Interview with Kevin Beales, Founder and CEO, Refract.ai

Interview with Kevin Beales, Founder and CEO at Refract.ai
Kevin Beales, Founder and CEO at Refract.ai

“Assistants and bots will (and already do) have a role in sales conversations, but today more so in transactional sales and helping buyers to research.”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. How did you successfully transform yourself through the dot-com era?

The (relatively) short answer — I was working at Adidas back in ‘98 when my manager at the time said to me, “You’ve used this internet thing, haven’t you?” Two weeks later I was “New Media Manager” and responsible for launching Adidas’ first sites in the UK. Talk about right place, right time. In my first meeting with a vendor, I thought, “I’m so far out of my depth, how can I make sure I’m not found out — or do I ask for my old job back.” Fortunately, neither happened (I think).

What was the idea behind starting Refract? Have you achieved what you envisioned for the company?

I’d led a sales team for 2 successful start-ups and founded my own SaaS business, and experienced every time how broken sales coaching was. How do you develop sales teams, without riding along on calls and demos (and resist the urge to jump in)? Companies say Sales coaching is the most important role of a manager, yet less than 5% of time is spent coaching. It didn’t feel like technology was closing this gap. It still feels like we are at the start of our journey at Refract. Conversation Intelligence is still at an early adopter stage when you consider the whole audience (any organization looking to improve conversations and their outcomes), the impact of AI is only going in one direction and we would still consider ourselves early-stage.

How does Refract fit into a modern business’ tech stack?

Refract is part of the modern sales leader’s sales stack, a suite of tools to support and ensure sales success — supporting onboarding, coaching and development. The shift towards data-driven sales decisions and processes, playbooks, ability to scale and the switch from ‘gift of the gab’ to ‘science of sales’ have all supported the emergence of platforms like Refract. Much of the sales stack helps do the heavy lifting — whether in identifying good fit customers, prospecting, closing or in our case, coaching.

What makes the current Sales Management platforms so crucial for B2B success?

Sales Management platforms, including Refract, can help create playbooks and scalability for time-pressured managers, whilst providing the data to drive decisions. It really is about helping make the most of time (there is never enough time for sales managers), helping to scale – whether that’s recruiting, onboarding, coaching etc, and surfacing the right data and insight to make informed decisions and judgement.

How do you help sales teams do the heavy lifting without fatigue?

Sales managers are pulled in so many directions, but often lose sight of what the best use of their time is. Coaching is a great example — proven as the highest impact that a manager can have on revenue and performance, cited by organizations as the most important priority, but the vast majority spend less than 5% of their time coaching — with their reps claiming they are coached half as much again. It can always wait until tomorrow.

What are your predictions on ‘AI for Sales’? Would human managers give way to Virtual Assistants and bots in conversation?

Assistants and bots will (and already do) have a role in sales conversations, but today more so in transactional sales and helping buyers to research. Complex consultative selling, as in much of B2B, will rely even more on advanced sales skills that stand head and shoulders above Sales Automation and bots. With trillions of variables on each such conversation and every business so unique, personalization, great questions, active listening, and empathy, feels like a way from being replicated by AI.

But AI is making those salespeople more successful, helping them find, engage and support those conversations (as well as helping to coach them). AI isn’t going back in the box — its demanding sales professionals to ensure their AI-enhanced skills stay ahead of technology.

How do you prepare for the challenges and opportunities in Revenue maximization?

For us, as you’d expect, it’s all about the coaching. Identifying great fit opportunities, revenue is won and lost in conversation. Every word choice can matter — picking the right questions, in the right way at the right time to identify the value and impact Refract can provide. We’re a bit obsessive about conversation and coaching if you haven’t gathered!

Where do you see Sales Intelligence platforms heading to in 2019-2022?

Sales Intelligence Platforms have been around for just a couple of years now. This is just the start of an emerging category, but already having a huge impact on sales performance and conversation outcomes. It’s unlocking the dirty secret of sales — what actually happens in sales conversations behind closed doors.

Over the next 3 years, its evolution will include surfacing greater, personalized value — personalized to organizations and individuals. Essentially, applying the benefits of big data to small data sets, using Machine Learning and analytics.

Each sales conversation has billions of variables. It’s not just words — it’s sentiment, delivery, pauses, tone, authority and so much more that contribute to successful performance and outcomes. As a sector, we are increasingly able to interpret and demonstrate what leads to success in each organization and conversation, and profile to managers where conversations appear to have gone well or missed opportunities. But the value also lies in the seemingly trivial choices of words, phrases, tone, delivery and so on, that becomes proven to influence outcomes.

What Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

MixMax, HubSpot Marketing/HubSpot Sales, ZoomInfo, Sales Navigator, Wistia.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

Developing our website content has yielded a lot of benefit for the business; we strive to develop content that our target prospects are looking for and aim to deliver significant value within that content. A good example of this is our article on great discovery questions for sales people — a piece that leverages our internal expertise for the benefit of potential prospects, over delivers on value, and as a result, drives significant engagement. We gauge the success of our Content Marketing through growth in organic website traffic, not to mention the quality and quantity of inbound enquiries we see off the back of this.

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

A desire to stay at the leading edge, agility as a business to embrace new technology, and changing landscapes and ‘Always be Learning.’

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

Try. Experiment. Challenge the status quo. And always look for smarter better ways. As a tech provider ourselves, I think it results in a team that is driven by technology-enhanced change.

One word that best describes how you work.

Differently. I’ve always challenged the norms and we certainly do that and encourage that as a team.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Slack, LinkedIn, Twitter, Zoom — kind of go without saying. Have to add, at Refract, we drink lots of our own champagne and play Candy Crush to unwind — that’s my dirty secret.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I often spend the time till the end of rush hour in a coffee shop, get loads done, have thinking time and then schedule a couple of calls for the journey in at 9am. It works for me (and I need coffee)!

What are you currently reading?

Just finished reading Sales Enablement by Tamara Schenk and only ever read sales, management or entrepreneurial books — as much as I’d love to read novels, I am frustrated that I don’t learn anything.

But LinkedIn and Twitter, following sales, SaaS and entrepreneurial leaders and thought leaders are how I consume most of my reading. I can invest hours on end of an evening down this rabbit hole.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My boss at Adidas encouraged me to try sales when I hadn’t considered myself a sales person at all. As an entrepreneur, the question — does it change the share price — helps me focus on whether it matters or not.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

I’m told I think differently. Answer the multi-choice questions with an alternative answer. But I’d prefer to say work with, inspire and empower great talented people. Many of my team members have worked with me in 2, 3 or in one case for 4 companies now. I must be doing something right that they’ve not found me out yet!

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Dave Kurlan at Kurlan Associates/Objective Management Group (we ask what would Dave do all the time in the office). He cuts straight to the chase — a man of few words but he always nails it.

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

Revenue is won or lost in sales conversations. During the decisive moments, the questions, words, phrases and answers chosen determine outcomes and distinguish top performers.

Providing effective, timely coaching and feedback, without a shared recollection, was always a perennial challenge for me. Admittedly with hindsight, the back of the taxi may not have been the ideal location.

And that’s why we founded Refract (www.refract.ai) – to do the heavy lifting listening to conversations and surfacing coachable insight.

Key moments from calls, demos, meetings and emails can be highlighted with effective feedback, sharing playbook moments and using AI to expose what leads to successful outcomes and top performers in your organization.

Working globally with clients including VMWare, SumTotal, Showpad and many published sales performance experts, we’re helping organizations to improve their sales conversations and revenues.

Prior to Refract, I founded The Test Factory, an online assessment platform, where we delivered online tests for prestigious clients globally including most of the leading exam boards, publishers and organizations including Microsoft and The United Nations. The Test Factory was acquired by GL Education in 2014.

Before that, I was part of the early stage team at Communicator Corporation, heading up the sales team from a start-up team to over 50 employees, prior to acquisition from Trinity Mirror.

I am also an investor/NED with the amazing teams at Technically Compatible, Altitude Angel and Receptive.io.

I have three young(ish) boys and despite living in Northumberland, we are all Brighton season ticket holders.

“Our AI technology delivers personalized insight, based on your business and your reps, showing the actions and words that align with top performers and results.

We work with a range of global clients, with teams from just a handful to the 1000’s. And whilst every organization is different, they all have one thing in common. They’re passionate about improving sales conversations, and that’s just what we’re here for.”

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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