By Matt Heinz, President of Heinz Marketing
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We were thrilled this last time to talk to Natalie Severino, Vice President of Marketing for Chorus.AI in an episode called, “How Conversational Intelligence Can Increase Your Sales“
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I asked Natalie, over the course of the last few years, what have you seen as the evolution of the balance of those roles [Marcom, product marketing, demand gen, sales development], especially in a startup organization? How do you balance the need for good product marketing and effective clear marketing communications with sort of the continual drumbeat of we need more leads, we need more pipeline? How do you balance all that?
We of course talk about the concept of conversation intelligence. Really good.
Check out her advice to sales leaders, to male colleagues and peers in sales organizations, what to listen for, what to look for, how to be better partners in supporting women in sales, not just those women that are in sales today, but increasing their number and prominence and value.
Matt: Welcome everyone to another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio. Thanks so much for joining us. We are here every Thursday at 11:30 Pacific, 2:30 Eastern live on the Funnel Media Radio Network. For those of you joining us during your work day, thanks as always for joining us. For those of you that are joining us on the podcast, thanks for your continued support and listenership, well over a hundred thousand listeners now and growing. So excited to have you all as part of the show. Every episode of Sales Pipeline Radio of course is available at SalesPipelineRadio.com, past, present and future. We are featuring every week some of the best and brightest minds in B2B sales and marketing. Today is absolutely no different. Very excited to have with us today, Natalie Severino. She is the vice president of marketing for Chorus AI. Natalie, thanks so much for joining us.
Natalie: Thanks so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here and have this great conversation with you about all of the things that are happening in sales and marketing related to conversation intelligence.
Matt: Oh my goodness. There’s so many different things. We’re going to run out of time on all of them, but I think I wanted to start with, you’ve had a very successful career thus far in marketing covering a wide variety of marketing disciplines. A lot of people are either focused on marcom or product marketing or demand gen and you’ve covered a lot of those different realms, and now as VP of marketing at Chorus, you’re responsible for leading all aspects of that and now sales development as well. Over the course of the last few years, what have you seen as the evolution of the balance of those roles, especially in a startup organization? How do you balance the need for good product marketing and effective clear marketing communications with sort of the continual drumbeat of we need more leads, we need more pipeline. How do you balance all that?
Natalie: That’s actually a great question. Both of the last two companies, Chorus and my former company that I was at, I was actually hired as VP of marketing because of my product marketing background. And inevitably, the first conversations are all about, “But we need pipe. So how are we going to drive pipeline and how are the leads and all of that stuff?” And it’s a challenging thing to kind of get your head wrapped around in the early stages because you want to try and do everything. And I guess the one thing that I would advise is try to put the time in to getting the product marketing things right first because then all of your efforts will just get that much better afterwards. And if you’re trying to build pipeline but you don’t have the story down, it’s harder.
Matt: Well, amen to that. And I feel like too often, product marketing ends up coming last, right? We feel like, “Oh, we need to get the word out so we need more PR marketing communications. We need your leads so let’s get to our demand gen.” And except for maybe a founder that was rooted in some customer problem that the product started with, without having that foundational product marketing discipline in the organization, it seems extremely difficult to keep a customer focused as you grow and the product becomes more complex and you have more and more people that weren’t there at the founding to make sure they really understand customer needs are continuing to evolve the product as well as the sales and marketing to align behind.
Natalie: Totally. I actually had one great experience several years ago when I started at ClearSlide. One of the things that they did is they made everyone go through mandatory training that included learning the pitch and actually onboarding customers and as the first product marketing hire, I actually had to go through a two week training that included verbal and written certification before I could leave and join my team and actually start doing my work. And at first I was like, “Why do I have to spend all this time? I just want to get started,” and by the end I was so grateful for that time to really learn the use cases firsthand, learn the story, be able to pitch it myself.
My third week on the job, I could pitch the product as well as a seasoned sales rep. That really stuck with me in terms of how much faster and better I could do my job on every front once I had the narrative down. And so if you’re starting with a startup that doesn’t have the narrative, you’ve got to stop and build the narrative first and if they do have it, then you’ve got to invest the time in making sure that you know it and that you can share it like one of your most seasoned sellers can.
Matt: I agree with that. We are talking today on Sales Pipeline Radio with Natalie Severino. And I want to talk a little bit about sort of this concept of conversation intelligence, which I know is core to what Chorus is doing. And I will start with a story of when I was at a startup, the first startup I went to after I left Microsoft, I would join our COO and our sales leaders in a room a couple of times a week and we would have this software that we thought was the most advanced thing ever. We could see which reps were on the phone, and if someone was on the phone for longer than a minute and a half, we thought it was a live conversation, so we would literally drop in and listen to that call. And so we were just randomly trying to find live calls, trying to get a sense for what was working and what was not.
I guess at the time, that was a pretty decent means of trying to get a gauge on how phone calls are going and give some feedback to the organization. We’ve come a long way since that. Talk a little bit about what the technology now allows to help sales teams, to help marketers, to help those product marketers as well, better understand customer needs and improve the conversation.
Natalie: Well, the scenario that you described unfortunately I think is still pretty prevalent because this is technology that’s so new. When I think back to that story about ClearSlide and when I was onboarding, I would sit with one of our enterprise reps and I would sit there for a long time shadowing and hoping that I would get the chance to listen to a call that would help me better understand, better understand how competitors are coming up, better understand what kind of objections people have, what questions they have, what do they need to know in order to convert and take the next step as part of the sales process. And if you’re doing that randomly, that takes just so long. And so now with conversation intelligence tools like Chorus, people are creating playlists for the exact right way to handle each one of those situations. They can take and create playlists of the best calls and in fact, Chorus through its AI can actually build those playlists for you.
And so I was talking with one of our customers a few weeks ago, the head of enablement at Data Robot. And one of the things that he shared with me was that they’re in hyper-growth mode, adding 100 reps this year, so he’s got big classes of new reps that are coming through, and in the past, it would take two to three months at least for a new rep to be certified to be able to give a demo. Now, because they’re using chorus and they’ve got these playlists of, “Here’s how you handle pricing objections, here’s how you handle X, Y, and Z situation,” they’re certifying the reps in a week.
And so when you think about what that means from a productivity perspective to the business, how much faster a rep can ramp to quota and how much extra business that’s going to add to your top line, it’s just a whole other level, as well as it’s also providing the opportunity for sales leaders to be able to get in and figure out what calls actually need their attention, what they need to coach around, what’s working and not working, are they adopting the process, are they adopting the talk tracks that you’re recommending based on what you’re seeing work with the best reps?
You asked about for marketing and product marketing, how can I as a marketer get in and listen to those things so that when my product marketing team is building a first call deck, a process for handling a proof of concept, a proposal deck, how are we making sure that all of the messaging and the things that we’re doing align to the business problems that our customers are trying to solve? I couldn’t do it as efficiently and as quickly and as correctly without having a conversation intelligence tool, which obviously I get to use it my job at Chorus to do that.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, tons and tons of value for leadership, for product marketers. Have you heard any pushback on this from either the sellers or from buyers that find it invasive or do they see the benefits and see how this is making them more efficient and more successful?
Natalie: I think it’s natural for a seller who hasn’t been exposed to this kind of technology first to be like, “Is this big brother? I don’t know if I want to be recorded.” They get over it really, really quickly, because there’s some big benefits to them in addition to leadership enablement and all that stuff. There’s often times where a rep is madly taking notes, trying to make sure that they’re capturing those pain points, the action items, things like that. And so they’re so busy taking notes that they’re not actually participating in active listening with a client, or they miss something that was important.
We have another client story. There was a rep who was talking to a customer who said, “Oh, and so next week, we’ll have to talk to Steve and then we should be good to go after that conversation. Okay. Gotta run. Bye.” And the rep was like, “Well, who did he say? And who is this person?” They were kind of going through it with their manager after the call, trying to figure out what that next step was. Luckily, they were able to go back and listen to the recording, which enabled them to then go and do the research and they found that it was the CFO that they needed to talk to them. You can imagine how differently they prepared for that next call because they knew exactly who they were going to talk to and they totally would have missed that had they not had that recording in place, and so once there’s kind of a positive outcome or a great moment, they flip the switch really quickly.
Matt: That point of being able to focus on the conversation is so important. I think too often, whether you’re doing a media interview or you’re doing a prospect call, you’re thinking about the next question you need to ask. You’re thinking about how to keep the conversation going as opposed to listening to the person’s answers. I remember when I was a reporter, you’d see some people, maybe even back in the day, some people with their reporter notepads and some people with recorders. And those with recorders, they had to go back and listen to the notes, but they were able to focus not on trying to scribe everything the person said and not thinking about what they wanted to ask them, but really focus in the moment, right? And they got better engagement out of the conversation. They got better output from it as well. Their work was better as a result.
I mean, the other use case I’ve seen for this kind of technology that I think is, there’s just so many different benefits to having it, is to eliminate or help your sales reps to eliminate some of the verbal ticks that many people have they don’t even think about. Even in our own organization, I’ll sit in on client calls and the number of people that say ums and other sort of verbal tics or verbal commas in the conversation is just … Even saying, “Uh,” like that, you can count the number of times as said, and as you see, as people are working on this, how much they’re getting better.
Natalie: Yeah. We will automatically surface filler words as well as helping the rep see what their talk time was versus the customer, some pretty basic things like that. One of the stories that I got really excited about is we’ve been doing some work with University of Texas Dallas. They actually have a professional sales program where they have students that are enrolled in classes. The director of the program is Dr. Howard Dover, and last term, he included Chorus as part of their curriculum.
What’s really fascinating about the way that he’s running this degree program is that the kids that are in the classes, they actually carry a quota. It’s not book learning. They have to build a pipeline. I got to sit in on a digital prospecting class and see them talk about their funnel and what they did to build their funnel and how all of that was going. But he also gave them Chorus to use, not only for those actual calls but also to do role playing and then to score card how they were doing.
And what he found was that the students would just role play over and over again because they could see, “How am I doing on filler words? How am I doing on talk time? Am I lighting up the parts of the sales process that we’ve decided is important? Am I covering all of those things?” as well as being able to listen to how the top students were doing it. And so it went from prior, he consistently had a normal kind of bell curve. Last term with the students using Chorus, there was no curve. The entire class scored around 90%.
Matt: That’s awesome.
Natalie: Yeah. It was just incredible to be able to talk to him and some of the students in hear about how it’s impacted their experience.
Matt: That’s amazing. If anyone wants to check that out, Howard Dover runs the sales program at the University of Texas Dallas. You can check them out online. There are an increasing number of universities that are providing not only undergraduate but in some cases graduate programs in sales strategy and sales execution, and Howard’s team is at the forefront of doing that. We’ve got to take a quick break and pay some bills. We’ll be right back with more on Sales Pipeline Radio with our guest today, VP of marketing at Chorus, Natalie Severino. We’re going to be talking more about conversational intelligence, digging into the issue of women in sales. We might even talk a little ballet. We’ll go right back.
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Matt: Welcome back Sales Pipeline Radio. We’ve got a few more minutes here with our guest, Natalie Severino. She’s the VP of marketing at Chorus AI. And Natalie, we’ve been talking a lot about conversational intelligence and I know another issue that is near and dear to your heart is the issue of women in sales. Talk a little bit about what that means, what the sort of movement has looked like of late and why it’s been such an important mission for you.
Natalie: Yeah, it actually has come up rather organically, and it was something that was raised by one of our women sellers who’s very active in the San Francisco meetup community in general. And she came to me and said, “Did you know that there’s no women in sales groups and meetup for San Francisco? Don’t you think that there should be one?” And it’s interesting because it didn’t really, I don’t know, occur to me at first. I had the privilege. You talked about my varied background and different disciplines of marketing. I actually started my career as a marketer within a sales organization at Intuit, and I had the privilege of working for Caroline Donahue, who was a badass sales leader back in the day. And so I never felt like there was this kind of environment where a woman couldn’t be successful, but I said, “Oh, of course. Let’s give it a shot. Let’s see what kind of traction we get.”
And immediately, without a lot of effort, we had in that first meetup, 60 women show up. The second one that we did was in Boston where we have our sales development office as well as some of our sales folks, and we had 100 women show up. And to hear these women talk and express what they’re struggling with was super surprising to me. I mean, some of the topics that were coming up is things like, “I feel like I’m being judged about the fact that I’m a salesperson and I’m a parent, and how can I actually juggle both of those things?” Or, “I feel like I’m being asked to do all of the administrative work for my sales team just because I’m a woman,” or, “Sometimes the guys feel like they can’t include me in things that they want to do outside of the office because I’m a woman and I don’t fit in.”
And we also heard women talk about feeling like they were consistently being passed over for advancement opportunities even though they were one of the top performers. And so all of that is a little heartbreaking in today’s day and age to actually hear that that’s the case. And so that kind of got me scratching my head a little bit about it. But it’s something that we actually looked internally to our data across all of the amazing world-class revenue teams that we call our customers, looked at the anonymized data to try and understand, is there a big difference? Are women performing well? Is that something that we see that’s consistent? And we saw some interesting results.
We looked at 100,000 calls as a baseline, statistically significant dataset, and found that of all of the reps that we sampled, only 32% of them were women, but 40% of all of the top reps were women, so an outsized number compared to the number of women reps that were actually there. And we also saw that women had higher win rate. Their win rate was 33% versus 24% for men, and that they typically had a 20% higher ACV. I think that some of what we’re hearing that they’re feeling is accurate, and what they’re really looking for is, “How can I do better? How can I get the help that I need to advance my career?”
Matt: I love it, and I think this is a topic I’ve been happy to see emerge a higher level agenda item for organizations around the country. I love the work that you have done on this on the west coast. I know that Lori Richardson, Jill Konrath, Trish Bertuzzi and others have been evangelizing this nationwide as well in a lot of their content. I mean, the way I feel about this and the way I think a lot of other sort of men in sales that I’ve talked to is sort of two twofold. One, it’s sort of very empathetic, and in some cases surprised to hear some of those concerns because we’re not seeing it, we’re not feeling it. But there’s an empathy and an interest in helping but also a feeling of guilt for not having seen it, for not having known that it was there, for not knowing the kind of in many cases, silent impact that it’s having.
What would be your advice to sales leaders, to male colleagues and peers in sales organizations, what to listen for, what to look for, how to be better partners in supporting women in sales, not just those women that are in sales today, but increasing their number and prominence and value?
Natalie: Yeah, there’s a few things. One is I’m really happy to say that at all of the meetups that we’ve run so far on both coasts, men have showed up as part of it to support their women colleagues, which has been amazing to see. One of the things that we’ve talked about a bit at a few of the events is about really tapping into your network to find someone that can be your sponsor, and I mean that differently than a mentor. A mentor is somebody that you go out and have coffee with and you get some advice and a sponsor is someone that you really look to, to help you grow your career and someone that’s willing to put their political capital on the line for you.
Early in my career, Caroline Donahue was that person for me. She really was looking at my skill set and looking for opportunities for me to grow and develop in the areas that I needed to. She put me into leadership development programs both inside and outside the company, and so I think that’s one thing. If you do that for a woman on your team as a sales leader and you really show that it’s something that you’re invested in, she’s going to talk about it and you will end up being a magnet for a more diverse candidate pool. I guarantee it.
I think the other thing that sales leaders can do is actually just actively make sure that you’re bringing in a diverse set of candidates. Make the right hiring decision for your business. Make sure that you’re hiring the best people, but at least make sure you’re casting a wide enough net to look at what some of the different options are. I think a lot of leaders fall into the trap of always trying to recruit people that are like them, have the same background, the same experiences that they do, and the reality is I firmly believe that your organization will be better if you recruit to have diversity of experience and thoughts because those are the people that are going to push you to be better.
Matt: I agree. Well, unfortunately we are right up at the end of our time today. We will put information on how to learn more about women in sales in the notes of this podcast, and just really appreciate time for today from our guest, Natalie Severino. She’s the vice president of marketing at Chorus AI. And to those of you listening on the Sales Pipeline Radio Network, thanks so much for joining us. Those of you who like this episode, you want to hear it again, you want to share it with your colleagues, you’ll find it in a couple of days up on SalesPipelineRadio.Com, and we look forward to seeing you next week and every week here on Sales Pipeline Radio. For my great producer Paul, this is Matt Heinz. Thanks for joining us on another episode of Sales Pipeline Radio.
Sales Pipeline Radio is sponsored and produced by Heinz Marketing on the Funnel Radio Channel. I interview the best and brightest minds in sales and Marketing. If you would like to be a guest on Sales Pipeline Radio send an email to Sheena.