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Balancing Functionality and the Human Touch in Sales

Mark Lerner:

Alright, everybody, welcome back to the RevAmp podcast. I am really excited today we’re joined by Colin Specter. Really excited to hear about what he has to say. We’re going to talk a little bit about the recent sales kickoff that he did and, I got to chat recently at a dinner in New York and just really found a lot of what he said. Just super fascinating. So I’m really excited. And Colin, why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about your background, what you’re doing today, that kind of thing.

Colin Specter:

Yeah, Mark, thanks so much for having me on the show. Pleasure to be here. Really excited to get to jam with you today. Share any insights that I can and my background. So today, I’m VP of Sales for Orum. 

Orum is what we call a live conversation platform. It’s the smartest way for a salesperson to make a call today, and we could talk more about that a bit later. But prior to Orum – and I’ve been with Orum going on five years almost now – prior to Orum, I was an early sales hire at Namely and rode the wave at Namely from Series Seed to Series D in building out different verticals of that business and owned different regions. And so have been really a builder type of sales leader throughout my career. Typically early stage and taking these early-stage companies from really seed kind of stage to more of a matured revenue engine. 

So that’s really been my background. I’ve done some consulting here and then here and there in between. But prior to that, prior to getting into tech, SaaS sales, and sales leadership, I did a little bit of medical device kind of startups, but mostly been in tech SaaS sales as my career. The last, it’s been, I dunno, probably a decade now, but yeah, excited to be here and dive deeper on the topics today, mark.

Mark Lerner:

Awesome. Yeah, thanks for that. And I think back when we had that dinner, one of the things that really seemed to be kind of universal around the table was some of the challenges and just kind of observations about this kind of whipsaw we saw where there was obviously COVID hit world shut down, everything changed. We all kind of, I think, initially thought, okay, well are we going to survive this both financially and some of us physically? I think, obviously, in the tech space, we had this effect of huge investments in SaaS tools because other companies went remote, and there was a lot of low-interest money floating around. 

And so there was a lot of benefit, a lot of hiring. 

We moved out of COVID, and that kind of shifted the other way. And also in between that we had the emergence of everybody having their own AI copilot basically, and all the kind of changes that brought.

So everyone was kind of still feeling like the ground under us is still shifting. And I noticed that you all at Orum and it seemed like you had a big part of it, did a sales kickoff, a big splash about it recently. And so I was really fascinated about you’re thinking about kicking off a new fiscal year, fiscal quarter under these kind of circumstances where it’s really uncertain what’s the quarter from now going to be like, what’s a year from now going to be like? Everything’s kind of changing. And so kind of wanted to hear what that was like and your prep for it and your mindset going into it.

Colin Specter:

I appreciate it, Mark. 

Yeah, I think, look, there’s been no shortage of kind of change and noise, an evolution in the market and within our sphere and business and world that we’ve all been living in the last, yeah, really the last five years or so. It’s been pretty wild. So I mean this sales kickoff, we went in with a lot more around the psychology and mindset around the fact that you get to sell, it’s not that I have to sell, it’s that you get to sell. And we came out with this kind of call to action that’s like sell. Yeah. Instead of like, hell yeah, we say, “Sell Yeah.” Yeah, I get to sell. And so we did a lot of branding and a big splash around that. And so a lot of the themes and topics of this kickoff was just around controlling the controllables.

That really starts with yourself, your mindset, and your own personal psychology, no matter the noise and change going on around you, grounding yourself, centering yourself, and taking care of yourself, which are the most important products. Starting with that mindset as a sales professional that you do get to sell, you get to sell. You get to represent market-leading technologies and a great business that you’re value aligned with, and that is value aligned with a great percentage of the market out there. And you get to represent that. 

And so I think with all the change and evolution and everything that’s going on with AI and all these new shiny objects popping up every day, getting back to the fundamentals, getting back to the basics of human psychology and the core principles around selling. And within that, people still want to do business with people, with other people that their value aligned with that, they get a connection with that.

You have that spark, you have that trust because, at the end of the day, with so many technologies out there, a lot of folks are going to be to do the same thing or similar things. One competitor might come out with a new feature, and then two weeks later, the next competitor comes out with the same feature or a new spin on it. 

And what are some of the immutable things that don’t change in business? And that’s the people that you actually do business with, the people that will support you, the people that you’ll be aligned with through the kind of ebbs and flows of this tech wave. And so we did a lot around grounding our people back into those kind of guiding principles of the way we sell and how we sell and who we are and how we represent ourselves out in the market. Of course, we are still wrapped in product training, competition training, and market training, but those software changes all the time, and things evolve all the time. But what doesn’t change? And so that really led into the themes and tracks. We took people down this kickoff.

Mark Lerner:

That’s awesome. What comes in my head is what’s old is new. Again, there’s so much focus on tools and technology and processes and efficiency that I think a lot of people and myself included, have lost track of the individuals that are doing the work where sometimes we think of them as just kind of input output machines and the idea of getting back to them being humans. And that’s the one thing we still have going for us against with the emergence of more and more powerful AI tools. Did you see, I’m not saying in your organization, but maybe kind of broadly, people moving away from that and the need to actually recenter that. Is that something that you’ve kind of noticed?

Colin Specter:

Yeah, I certainly think there’s been this kind of whiplash of just flooding of technology and trying to automate and do more with less. And you got to filter through all that noise and really get back to what are we in business, you go into business to make money, but how do you make money? How do you build a great company and you build up great people and great people will take care of the business and they’ll take care of the customers? And so bringing folks back to just those fundamentals, those realities has been a core focus of ours. And even just the way we present our product, our whole thing, our whole mission at Orum, and what’s been my own guiding principle is to empower people to do more. And we sell a phone system for sales teams. And so we’re there to empower salespeople to do more specifically.

And I think any good leader you want to help your people achieve more than they could otherwise do on their own. You’re here to develop, coach them, push them to limits that they couldn’t really get to just on their own without a coach, without you leading them, without you guiding them. And so that’s been our driving force here. And so yeah, it’s in a very noisy market where people are trying to figure out how to navigate ai and many people have an initiative to figure out how to adopt AI safely and effectively. We’re bringing people back to basic fundamentals, almost like while everyone’s going digital, we’re going analog in a way, but we’re still the, because we are an AI company already. So for us it’s like we’re taking an analog approach to sales back, just really bringing it back to basics in order to bring you that digital transformation

Mark Lerner:

When everybody zigs, you got to zag, right? That’s it, how you do it. Yeah, it’s super fascinating, right? Because I think a lot of the disruption, at least today that people are seeing is the emergence of ai. And I think people still trying to figure out it’s real use case. I think from when chat GPT burst out onto the scene a little bit over a year, year and a half ago, I think we were all kind of blown away and there was a lot of hype. I think much of what we’ve seen as a result has been kind of parlor tricks or toys, you know what I mean? The actual scalable use case for some of the kind of hot, more lofty promises that we’ve heard, I think have yet to fully emerge. But as a sales leader, besides obviously your own product, and we can talk a little bit about that, how do you empower sales reps to use technologies like that but also have some sort of guardrails so that they don’t have some of the messy stories that we’ve seen about some chatbot with the airline gave somebody a $1 airline ticket and they were forced to some Supreme Court and Canada required that the company adhered to that $1 thing even though their AI went off.

So things like that. How do you ensure that they have the tools but also the guardrails to make sure that it doesn’t go off the rails?

Colin Specter:

Yeah, that’s an interesting one, I think. Yeah, well, I think any good process, you focus a lot on how you architect that process and the design of that process, and the machine should be there to really reduce risk of that process. But certain processes do require the art of the sale, the artists to implement their personality in that process. Some processes like you want to McDonald’s it and it’s like this is the way that we flip the burger. This is the way that we make we push the button to log the activity would be the equivalent in our world. And so I think leveraging AI as a starting point to just automate those moments where it’s like I just want to reduce the risk of human error of this data entry because it doesn’t require the artistic side of thought. This is in order for me to scale sales beyond this kind of artisanal level.

I think going from one to 10 million is more artisanal. And then you want to go from 10 to 30, 30, 50, 50, a hundred plus you have to process and really productize your revenue engine. And so that’s where AI can really come in and help reduce risk within your processes. But that starts with a great process design. I think that must come first before the ai. And you have to figure out, well, where within our buying motion and selling motion, do we want to reduce risk or just ensure we’ve removed the rep’s thought the rep shouldn’t have to think about doing these activities. And most of those activities are park under the old adage that your base salary is for these administrative tasks and your variable salary is for you as the seller closing business and all the other great things that come with that. And so all those tasks that we historically have parked under the base salary of the rep, the more administrative CRM data entry, the forecasting, the logging of the calls, and there’s a whole list there that could come up, even adding people to a sequence or a sales campaign, those kind of things.

What elements of that can we even empower the rep to help us find automations? We have our rev ops team, we have us, we’re all seeing and hearing things as this market’s evolving. So just in terms of guardrails, I think that’s more where I really want to automate as much as I can on the administrative side so that my reps can be more of the artists and focus in on what’s in their control and that’s their variable incentive plan and achieving goals and closing more revenue. So I hope that paints a picture, just the way I’m thinking about it and the way we’ve been thinking about it here at Orum.

Mark Lerner:

Yeah, for sure. And I think we’re all trying to figure our way through this. I think you’re in a very unique position because it probably is, I don’t know how long Orum has had AI built into the product or if it was always like that, but it probably becomes easier to explain it or sell it now that we’ve all been primed for the AI emergence. And so you’re benefiting from that. But we kind of started about talking about it’s really hard to project what’s going to be a quarter from now, a year from now. How do you incorporate that kind of potential unknowns into your planning if you plan a year, a quarter, two years ahead, how do you incorporate the idea that we may have another black swan or another thing that comes up that everybody needs to drop everything? How does that come into your planning in terms of leading your sales team?

Colin Specter:

Yeah, it’s interesting. Well, you always have to build some buffer into your plan. So if I think about planning in the sense of the sales plan and forecasting the revenue and the cash for the business, I always need to build in a buffer my plan. And that buffer should include even just human kind of events. Like a black swan event could be like one of my reps gets something happens and they can’t contribute to the quota anymore and whether good or bad or whatever. So I always build buffers in. The question is do I have enough buffer built in that protects the business and protects my team and my people and my board and everyone? And so just from a planning perspective, we always have some sort of buffer built into our sales plan to account for as much as we can. I mean, you also need to, yeah, it’s a balancing act there.

I don’t have a silver bullet into the perfect way to do that. But for example, from a financial perspective, we always give ourselves at least a 20% buffer against what we actually commit to with a forecast, let’s say. Or for planning purposes, we always give ourselves a 20% buffer. And lo and behold, it tends to hold true because throughout the year you have reps that get promoted or attrition happens or something changes in your demand generation engine that could be black swan related or just something happens and that 20% tends to shake out consistently for us anyways, that was something in our space that I’ve seen. So because we’ve said it that way, it shakes out that way, or this is just the reality of the market and what you should do. I don’t know. But for us, it’s been kind of a good rule of thumb at least in terms of forecasting cash and sales and everything. So

Mark Lerner:

It’s interesting. Yeah, I wonder if there’s that there’s a hard and fast rule, like the 80 20 kind of thing, or if it’s just the way you don’t want to test it, if it’s working, it’s working. So I think given Orum as a product and what you all do, I think that the individual ics, the individual contributors, whether they’re sales or some other team, especially in go to market, there’s probably concern like, oh, as we add these AI tools, where does my individual skill or uniqueness come into play? And I assume that a lot of what you talk about is really, especially the way your SKO was structured, that centering the human element while providing AI with those other things that are kind of menial. So how do you view this future world in which AI is going to allow us to be more productive whilst letting us shine as individuals?

Colin Specter:

Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly what we’re focused on. And we’ve been an AI company since day one. And our whole thing is we want your salespeople focused on the people elements of selling. And that’s what we call live conversations. And so that’s why we say a live conversation platform because our whole goal is to empower your team to get into more live conversations and have more impact with those conversations. And we have a whole kind of wider array of features that we have developed in order to help your people get into those conversations and then support while they’re on those conversations that still allows them to shine through as the sales professional or that revenue professional. So that’s been our focus and still is. And because again, the manual kind of data entry, the manual, even email writing, you could argue these days, there are so many AI email writers, but there’s something really unique about the human being and having a conversation that’s in sync live.

You and I are in a live jam right now, and we’re having to think on our feet about a question and a response to that question. And if you think about a typical phone call, especially if you’re talking about a cold call where you’re catching somebody out of the blue, they need to think about they’re in fight or flight mode. And so you as the rep need to be enabled to reduce uncertainty and anxiety for that person and then think on your feet as you receive messages from that person. So you’re in this real-time communication cycle, which is very human. And if you think about text-based async communication where I send you a text, you can read it; you get maybe a day to think about it before you reply, right? People don’t reply to texts right away anymore, and some people never reply. It’s a different level of communication. And for that, an AI can even process these days. That’s why you’re hearing about chatbots and email writers. It’s much easier to do that.

And so, as a human being, this real-time psychology and communication written in nonverbal and verbal that we interact with through voice tone and body language, all of that is, I’d say unique to humans and an area that I think AI is still very, very far from ever even replacing or anything like that. And there are also many laws preventing an AI from speaking live to a human in this kind capacity, especially on a phone call. There are many regulations around that. Yeah, I mean, just aside from the regulations, I still think the most human element here is the connection. And it’s like building that trust. It’s having the conversations. It’s like, all right, is this a person and thus a business that I’m value aligned with? And have we done a great job communicating those values and connecting on those values and really understanding one another to go solve some big problems together? I think these elements are very difficult and far from being replaced or at risk with ai.

Mark Lerner:

And I can speak to that because I, on my end, have attempted to build internal email writing AI stuff, and there are tells in the way AI writes that are – I can’t even articulate what they are, but I can immediately see them. And I think a lot of people can too. And to prompt those out is incredibly difficult. I have yet to, but it is made me realize a lot and appreciate that humans are unique, complicated, flawed, but uniquely flawed creatures that it’s very hard to mimic at least the way things are now. We are actually special snowflakes. So as we wrap things up, if there was one message that you gave at the kickoff that you want to maybe echo here about this concept of the human approach being important, what would it be? How would you summarize that?

Colin Specter:

Yeah, I gave this speech, it was inspired by Zig Ziglar and he’s got this great speech called I’m a Salesperson. And our whole SCO was around reinvigorating that and that it has always taken a salesperson to drive the economy and to drive new products and new ideas to come to fruition. And so through that inspiration from Zig Ziglar, just a couple examples that I used in that speech to drive this home was even Thomas Edison, a great inventor, when he invented the electric light bulb, he had to provide free trials in multiple office buildings and places before anybody would even take ’em seriously. So he had to go through a sales motion and offer a free pilot and do a technical validation before it was taken seriously.

The first sewing machine that was ever invented was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob, a sewing machine, because people were threatened by this new innovation and new technology. And there was another one, and I think Zig Ziglar uses the same example that I brought forward, but people thought that if you traveled over 30 miles per hour, your blood would stop. The circulation in your blood would stop. And so it took salespeople, sales professionals representing these new technologies to drive change and reduce uncertainty, and evangelize these in the market. And it’s been the same for us with representing Orum. I know there’s PLG and all that, but really it does take a salesperson to drive new products innovation in the space. And so centering folks back around that concept and back around psychology and starting with yourself and taking care of yourself so you can show up for your customers and be the best. That was really our theme and really what we drove home here.

Mark Lerner:

Thank you so much. Before we go, if you want, you can tell the folks at home where they could read more about Orum or you or anything like that.

Colin Specter:

Yeah, I’m very active on LinkedIn, so please give me a follow or connection request on LinkedIn. Again, call I Spector and then Orum. Orum is the smartest way to make a phone call today. If you have a sales team that is using the phone, we have a free trial; you get 500 calls per rep, you can go to Orum, ORUM as in mother.com, and there’s a trial signup link there if you’re interested. Mark, this was awesome. Thanks so much for having me on the show today, and hope this was an insightful conversation for the audience here.

Mark Lerner:

Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Colin Specter:

Awesome.