PODCAST 85: AI will not replace SDRs/BDRs w/ Dan O’Connell

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This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Dan O’Connell, Chief Strategy Officer at Dialpad.

Dan’s career started at Google, where he worked directly under Sheryl Sandberg at the start of AdWords. From there, he helped scale a team of 150 at AdRoll, before becoming CEO and President at TalkIQ, which was acquired by Dialpad. Dan holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at Berkeley.

If you missed episode 84 , check it out here: PODCAST 84: How to Operationalize Video in a Scalable Way w/ Ethan Beute

What You’ll Learn

  • How AI & ML are impacting the future of sales
  • Hiring for values
  • Orienting your sales process around the buyer

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

Show introduction

Sam Jacobs: Welcome to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today, we’re super excited to have on the show Dan O’Connell. Dan is the chief revenue officer and chief strategy officer at Dialpad, which is helping people manage their telephony across big customer support teams and big customer service teams, sales teams, etc.

Dan was also an early employee at Google, where he led the inside sales organization at AdWords. He worked directly with Sheryl Sandberg. After that, he joined AdRoll as VP of sales. He was also CEO and president of TalkIQ, and he led that company through its acquisition by Dialpad.

Now before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors. One of them’s brand new. It’s a company that everybody’s heard about — DocuSign. Every sales org feels the pressure to close deals faster. Take control with the DocuSign agreement cloud, a suite of tools that automates sales contracts and quotes,all right in your CRM. Create custom contracts in a click, sign them digitally, and automatically pull data back into your opportunities. See why more than half a million businesses use DocuSign with a free trial and discount exclusively for Sales Hacker listeners at go.docusign.com/saleshacker.

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Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Dan O’Connell.

About Dan O’Connell & Dialpad

Sam Jacobs: Hey everybody, it’s Sam Jacobs. Welcome back to the Sales Hacker Podcast. Today, we are excited to have Dan O’Connell on the show. Dan is the chief strategy officer and chief revenue officer of Dialpad, and we’re going to talk all about what Dialpad is and does. He spent his early career building the Google AdWords inside sales organization under Sheryl Sandberg. After Google, he joined AdRoll as a VP of sales. His early experience in sales highlighted the critical need for businesses to understand their sales and support conversations in real time, which became the catalyst for joining the team at TalkIQ as CEO and president.

So, Dan, tell us—what is Dialpad? What do you all do?

Dan O’Connell: Dialpad is a business communications platform, and they acquired the business I was running a year and a half ago called TalkIQ. It’s a real-time speech analytics and NLP company, which is a fancy way of saying we can capture conversations and help people understand them, and that makes a lot of sense to have in an avid telephony company, so we kind of put those 2 together.

We have 3 different products:

  • Cloud Telephony
  • A call center product
  • A sale-specific dialect as well.

Sam Jacobs: How big is Dialpad from a rough ARR perspective?

Dan O’Connell: We’re growing fast; we have close to $100,000,000 in ARR. We’ve got thousands of customers in 62 countries.

Sam Jacobs: I loved reading that bio about your background. How did you end up working for Google?

Dan O’Connell: Right when I graduated, the first tech bust had just happened, and I was actually deciding between joining an unpaid internship at a media company, or joining a small startup called Google. Google happened to offer me a paycheck, and so I went with the one that was going to pay me versus the one that wasn’t going to pay me.

That happened to be one of the best decisions of my career.

AdWords had just started. Essentially, I was hired to go and sell AdWords, and to support AdWords customers.

The importance of ‘scrappiness’

Sam Jacobs: What were the key lessons from working at Google with Sheryl Sandberg?

Dan O’Connell: One is hiring obviously. Google did an excellent job of being super scrappy, meaning you don’t always need robust processes. You don’t always need software. It’s pretty easy to go and have conversations with people.

Hire for values

Sam Jacobs: How do you screen for values appropriately? Especially when you’re rapidly hiring and onboarding many people?

Dan O’Connell: These are the values that are very important to me:

  1. Honesty
  2. Transparency
  3. The ability to have hard conversations
  4. Being respectful of context and tone

An inside look at the sales process at Google

Sam Jacobs: What was the sales process like at Google? Was it totally inbound? Did you have a prospecting list?

Dan O’Connell: Initially, it was inbound. When Google launched AdWords, you were selling against newspapers and TV and billboards. It was pretty easy to call anybody. If you run a business, you have to brand yourself and run advertisements somewhere. I could literally call any business and say, “Look, you’re spending X, Y, and Z on a newspaper ad,” or “Let me understand what you’re spending on TV or on billboards.” Then, you just start asking the normal questions like:”What is your return? How many people do you know see that ad? How many people can you actually tie back and say ‘They actually saw that billboard and then actually came in and bought something’?”

The answer back then—again, this is 15 years ago—was, “I have no idea.” And then you provide a solution that says, “Well wouldn’t it be valuable if I could tell you not only how many saw your ad, but how many people engaged with it and then how many people actually bought something? And by the way, if nobody ever clicks on your ad and goes to your website, it doesn’t cost you anything. It was an easy sell.

Then it really came down to optimizing for customers who had the biggest budgets.

People are the most critical element

Sam Jacobs:When you were in AdRoll, what are the key things that you learned, the key lessons that you gleaned?

Dan O’Connell: Having a very clear direction and focus for the organization. You’ve got to provide that clear direction and focus for people.

There’s 2 super critical roles in any organization. Number one is the CEO. The CEO has to provide focus and direction. Number 2 is the frontline manager. If you don’t have a strong frontline management, if those managers are not literally coaching every day and being focused on how to help their team best execute, no matter what they’re doing, whether it’s selling, whether it’s support, whether it’s marketing, the organization or the business is not going to be successful. Frontline managers are underappreciated, and again, probably critical to any organization, and so finding really strong leadership on that front, again, comes back to hiring.

How to develop your frontline managers

Sam Jacobs: Is there a process or tools or resources you invest in to develop great frontline managers?

Dan O’Connell: Build relationships and trust, and again, provide them with a clear expectations.

Also, a lot of it is coaching people how to be proactive. Any time I’m doing bad at work, it’s because I am constantly reacting, and the times I feel I’m doing a good job happens to be when I’m in the mindset of being proactive: when I’m anticipating the change, I’m anticipating the innovation, and I’m anticipating the problems and getting ahead of them. Coach people to start thinking proactively about managing their team, or managing the organization and being thoughtful about what to focus on.

Don’t focus on ‘being liked’ as a sales manager

Sam Jacobs: Any lessons or key mistakes you see first-time frontline managers make they can avoid?

Dan O’Connell: I went from an inside sales rep to actually managing my peers and being responsible for their performance. The trap that got me was that I wanted to be the likable manager. Everyone at work wants to be likable. But I now look back, and I realize that being likable doesn’t really matter as long as people respect you. So I’d much rather people respect me for the decisions that I have to make.

AI will not be replacing SDRs/BDRs

Sam Jacobs: How do you see AI integrating with the modern sales process, and what do you think the biggest changes are going to be that salespeople have to make as a consequence of using artificial intelligence?

Dan O’Connell: People are not going to lose their jobs because of AI. I think we are many years away from any of that happening. When we talk about AI, specifically speech recognition and NLP, those are really there to augment experiences for people and bubble up insights to communicate something such as, “This prospect expressed a higher purchase intent. You should prioritize giving them a call back, and these are elements that you should focus on in that conversation.”

How sales reps can leverage AI on the phone

Sam Jacobs: What’s the best way reps can leverage AI on the phone to be better salespeople?

Dan O’Connell: One is data entry, since now you have speech recognition and NLP, which is just answering “How do I actually capture and understand any conversation that I want to capture and have a record of it?” I think about voice as essentially the last offline data set, not just for sales reps, but for businesses. These conversations happen every day. They’re lost in the ether, and we take bad notes. Now you have technologies that can ensure not only 100% coverage of that data, but also a way to search and explore and learn from that data.

That then changes the outlook, and not just on prioritization, but on using those technologies to guide you through a conversation. For example, somebody may ask one of our new reps a pricing question, and our brand new rep may not know pricing on our enterprise skew, and we can provide them with that information literally with milliseconds of delay, so, they see it in almost real time. And again, that augments the experience for somebody, so they don’t have to say, “I don’t know, let me get back to you.” They can have a much more positive experience and provide them with some reassurance and confidence very early on in their interaction with customers.

Sam Jacobs: My holy grail has always been where the computer can tell you, “These are the people that are most likely to buy. These are the people that are in the middle of the funnel.These are the next actions you should take.” Is that a realistic future?

Dan O’Connell: That’s a realistic future. Gong, Chorus, ExecVision, us at TalkIQ, we all had that same view. It’s really hard. It’s going to take a lot of time.

Sam’s Corner

Sam Jacobs: There’s a lot of really interesting lessons to take from Dan. One of them is just a little bit of humility. Dan’s had a tremendous amount of success. Yet, he takes it all with a grain of salt, so to speak. He’s also really focused on human relationships. One of the things he talked about was simply developing and building great relationships at any organization that you work with, so that once you have those relationships, you can work with people you know over time. That’s what enabled him to move from Google to the rest of his roles up through a CEO and president role at TalkIQ.

Also, focus on communicating effectively upwards, downwards, and sideways across the organization. Don’t obsess about structure just focus on the human touch of leadership, and make sure people understand you care about them, that you’re there for them, and that you can help them grow over the course of their careers. If you can do that, then you’ll end up being a good leader.

It bears stating that what really enabled Dan’s success is working at fantastic companies. A lot of things are easier if you’re selling AdWords. The reason that picking great companies is sometimes more important early in your career is because it gives you great success before you need to trade success for title and for compensation. Sometimes you may not want to go work for the future Google or the future Slack, because at that point in your career if it’s 15 years in, you need a VP title or you need a C-level title, and maybe that’s not available to you at those very large organizations.

What We Learned

  • How AI & ML are impacting the future of sales
  • Hiring for values
  • Orienting your sales process around the buyer

Don’t miss episode 86

I hope you enjoyed the show. Before we go, we want to thank our sponsors. The first is DocuSign. Execute contracts and get to revenue faster with DocuSign. Used by employees at 90% of the Fortune 500. Learn more at go.docusign.com/saleshacker.

Our Second sponsor is of course Outreach, the leading sales engagement platform. If you want to reach out to me, you can reach me here on LinkedIn.

If you want to reach out to me with feedback, you can reach me on LinkedIn. If you haven’t rated the show, please give us five stars on the iTunes rating system so that we can remain in business and continue to bring you this show.

As always, thanks so much for listening, I’ll talk to you next time.

This is a sponsored guest post from a Sales Hacker partner.

Sam Jacobs is the Founder of Aqueduct Revenue Advisors and the New York Revenue Collective and regarded as one of the top start-up CROs in the tech community.

He has has over 15 years of experience scaling companies from post-revenue to ~$300M, has helped raise over $400M in institutional capital, and has helped companies of all sizes achieve an average annualized revenue growth rate of 48% over the last 15 years.