don’t know.

Matt:  Well, certainly become more difficult. I would say it’s become more difficult, but at the same time become more important than ever. I think that organizations that are doing random acts of marketing organizations that are just inconsistently or in an unorganized way, throwing things against the wall, marketing, sending emails, sale, making more phone calls, those random things may work.

You may get by with them a little more easily in a good market, but when you face certain headwinds, I think the deficiencies of those programs really show their ugly head. So, I think having a foundational program in place that can drive consistent pipeline, that you know where to turn the crank to fill the gaps when times get tough. It becomes more important. It becomes a lot harder to get that going during the tough time.

But I think it certainly is a flag for getting those programs in a foundational way. Jim, I’d love to get your feedback on that as well. So the idea of, especially as a CEO, looking at forecasts from your sales team and trying to give your board guidance on how you’re going to do has that gotten harder or what are some ways to mitigate the difficulty on that?

Jim:  Yeah, I think to your point, the focus right now on your ABM accounts is critical. And what we’re seeing is that although overall meeting productivity across the industry has been fairly consistent and held steady since pre-COVID. It’s not consistent at the vertical or segment level. So for example, the data and BI companies are down 20% immediate productivity. HR tech companies are down 28%. So if you’re selling into those segments, they’re more challenged in COVID.

Whereas if you’re selling into collaboration, project management companies, they’re up 45% since pre-COVID or FinTech companies are up 10%, security is up seven. So finding the segments right now that are in more of a tailwind, those are the ones that are buying and the ability to make sure that you’re coming off as business essential, the extreme ROI. We’re finding that there’s a 91% increase in CFO showing up in the sales calls right now since pre-COVID that is a material change.

Matt:  Wow. Not surprising to hear that, just to get firsthand knowledge around that. I want to get back to talking about the opportunity that managers have around sales coaching. When I think of what you guys are doing at Chorus and for the companies that haven’t looked at it and seen it. I’ve seen so many companies look at the platform and be like, I didn’t even think that I could potentially do this. I hadn’t even thought of this potential use case. Hadn’t even thought about how much more efficiently and how much more accurately I could give feedback to my reps.

And the other side of that, I see a lot of sales managers lament the fact that they feel like they spend more time managing and not enough time coaching them. They don’t feel like they get to spend enough time one-on-one with their reps to help them be better. And to me, when I think about this kind of a platform that allows you to see inside these calls, it gives you a level of clarity and insight, but also some very specific ways for your managers and reps to have much more productive conversations. I’m sure you’re seeing that across your clients now as well.

Jim:  I think it’s exactly right. It’s about deeply understanding the relationship that your reps are connecting with prospects. So as I use Chorus, I’ll be either on my mobile phone in the evening watching some of the calls of the day and then going right to the moments where either a question came up or a specific tracker that we look at and just hear how the rep did it.

What was the experience that we were creating? How did we close out that call? What were the next steps that were done and just a click of a button getting in. And so I think the key is just at scale, the ability to understand the experience we’re creating and just inspect it is huge. And at the rep level, reps really want a system to take notes for them. They want a system that’s going to capture this. They can share that quick snippet with the product lead or marketing waiter and say, “Here’s the feedback at this precise moment, why don’t you listen to these 30 seconds?”

One interesting thing. I read one of our team members emailed me this week saying, “Jim, can you reach out to this senior leader?” And they said, “Here’s a comment from a call last week where they spoke about this new feature idea.” And I click on it and it goes to Chorus and it just played the 30 seconds in the middle of a 30 minute call, but it gave me the right context and sentiment and tone to really thoughtfully write an email that captured it. And that’s, what’s different about the types of relationships we’re building today.

Matt:  Well, and as a lifelong marketing guy, I want those insights so that I can improve the communication recommendations. We’re giving sales, improve the insights to refine the message and the approach. But I also, as a product marketer, I want that if I’m thinking about the addressable market and I’m thinking around understanding what customers are doing, I mean, this is another emphasis in such an efficient way.

Yes, you can make your sales dress better. Yes, you can make your marketing better, but what better way to hear first, how the industry is changing and what people are asking about than to be able to grok the collective intelligence from how many calls that potentially is across your sales organization, as well as your customer service organization, to see what’s trending. What are people asking about? Used to be, we had to go do expensive focus groups, now can just listen to what’s being said all around your business every day.

Jim:  That’s what led to our daily briefing. I did a search across Chorus on COVID-19. So I just in the search box said, are we hearing about COVID-19 and sales calls? And as I looked at our bar chart and how that trended, I noticed that in February 23rd, 8% of all calls had COVID. They went to 29% the week later, 63% by March 8th and 98%. But that ability to inspect hundreds, thousands of calls on a keyword and that could be a competitive mention. That’s different.

And I think that’s what product and marketing want. They want the voice of the customer to come back. They want to make decisions that are customer driven, but we need to get them more data. And this completely changes the way that marketing and just leadership in general can connect into the customer base.

Matt:  I love this. We just have a couple more minutes here with Jim Benton. He’s the CEO of Chorus, you’ll find him at chorus.ai. And if nothing else go to the site, click on resources, you’re going to find just an amazing set of information. They’ve got a state of conversation, intelligence report. It’s got some really interesting stats. If you like the idea of what Jim mentioned, we talked about at the beginning, this daily briefing he was doing, you can catch on demand replays of those on their website as well. You can just go to resources.chorus.ai.

Well, I remember I was at a startup. This is back in the early 2000s and none of this technology of course existed, but we had something we thought was cutting edge. We have a tool where we could look and see which phone calls were happening across the sales organization.

And we could see we would look for those. We would get together in a room every once in a while, sales managers, marketing leaders, COO. And we would look for calls that were at least two minutes long thinking, Oh, that’s a live one. And we did, we dial into that one and we just plug in and listen in. And we thought it was amazing that we could do that so efficiently. Right.

And it’s amazing to see now how inefficient that was compared to what technology exists today. Where do you think this is now going? I mean, I think there could be a day when we look back and even as advanced as the platform starts today, that we’re like, “Boy, how inefficient was that? And how we had to manually do all these things.”

Without, I don’t want you to give away your product roadmap, but where do you think this is going to evolve into that is going to benefit not just sales teams, but also the marketing team, the product marketing, and then company leadership as well?

Jim:  I think the key is relationships, which is how do we develop really meaningful relationships with our customers? And given that we’ve got so many different folks talking to the customer from a BDR, to an AE, to a solutions engineer, customer success, how do we make sure that the conversation is flowing across those folks? How do we make sure that each person’s asking the right questions and bringing the company’s best to those interactions?

And so I think it’s going is about helping companies to really foster that relationship for others to build a log in and instantly kind of capture a relationship, but not in a form field, not reading a couple lines in the CRM, but to actually watch the snippet, to hear the tone, to see the smile on someone’s face, that is what’s helping us to build more meaningful, long lasting relationships and drive transactions.

Jim:  That’s what drives the revenue. So we need to make sure that we’re the human side of sales continues to shine and that we help the people to bring the best. So if we can find that a certain dialogue, you have, I talk to you about a feature 6.7 times more than the rest of your team leads to closed one. How do we help the rest of the team? Bring that into their calls to build better relationships.

Matt:  That is such a great insight. As we wrap up here, I want to talk a little bit about just how things have changed for you over the last three months. You know, you’re just starting a new job. You’re navigating a company through this.

We’ve been asking guests the last few weeks and we say, what’s one thing that you miss from the old normal that you’re looking forward to getting back to once we can get out and about in a little broader way? What’s something that you don’t miss? Something that was part of your old normal, that now that you’re experiencing things in a different way, that you don’t want to go back to.

Jim:  I missed and the old normal, the walking to lunch with coworkers, I don’t think I appreciated it before, but that casual, “Hey, we’re heading out who wants to come? ” And you walk a few blocks in San Francisco and the dialogue that happens in those light interactions. I miss that a lot. I miss the beer after work where it’s half work, half personal, just getting to know people. I miss the fun that came from the human in person interaction.

But I will say on the new I’ve enjoyed this level of increased connectivity to people that are not local. The fact that we’ve got a remarkable engineering team in Tel Aviv and Toronto, and a incredible BDR group in Boston, everybody’s tile is the same size and zoom, everyone’s a click away. And I think I feel more connected to our remote teams than I would have, COVID not happened.

And that’s been an incredible insight. And the way that we’ve brought the company together as just a universal everything’s equal, it’s not a TV and a camera on the wall for the remote and the rest of us in the room. I think that that democratization of location is really powerful. And I’m really hoping that stays as we get back into work one day.

Matt:  Those are good answers. I like that a lot. Yeah. I also miss that small talk, right? I think when we’re on, I saw someone on LinkedIn this morning say, “Why exactly do we wave at the end of the zoom meetings? I don’t wave at people when I’m leaving a conference room. I think in part it’s that need for human connection.

The fact that we’re looking at each other, but I want people to see that I’m saying goodbye. When you leave the room, you can do the chitchat. You can talk on the way out. It’s like, “Hey, how’s your golf game, right? How was your weekend? ” That doesn’t exist as efficiently and as naturally in the zoom world. So, yeah. I look forward to that as well.

I did also notice that, we were talking about sports and sports coming back before we came on to this. Jim, I don’t know if you’re still playing tennis, but I saw, I saw on your LinkedIn resume that you played tennis for Santa Clara University. That is by definition, maybe the most, the perfect social distancing sport. You literally almost never get right next to each other. Are you still playing tennis?

Jim:  I am still playing tennis. I made it out last weekend, but people are talking about how tennis players need to wear a glove one hand with the ball. I don’t buy into that. So I’m a big fan of tennis and starting to get back out there and not wearing gloves when I play tennis.

Matt:  Good for you. Well, I want to thank our guest again today. Jim Benton, CEO of Chorus. You check him out at chorus.ai. As I mentioned, they’ve got an amazing resource section, just lots of great content and definitely check out his daily briefing. Just a great way to engage with an audience and share insights they’re seeing in their product.

We got a lot of great guests coming up as we round out Q2 to head into the summer and we’ll be back here next week. And every week, Thursday, 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern. On behalf of my great producer, Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks so much for another week sales pipeline radio.

Paul:  You’ve been surfing on the sales pipeline right here in the funnel radio channel for at work listeners, like you.

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