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Sales Leader Interview Series – Justin Michael

Navigating the Cambrian Explosion of Sales Tech

Justin Michael is an experienced sales leader, consultant, and author with twenty years in the world of B2B sales. Justin has become passionate about streamlining sales with modern technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. He has a new book coming out next year on the topic, titled “Tech-Powered Sales: Achieve Superhuman Sales Skills.” 

We sat down with Justin to get his thoughts on the future of sales and his predictions for the changing roles of humans and software in the sales process.

Where do you see the SDR role in the next five to ten years?

SDRs of the future may look more like the sales engineers or analysts of today. They’ll know how to code, maybe in R. They’ve certainly moved from Excel to SQL. They’ll know how to analyze data, configure the machines, and configure the stacks. They’ll be similar to the Tony Starks of the Avengers sales team, the ones who go in and make everything work.

There are, however, a lot of technologies that will leave future SDRs flat-footed if they don’t get the traditional skills. They will still have to know rebuttals, routing, and objection handling, and will need to have some product knowledge. The people that finally pick up the phone once all of this whiz-bang tech generates the meeting still need to be prepared and be experts on the product.

There is definitely going to be a skills and training gap, and it’s already spawning cottage industries. There’s going to be AI for enablement, AI for coaching, for automation, and for managers. Every piece of the supply chain is going to become specialized, but I think SDRs are still going to keep a vaunted status. They’re going to become more strategic and move down the funnel. More and more of their job is going to be automatable, but they’ll be sitting behind a self-driving Uber.

What do you think the revenue operations role of the future looks like?

What we’re already seeing happen is that marketing operations, sales operations, and revenue operations are becoming super technical. These are the folks who tell you what your tech stack is going to be. They are the growth hackers, the architects of the sales tech stack. That job just has to become more and more technical. 

Part of the reason I wrote my book was to get everybody fired up to learn this stuff. I kept meeting these revenue ops leaders, thinking they must have done advanced statistics in school, or that they’re good at math. They all tell me, “I started as a seller and nobody could use Outreach. So, I had to teach myself. Nobody could do the Salesforce reporting.”

My work says, stop avoiding the tech revolution. Roll up your sleeves. You don’t have to code or do calculus all day, but at least dust off your sequencer. Dust off your sales engagement platform. Go to Outreach University, SalesLoft University, XANT University. Go get certified. Start looking into these programs.

Can you tell us about what you call the “Cambrian Explosion” of tech?

In Earth’s history, the Cambrian Period was basically when all of the floral and fauna appeared in the ecosystem. As an analogy to the sales universe, there has recently been a sales tech vendor explosion, for multiple reasons.

One, inbound has already been solved. We got HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, the marketing clouds of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft Dynamics. There are all these clouds that have mostly solved inbound. Now, outbound is the hard nut to crack, the one that has yet to be solved. Opening is the new closing. The 500 vendors that exist in sales tech today are going to explode to 5,000. Billions of dollars are going to be invested. We’re already seeing that with the big funding rounds of Outreach, ZoomInfo, and Gong, which just raised 200 million on a $2.2 billion valuation. 

The reason is that 70% of what a sales rep does can be automated by today’s technology, not to mention the AI and ML revolution that’s hitting simultaneously. Another force here is the size of funding rounds. After certain companies had pretty bad experiences with their IPOs, startups now want to stay in the secondary market longer. VC firms are just pumping money in. You don’t just want unicorns now, you want decacorns and hectocorns. As Marc Andreessen famously said, “software is eating the world,” and the Cambrian Explosion of sales tech is just a continuation of that.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your new book and what readers can expect from it. 

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross was written in 2011. Its thesis was that openers and closers must exist symbiotically, that there shouldn’t be full-cycle reps because it’s wasteful in the supply chain. Just like Henry Ford’s assembly line for building automobiles at scale, Ross suggested having distinct opening and closing teams, which created a lot of efficiency in the sales process. Then, tech companies built all this tooling around that.

Right now, according to research, only about 36% of sales rep time is spent actually selling. The rest of the time is meetings, data entry, administration, endless internal back and forth, etc. The Cambrian Explosion of tech has choked up the sales rep. They’re not selling. This book is about how to “MacGyver” your tech stack. How can you make it work for you to free up your time? How can you use it to become hyper efficient and make money while you sleep? It’s asking, what if we take a Tony Stark mentality to the J.A.R.V.I.S. Iron Man suit? What if there’s a way to optimize the tech stacks we have, build the API glue so they talk, and look for converged solutions of the future?

Thanks, Justin, for taking the time to talk to us about the future sales landscape and your new book! Stay tuned next week for another post in our Sales Leader Interview Series, and in the meantime check out the BuyerSight Blog for more interviews with other leading sales experts.

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