[Future of Work Ep. 4]: The Future of Sales with Santosh Sharan: Is AI Coming for Sales Jobs?

To use data effectively, companies must work towards consolidating workflows, to free up the salesperson's time to build a relationship of trust with buyers.
By Claudia Virlanuta • Updated on Jan 4, 2023
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Episode highlights:

  • To build high performing teams, Apollo uses data to align their employee's strengths and passions with their role. As a result, employees are happier and more productive at work, because they have the opportunity to do meaningful work in a way that works for them. The result is a more sustainable and balanced team.
  • Data and tools are supposed to help salespeople effectively do their job, but there are too many tools and too many integrations that sales teams must deal with. To use data effectively, companies must work towards consolidating workflows, to free up the salesperson's time to build a relationship of trust with buyers.
  • The future of sales lies in using data to help build relationships. In this way, sales teams are becoming similar to learning and development teams, with the ultimate goal to educate customers and markets.


Transcript (edited for clarity)

Claudia: What is the last thing you learned that got you excited and why?

Santosh: Being in the data space, I look at every problem from the lens of data, right? ‘How can I use data to optimize the workflow?’. Data and analytics are the basis of how I solve problems. I look at a lot of data, whether it is sales, marketing, recruitment. One of the problems that has always bothered me is that we do not use data to drive culture - company culture - or to drive a desirable organizational behavior to build teams that are designed for success. A lot of that is still based on intuition or experience and it is still in a black box. I have been looking at tools and methodologies and processes to leverage data in a more sustainable manner to create organizational behavior and desirable behavior patterns that could help a company. I truly believe that when somebody is in love with the work that they do and who they truly are, that's when people perform the best.


Claudia: What do you think is missing in typical sales teams in terms of their ability to use data effectively?

Santosh: That's quite an overarching topic to talk about given how many sales teams I run into as part of my job. There are almost too many tools, too many integrations that sales teams have to deal with. This is where, over time, they may come up with one tool that does many things or consolidate the workflows. There is the reduced cost of integration that could help rather than have a salesperson use 14 different tools in the same 20 minutes timeframe to do a task. That is more tactical, but let's think about the strategic side. What data and tools are supposed to do is help to generate that credibility and trust and relationship with the buyer, whereas a lot of the sales teams look at these tools to catch a quick simple buck. That is the wrong mentality, it is like a car -  it is only as good as the driver, right? These tools can only do so much based on how you use them. There is not just one kind of data, but many kinds of data, and all are pieces of the puzzle that helps create that relationship and trust and credibility. And some of that is missing, I would say a bulk of the sales team I run into are not looking at this strategically, they're looking at it as a ‘How can we find a prospect that we can close in four weeks from now?’  We are moving from a seller-driven world to a buyer-driven world. A lot of these tools were built with the seller in mind where the origination or the disruption happened from the seller's side. But the buyer is now in charge. Because of this change, the buyer must be empowered to make the best choice, and you, as a seller, must help them make it. But I feel like a lot of sales teams are not making that transition fast enough and they might be caught on the wrong side of this trend. 


C: What is the future of work in sales, and how important would you say it is for salespeople to be data-savvy in the future, and to what extent? What do you think is the best way for salespeople to get there?

S: Today, a lot of sales representatives are more technical than the tech experts 20 years ago. They are using 20 different tools as part of their workflow, right? There lies the answer. There is no way to get around and not be data-savvy right now. We are undergoing a period of rapid change and that change is going to affect the way businesses work, not just sales and marketing. The future of work with sales is not dissimilar at all.  Right now, companies differentiate on product and capital or access to capital. A lot of that is going to get commoditized. It is very easy for one company to copy another company's product. They could do that overnight. What is incredibly difficult? To replicate relationships. In that case, salespeople and go-to-market teams would almost become the core differentiator in practice. Right now, we are in a phase of automation in go-to-market. Through relationships, sales and marketing teams will become similar to learning and development teams. Their job would primarily be to educate the customers. The more they educate, the more dollars will go into education, which would become almost like the biggest barrier to entry. Because thinking of it from the customer side, if they will spend all this investment in learning one tool, workflows will get more complex. For buyers, if they have already invested in learning a complex tool, why would they make that investment again with another vendor? Because these workloads are simpler. Perhaps there is no investment required. These tools are simpler. But we are headed into a future where we will see complex tools and workflows where sales and marketing teams will become an important differentiator and relationships with customers will be the key.


C: What is a really cool project or initiative that you have been working on?

S: I have been playing around with astrophotography and microscopic photography. Last year before the pandemic, I got a telescope and a microscope at the same time, and started taking pictures of objects in the sky, in the Solar System, and outside of it. Then I started looking at a speck of like a flower petal or some object and I see so much similarity. It just fascinates me how, by changing the perspective just a little bit, your view completely changes. There is a whole world in a tiny cell or a tiny object, just as much as in the gigantic celestial solar systems. I am a novice. I am still trying to figure out how to take good images. It gets very technical because, especially when you are doing astrophotography, you are sitting on a rock that is spinning and you must take hundreds of pictures of an object that goes out of focus for the telescope. So, you need to lock in, and it is always moving. It is a moving target. Then you overlay all these images to create something. I am trying to remember my engineering days and try to run some scripts and, it keeps me busy and interested. 


Claudia Virlanuta

CEO | Data Scientist

Claudia Virlanuta

Claudia is a data scientist, consultant and trainer. She is the CEO of Edlitera, a data science and machine learning training and consulting company helping teams and businesses futureproof themselves and turn their data into profits.

Before Edlitera, Claudia taught Computer Science at Harvard, and worked in biotech (Qiagen), marketing tech (ZoomInfo), and ecommerce (Wayfair). Claudia earned her degree in Economics from Yale, with a focus on Statistics and Computer Science.