Interview with David Elkington, CEO and Founder, InsideSales.com

David Elkington
David Elkington

“The real innovation would come from the way people aggregate and classify data – and the volume and sources of that data.”

Tell us about your role at InsideSales.com and how you got here. What inspired you to start the company?

As the founder and CEO of InsideSales.com, my job is to create a vision, to inspire and to represent the brand and the culture of the organization. I’m also responsible for making sure we’re operationally efficient and disrupting our industry in a way that is meaningful to our customers.

The vision for InsideSales.com actually started back in the 80s and 90s with the hypothesis of using artificial intelligence to help us live better lives. It was fascinating to me, and it’s been a passion of mine even when I was a young boy.

I studied philosophy in college, where I envisioned a philosophical hypothesis around the way people think about and categorize information, all based on arithmetic classification, Bertrand Russell calculus and set theory. I was convinced you could take the data and the patterns from the past and apply it to future decision making in order to create a system that learns the way a child learns. I wrote my honors thesis on this hypothesis.

After a stint in banking and ventures, I got a masters degree in computer science to see if I could arithmetically represent my hypothesis. It was then that I realized it wasn’t about the algorithm; the math had actually been around for a while. The real innovation would come from the way people aggregate and classify data – and the volume and sources of that data.

I started InsideSales.com to create a technology platform that would give us access to the kind of data needed to understand the way people behave in a certain defined situation. And it worked. InsideSales.com is a data platform that helps companies know who to engage with, how to engage with them and much more. Our platform has become indispensable for sales professionals who want to close more deals and produce big numbers.

How is the sales tech industry different from when you first started InsideSales.com?

There’s been an ongoing evolution in enterprise software that started with the advent of the microchip. You had IBM’s CMOS that allowed micro processing along with innovation according to Moore’s Law that has enabled a huge increase in computing capacity. The mainframe then emerged, allowing us to centralize data – and data is the real story here. Accessing it was extremely difficult. Then we had the client-server model that let us distribute the data to every major company. Then SaaS/cloud computing made data both centralized in these massive cloud data centers and then universally accessible. That brought on the next evolution in the late 2000s: Big Data.

At the same time, the Internet began disrupting departments: it disrupted retail, which gave us e-commerce. It disrupted marketing, which gave us digital marketing. It disrupted IT office, which resulted in SaaS or on-demand technology. Sales is the last major department to be disrupted by the Internet, and it’s happened within the last five years. It’s coinciding with the data evolution and is coming in two different ways:

  • AI emerged as the last phase of this data evolution, allowing us to create real value from the data we aggregate.
  • In sales, we used to have legacy CRM, which was just data collection and aggregation. What we’ve created – and it’s fundamentally different – is an AI system of growth. It’s technology that uses AI and data to drive revenue growth.

Given the changing dynamic of marketing technology landscape, where do you see InsideSales.com fitting in a CMO’s stack? 

The Internet disruption has especially impacted sales and marketing. While these two departments have always been very intertwined, a black hole remains between them. What fills the hole is the digitization of the processes. In the ‘golden days’ of marketing, it was pure brand and advertising, billboards, and prints. It was very difficult to create measurable results and scalable unit economic models that drive efficiency in marketing. Sales was in the same boat where you had enterprise sales people carrying very large quotas and you had to trust that they’d come back at the end of the quarter or year with the big sale. It was the art of the sale vs. the science of the sale.

Inside sales is the new way of selling. What differentiates it from what was done historically is the new technology – called sales acceleration technology – that enables a numeric, data-driven, highly scalable, highly measurable way of selling that is much more customer focused and accommodates customer buy cycles and behavior. An AI system of growth, as discussed previously, actually spans sales acceleration technology, MarTech and AI.

So, how does InsideSales.com fit in the marketing stack? InsideSales and this category of sales acceleration do not belong solely under the sales budget of the sales department. It isn’t uncommon that some or much of the sales team reports to marketing because marketing has become such a data-driven department. In fact, the lines are very blurred in the way the digital or high-velocity selling occurs because the marketing and sales funnel aren’t separate anymore. Marketing is generating this digital behavior and engagement and it’s then handed off to sales much more quickly. So this AI system of growth we provide can be used across this collaborative team.

How will your partnership with Microsoft help salespeople close more and bigger deals by incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the way they work?

What’s unique about our partnership with Microsoft is actually the ability to access the Microsoft technology platform and all of the “systems of engagement” it owns. Traditional CRM, whether on-premise or on-demand, is a system of record where you store and aggregate your information. Systems of engagement allow you to actually engage with clients or prospects – and that’s what sales reps want and need. For example, in a recent report from our InsideSales.com Labs, we found that sales reps only spent about 18 percent of their time in a traditional CRM. They spent 60 percent in sales acceleration tools like email, LinkedIn and InsideSales.com.

So how does our partnership with Microsoft help? Microsoft owns LinkedIn and all of the data and social engagement capabilities associated with it. Almost every seller on the globe uses some variation of LinkedIn, which has a very unique data set. It owns Outlook and the entire Office suite. Every proposal goes out in Word or PowerPoint or Excel. It has Dynamics, which is its CRM platform; Skype and Bing. That’s a lot of data.

What we bring to the table are the propensities artificial intelligence provides. With LinkedIn, Microsoft has a unique data view in terms of who the buyers are, and what we have is how to actually use this engagement technology. Through Neuralytics, our AI platform, we can determine if you should engage through LinkedIn or email or phone calls. We know the propensities of those people, so not only do we know how to engage with them, we know who has the highest likelihood to buy and how they’ll buy. This allows buyers and sellers to come together in a highly personalized and unique way, resulting in more and bigger sales.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

AI is all about the data. If you are a sales leader, AI isn’t any better than the data you have and the data you have access to. You’ve heard the term, “Data is the new oil,” but I’d think of it differently: data rights are the new mineral rights. In the turn of the century, most of the wealth on the planet came from people who had mineral rights. The people who are going to be wildly successful in this next century are the people who have access to data. So, if I am a sales leader or even a business leader, consider these three things:

  1. Know what data you’re creating: As a rule of thumb, there is an inverse relationship between the availability of data and the value of that data. The more available the data is, the less valuable it is. So buying names from list vendors, for example, has almost no value. The most valuable data that will drive an AI-centric world is the data you create through your team or your company’s behavior.
  2. Embrace the technologies that use the data: AI is an asset only if you take advantage of it and find the vendors and partners that know what to do with the data and can create value with it.
  3. Recognize the Coming Changes: The next-generation of leaders – Millennials and the Gen Xers and GenYers – have fully embraced AI in every area of their personal life. If you don’t provide AI in the workplace,  you’re alienating a large portion of these future leaders and will lose them!

Thank you Craig! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

David Elkington has a rich background in technology, venture capital and corporate development. As CEO and Chairman, he has led InsideSales.com to consecutive 50-100% year-over-year growth rates, starting with the company’s inception in 2004. David has been active in the evolution and definition of the inside sales industry and speaks regularly. He is co-author of the Lead Response Management industry study, done in conjunction with James Oldroyd, PhD. (visiting Research Fellow at M.I.T.)

InsideSales
InsideSales.com offers the industry’s leading sales acceleration platform built on Neuralytics, a predictive and prescriptive self-learning engine that drives revenue growth by delivering an optimized experience for both salesperson and buyer. The platform fuels sales rep performance and provides buyer personalization with breakthrough innovations in predictive sales communications, engagement tracking, forecasting, rep motivation and hiring. InsideSales.com has received numerous accolades for its technology and has been named as one of the fastest growing companies by Inc.com.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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