Grapes in, Champagne Out: How AI is Transforming the Sales Funnel

Rev: How AI Is Transforming The Sales Funnel

Behold the plight of the sales development rep (SDR). Young in their career and often short on experience, the SDR strives to get ahead in the sales org. Their one responsibility: recruit prospects to fill the pipeline.  

So they hunt and hunt, but they can’t always find the best hunting grounds. They create lists of prospects that they think are great and send them into the sales funnel. But many of their prospects don’t fit and, instead, end up clogging the funnel. The sad result of this grueling search for great leads? Around 60% of the time, the SDR doesn’t even make their quota.

If the above scenario makes strategic market development sound as unforgiving as the Serengeti to an orphaned lion cub, maybe I went too far with my analogy. But the point stands: though SDRs own the “first mile” of the sales funnel, most of them struggle because they have one of the hardest jobs in a company and few tools to help.

Why? The tools they need didn’t exist until now.

What will it take to rescue the first mile of sales and marketing? SDRs need technology that can identify prospects that look like their ideal customers, quickly assess those prospects’ fit, and learn their readiness to purchase.

Revolutionize Above the Funnel 

An abundance of tools exist to help sales and marketing teams manage leads throughout the sales funnel. Customer Relationship Management platforms (CRMs) are better than ever at tracking bottom-funnel deals. Account-based marketing (ABM) tools such as HubSpot and Marketo have simplified communication with prospects in the mid-funnel. Higher up the funnel, sales engagement platforms like SalesLoft and Outreach help engage new leads. 

But, 20-plus years after Salesforce came on the scene, the technologies available above the funnel—the very area before a company knows who it should even consider talking to (and the area where SDRs do their hunting) —remains stagnant. No one has tackled the first mile, yet.

Solving "The First Mile Problem" in B2B Sales

Fortunately, that’s about to change. We’re on the cusp of a huge wave of business software innovation. That wave is artificial intelligence (AI). AI is the fourth big wave of innovation in this arena in the last 50 years (after the mainframe wave of the 1960s; the PC revolution of the 1980s and ’90s; and the most recent wave of horizontal Software as a Service (SaaS) that enables companies to run a better, more efficient business process on every device—no coding skills required).

One of AI’s many best qualities is its ability to find patterns in the galactic volumes of digital information we’re amassing, and arm us with new data and insights from those patterns. We already benefit from AI in the consumer space—whether in the development of COVID-19 vaccines; the content we see from news and social apps on our phones; or how our vehicles help us find the best route, avoid traffic and, in the case of the Tesla, delegate actual driving tasks to the car. 

As B2B sellers and marketers, we’re only just beginning to experience the power of AI in our professional lives. Just as a driver’s route must take into account traffic, weather, routes, and more, our SDRs need a map that offers the shortest path to finding the next great prospect.. 

Beyond Firmographics

Every great SDR and marketer knows that to generate conversion and sales, you target prospects that look like your best customers. If your best customers are industrial equipment manufacturers, you go find more industrial equipment manufacturers. In the quest to get the most from their outbound efforts, enterprise teams burrow deep into firmographics—things like industry, company size, and the number of employees.

The best SDRs know that, if they can surface the deeper signals about how a company does business, they’ll be able to locate prospects who are more likely to enter the sales funnel. But which signals, beyond firmographics, should they look for?

The missing piece of the puzzle for SDRs is what’s called exegraphic data – massive amounts of data that describe a company’s sales tactics, strategy, hiring patterns, and more. Exegraphic data is available in breadcrumbs across the internet. When you turn AI loose on all of those breadcrumbs, it identifies interesting patterns that can help an SDR quickly understand how well a prospect matches your best customers.

For example, take John Deere and Caterpillar. Both are large Fortune 100 machinery and equipment companies that employ nearly 100,000 individuals. In fact, they are what we’d call “firmographic twins” because their industry, size, and headcount are almost identical! Yet Deere and Caterpillar operate very differently. Deere is a mid-late technology adopter and low cloud adopter with a B2C focus. Caterpillar, in contrast,sells mainly B2B, is an early adopter of new technology, and has high cloud adoption. These exegraphic differences offer a new way to understand who might be a good prospect and who not – and therefore a much faster way for SDRs to find their next best prospects.

Solving the First-Mile Problem

Just as Tesla uses AI to solve the upstream problem for drivers, AI can help sales development teams identify great prospects, revolutionize what happens above the funnel, and solve the first-mile problem that sales development battles every day. 

Instead of a lifeless ideal customer profile (ICP), imagine a tool that ingests exegraphic data and uses AI to uncover patterns among a company’s best customers. Then imagine using that data to create a mathematical model that represents your best customers—call it an Artificial Intelligence Customer Profile (aiCP)—and leveraging that model to find other prospects that look just like these best customers. A powerful aiCP can ingest firmographic and technographic information and also private data sources. For instance, data from LinkedIn and intent data can bolster an aiCP. As a living model, the aiCP learns over time. 

So when we ask, Who will be our next best customer?, we no longer need to leave SDRs to fend for themselves. We can finally offer them the tools they need to answer this question and solve the problem above the funnel. We’re talking about tools that automatically deliver fresh prospects and rank them so SDRs know whom to target next and sales development teams can better prioritize their efforts. Ultimately, AI can be used to help our SDRs make quota—and with prospects that are actually a fit for the type of prospect we want to find—and live to prospect another day.

Rev Sales Development Platform

Rev’s Sales Development Platform (SDP) accelerates prospect discovery utilizing AI.

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