Sales drives revenue. But selling has changed when the internet and technology made mass marketing available to everyone.
In this Tough Things First podcast episode, Ray Zinn is in conversation with Aleks Gollu, CEO of 11Sight, to discuss sales effectiveness in the 21st century.
Ray Zinn: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another fantastic Tough Things First podcast, it’s great to be here with you today. And I have a very special guest that I’d like to introduce and let you know a little more about him. This is a friend of mine, Aleks Gollu, I’m so delighted Alex to have you on the program with me today. So let’s hear a little bit about yourself please.
Aleks Gollu: Thanks Ray, and it’s definitely an honor to be here with you talking. My career has evolved as that of a serial entrepreneur. I did my undergrad at MIT, then I did a PhD at UC Berkeley. Those were all in electrical engineering, computer science. And back at the university, we were working on automated cars, automated highways, this is late ’90s. But one of the other PhD students, Farokh Eskafi and I, we were more entrepreneurially oriented than just academically. So we had it in our head that we wanted to do a startup, and this was like the dot-com era just about to begin.
So right after the PhD, [inaudible 00:01:49] and I did a startup, this is a time where Motorola StarTAC is the most advanced form, Netscape is new. So we told people, “Hey, come to our website, tell us what you’re interested in, and we’ll send you SMS messages with your stock prices, your sports results and so forth.”
So that company we sold to a competitor, then both Farokh and I, we saw RFID emerging. He being more technical, he built in a new RFID chip that did location tracking, and he ultimately sold that company to Maxim Integrated. And I used RFID readers off the shelf to build a yard management solution that made transportation aspect of supply chain more efficient. In today’s language, we were an IOT company in the Cloud. Back then, we were a SaaS based yard management company that combined RFID and user input to improve trailer life cycles in yards.
Now, after that, we both saw video as a communication means of the future. And that brought us, Farokh and me back doing a new company which is 11Sight. And what we do at the 11Sight is we bring businesses and customers closer together. We provide the fastest way to connect, the simplest way to engage. And the net result is increased revenues and improve customer satisfaction.
So that’s basically me in a nutshell from ’83 arriving in US, to sitting in north of Berkeley in El Cerrito today talking to you.
Ray Zinn: Thank you. It’s so good to hear that background too, because it’ll give our audience a little insight as to who 11Sight is, and as well as who you are Aleks. Now let’s talk about the subject that you want to discuss today. So why don’t you take it off in there, tell us what we’re going to talk about, and then let’s just launch right into it. Go ahead.
Aleks Gollu: Yeah. So as we focused on video, we said, okay, videos communication means of the future. We all know Zoom, the meeting problem online, meeting problem is solved. We all know about the WhatsApp, Skype or FaceTime. So two friends talking, that’s taken care off. We wanted to see what else video can do for people?
And what we noticed is that there is this increased friction in the way businesses interact with customers. And as we dug deeper into it, what we realized was that this is a friction that us technology companies and Silicon Valley have created. We have introduced AI chatbots, we have introduced forms. And when a customer wants to talk to a business, it takes two to five days to get that first face-to-face meeting. Maybe you schedule something with Calendly.
And that basically is the problem we wanted to focus on and better understand, is why is it that businesses are not ready to just simply pick up the phone, and here I say, “phone,” than a potential prospect and customer calls? Because back in the ’80s, as a sales guy, when your landline rang, you were more than happy to pick it up, and you had a personal conversation.
Today, the opportunity exists to be able to do that on any device and people can call in also on any device. We have the technology to connect with video, with audio, anytime we want. And yet there is this reluctance of, “Well, let’s not talk real time. Let’s schedule a meeting, I’m going to go do some research about you, and then we’ll talk.”
Ray Zinn: That’s a problem that we’ve been facing since day one. With the Zoom meetings as you would, or the new technology being able to connect with audio, with good audio and good video does change things. I have a saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” So with just a phone call, as “Your phone call,” there’s no sight. So when we say, “Out of sight, out of mind,” we like that face-to-face, and if we can improve, as you would, the connectivity between the customer and the salesperson, I think we have a winner.
We learnt that through this pandemic, everybody was on this audiovisual method of communicating. So I think this is really the wave of the future. It not only saves money and time, it’s more convenient to set up these meetings.
Aleks Gollu: I definitely agree. It used to be that I would have to get up, drive to South Bay, have a meeting, maybe have a coffee, have another meeting, drive back, and that would be the day with all the bay area traffic. I now have the ability to do that in the first two hours of the day, and there is equal amount of connection in those meetings that I do online.
Okay, so it’s not the same as breaking bread with somebody, but if you can see each other, the facial expression to just the gestures, that does build a relationship between you and the other party, and it also engenders trust. And trust is a very important aspect of sales or building your relationship between a business and their customers.
Ray Zinn: It reminds me, back in 1974, yeah ’74, I was working for a company called Electromask. And I was their Sales Manager, National Sales Manager, and one of my customers was TEI. And so, I would take an airplane from San Jose to Dallas, and I’d go into the lobby and I’d say I want to talk to so-and-so. And next thing I knew, I had two guards rushing me out of the building.
And so I said, “What’s going on here?” And they said, “We were just told to usher you out of the building.” So I hopped back on an airplane and flew back and told my boss. I said, “Well, that didn’t go over very well.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I went there, took that three and a half hour flight, and all I got was they just threw me out of the building.” He said, “Well, did you make contact with your customer?”
“Well, I couldn’t, because they wouldn’t let me.” And so he said, “Well, get back on the airplane and this time be more sincere.” And I said, “What? Okay.” So I sent a letter, because back in those days, we didn’t have this technology we have today.
Aleks Gollu: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ray Zinn: I sent a letter to my customer saying I was going to be there on a certain day, and I would like to set up this meeting. And he never responded, but I dutifully got back on the airplane, flew back to Dallas, three and a half hours. And same thing. There, here come two guards, lifted me up, and literally tossed me out, tore my pants, and I ended up flying back again, no contact.
So my third time… This is in my book by the way, I think anyway, Tough Things First. So my third trip, I didn’t want to go, but my boss said, “You must go, and you must make contact.” So what I did, went back again dutifully, two and a half hours. And this time, I’m sitting in the lobby, thanks coming, “okay. How am I going to get this guy to come down and see me?”
So the receptionist said, “Well, who may I say is calling?” I said, “Tell him his brother is calling.” And so, pretty soon, down comes this fellow, my customer that I wanted to meet with, and he’s looking around, looking around, and then he goes over to the receptionist. I could hear him kind of say, “Well, where’s my brother?” And she pointed over to me and I had this Cheshire grin on my face, and he came over and he said… His hand was on his hip. He was red in the face, “How dare you still tell them that you’re my brother?”
I said, “Aren’t we all brothers and sisters under God?” And he started laughing so hard. He took me upstairs and we started talking about this product that I wanted to sell them. And it really began the biggest order the industry had ever had by first equipment, semiconductor equipment ever had. And that’s when I launched the Wafer Stepper, was there at that meeting with TEI.
But that’s what it took. It must have been 12 or 14 hours back and forth of flying just to set up this meeting. So hey, I had this technology, been available to me back in 1974. I could have saved myself, lots and lots of time.
Aleks Gollu: That’s a good story. It’s amazing that back then, people were willing to work so hard for a face-to-face meeting and take all those flights. And today, you can do that even from the comfort of your home, and people are just now being hesitant of just answering an incoming call. So that’s basically, I think what’s going to happen in this post-pandemic era, now that we have gotten used to meeting people online. A lot of this interaction that used to necessitate travel or scheduling meetings and so forth, are just going to be at the end of a single click.
Ray Zinn: Aleks, well, let’s look at this one though. How was I going to make contact with my customer using this technology when he wouldn’t take my call? See, what I did is I had to come up with the story to get him to do it, but see, when you have the technology, he can just ignore me.
He can just disconnect, or he can just not take the call, he won’t join the meeting. So tell us, how would I be able to pull that one off using this technology?
Aleks Gollu: That’s exactly where the marketing or understanding your customer and your customer’s needs come into play. You basically said, “Hey, we are all brothers on the God,” and you basically said his brother is here. So if you can find something that’s relevant to your customer, that’s value to your customer, you can easily send an email or send out some information that will resonate with the customer’s problem.
So the goal here is not just to sell, but to create value, to solve a problem of your customer. So if you have the right audience and if you are providing the right value proposition, the customer will be more than willing to call you. It’s also true that in this day and age, that everybody is reaching out to everybody on LinkedIn and on emails and Facebook ads, and so forth.
And yet, in all of that noise, some messages, some outreach actually stands up. It comes to being able to be relevant, to add value to your customers, and let them come to you. And things have also changed the way people do shopping because people do their homework first by themselves, and typically down select to a couple of vendors or a couple products that they are going to choose from.
And when a customer is in that mindset, this could be a business customer, this could be a consumer, that’s when they switch to the buying mode. And at that time, the customer is willing to reach out and place a video call because this is when they would step into a store or they would actually call it business and say, “Hey, we are interested.”
Ray Zinn: Yeah, but the Aleks, the problem I think is with the reluctant customer. My son-in-law works for Dell and he’s the Sales Manager for Dell in Montana. And he’s having difficulty. He has the technology that we’re talking about. I don’t know which one he uses but go to web, I see web. I don’t know, anyway, he has one that he uses.
Aleks Gollu: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ray Zinn: And still, the customer can just still shut him off. He can just not be willing to accept the link, click on the link. Somebody’s going to click on that [inaudible 00:14:50] link. So what he’s having to do and difficult customers, he’s still having to go down to the lobby and try to figure out some way to make face-to-face contact with this guy, taking him to lunch or dinner or whatever, because having to click on a link is… The customer has got to accept that.
And not all of them are willing to accept it. I’ve heard his stories, he’s having difficulty just doing nothing, but these linked meetings.
Aleks Gollu: It is true, there are multiple ways you can go and you can look for your prospect, right? If you’re selling to a very large enterprise, you have a dozen potential prospects and a dozen decision makers you need to connect with. And in those cases, I definitely agree with you, is you have to go park yourself in their lobby, figure out at which conference they are giving a talk…
Ray Zinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Aleks Gollu: And you just go and attend their talk and catch them after the talk. Those are the standard tools that I have used. I’ve made contact with Kraft Foods, VP of Supply Chain at the time, when he was giving a talk. But then if you actually have possibly thousands or tens of thousands of users, or customers for your product, you cannot go to 10,000 different conferences so that you can make contact.
At that point, you do have to play a little bit more statistically or strategically. You do an outreach to all those 10,000 and maybe a 1,000 are interested.
Ray Zinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Aleks Gollu: You go to those 10,000 with the right message, with the right value proposition, that they will then self-select and say, “Okay, what this guy’s telling me in this email, or in this YouTube video, or in this Facebook ad, is relevant to me. Let me reach out to them.” So in those cases where you have tens of thousands of customers, and you want the customers to come to you in that inbound sales, and I think that’s where these online interactions come into play.
Whereas if you are doing outbound sales targeted to very few people, you have no choice. You have to get on the road and you have to catch them somewhere in person.
Ray Zinn: So what percentage of the time do you think we can contact them, vis-a-vis these online methods versus the face-to-face? You have any thoughts on that?
Aleks Gollu: The way I would say is that there is nothing that replaces breaking bread or being in touch with the person directly. But the metaphor I use is that if you have a product and you are going to market, what is the market size, or what are the number of customers you are targeting?
In my first company, we were selling to telcos. In US, there were five of them. Once we talked to them, that was it. We didn’t really need to do much of a marketing outreach because we knew the five customers that we needed to talk to. At Pink, which was my supply chain company, there probably are 500 companies with enough traffic in distribution center manufacturing plant yards, that we could initially down select to 15-20 of them and do whatever is possible to actually get in front of them.
So in those cases, you definitely need to do outbound sales in the sense that you go to the customer, you catch your customer. But then there are a lot of solutions today, like our solution applies to any business 25 people and up, that has a VP of Marketing and has an inbound sales, strategic approach, because they do all these campaigns. They have a 100,000 different people, a 100,000 different businesses who could use their solution. In those cases, you can’t just go to all 100,000 to the office, you have to let them come to you. So that then becomes inbound sales.
I guess the long story short is if you are doing inbound sales because you have a very large number of customers, you are serving online interaction is ideal. If you are doing outbound sales and you have some named customers, you need to get in front of, the old fashioned way is the best. Do whatever you can do to meet the decision-maker in person.
Ray Zinn: Is there any way to do better marketing using your kind of tool or using some other go to meeting tool? Is there some way we can market better that way, as opposed just to sales?
Aleks Gollu: I think that’s a very good point, is that there is sales, but you are not just selling, you are adding value to the customer. So the need of understanding your customer, understanding their problem, how you can create value to them, that hasn’t changed. Technology may change, but the way we conduct business, the way we interact doesn’t change.
So you need to understand your customer, their problems, how you can create value to them. And your marketing needs to gear towards that. As you introduce your company, your company culture, how you work with your customers, that’s a good way of building trust in general. And then as you do your outreach to broader number of businesses for them to contact you, then they are going to be more willing to reach out to you because they’ve heard of you.
Ray Zinn: I have this program I call ZinnStarter that I have at various universities, and I’ve been using this training method of trying to get these students to get their message across in a very short period of time. Customers, just like any of the rest of us, have short memories and they don’t want to sit around for an hour presentation. So what we need to do is come up with ways to get our message across in less than five minutes.
I did that with you the other day, and I remember it was kind of funny. You went for 15 instead of five, and I said, “Aleks, we said five minutes. It took you 15 minutes.” We got to figure out customer… In fact, a good marketing tool, and I don’t know how we do it yet, I still haven’t figured it out, but we have to be able to get that message out in less than five minutes. That’s the way that you’re going to reach your customer.
If they’ve got to sit through a 15 to 20 minute conversation, they’re going to click off. And so we’ve got to come up with getting people to understand that to get your foot in the door, you’ve got to have a very snappy, short presentation.
Aleks Gollu: That absolutely true, and that’s the other thing with these scheduled meetings, is that there is this expectation that you’re going to spend half an hour, an hour to talk. And I interact with… I have customers who call us sometimes like at Sunday night at six o’clock, that did happen. It just happened that they were following up on their LinkedIn messages and they clicked on.
So you definitely are correct that we need to have that skill of when my ear line rings when I pick it up, I need to make that connection in the next three, four minutes…
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Aleks Gollu: And see if there is value that I can add to that customer, and if this is a proper prospect. And the nice thing about that incoming line is that you are no longer bound to this half an hour that has been allocated. It protects you, it protects the customer that [crosstalk 00:23:02] you make a connection, it’s great. Then you can stay as long as you want.
Ray Zinn: Exactly. So the key, I think to get your message out there, it’s got to be short and snappy…
Aleks Gollu: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ray Zinn: Five minutes or less, five minutes or less max. So we’ve got to figure out, the customer has to… Or the salesperson, sales and marketing have to figure out how they’re going to get that customer to click on that link, to have a longer face-to-face meeting? And to do that, you’ve got to do it short, snappy, and it’s just… As I said, you and I have played that little game. I said, “Okay, Aleks, give it to me in five minutes or less,” and you went 15. And you tried your best, and it was not easy, was it Alex?
Aleks Gollu: It definitely is not easy, especially in that case, I was doing the company presentation. There is a three minute version of it, like on Friday, I’m going to do a six minute version of it. And you can definitely… And if you are presenting to the VCs, there is a 60-minute version of it. But if you are engaging with your customer, that call can come in at any time. And if you know your product, and if you know your value proposition, you can engage that customer right there and then, understand their problem, how your company can add value, and then sort of move that relationship along.
And there are actually tools that we provide in our solution that if a particular prospect calls you and they enter their email address before they call you, we can actually show you some information about that caller’s company, their business, and maybe even a couple of value proposition that you can mention.
Ray Zinn: What we need to do, Aleks, is we need to come up with a way, and I don’t know if this is another business that could be looked at or how it can be done, but getting your message out in less than five minutes, that ought to be a business. That’s somebody that wants to be an entrepreneur and say, “Here’s how to get your message out in five minutes or less.” That would just ring with everybody, customers and marketing, sales, everyone would want that.
I know as a customer, that I am not willing to listen to more than five minutes. So I think this is a key, this is another way that I think we need to think about reaching these customers and whatever method that is, whether that’s in-person or using these online tools, is to get that message out in five minutes or less.
And that’s my goal. I’m trying to come up with, how do I convince these students that I teach to get that done in five minutes or less? Some of them, I’d say probably out of the 60 or 70 that I had this contest with, I think maybe 20% of them got their message out in less than five minutes, but that’s still not very good. We need to get higher percentage net to get that message out. So anyway, what do you think?
Aleks Gollu: I definitely agree because a good sales guy should also be articulate, understand the value that their business generates for their customers. And when a call comes in, you should be able to just provide the value, understand your customer, where they’re coming from and move things along.
Ray Zinn: The two most important things customers want is service and quality.
Aleks Gollu: Yeah.
Ray Zinn: That’s the two things they look at the most. So you’ve you got to show you’ve got the service and that their product has its quality. So that’s the key. Well, anyway, Aleks, thank you for taking the time today to speak with us and talk about your product, and kind of your thoughts about sales and marketing going forward with all the new technologies that are available.
So if somebody’s trying to reach you, would like to learn a little bit more about you and 11Sight, how can they get hold of you Aleks?
Aleks Gollu: So my ear line is vcall.link/aleksgollu, A-L-E-K-S, G-O-L-L-U. So type that into the URL of any browser, you will be calling me directly, or you can come to our company website, 11Sight.com. You can actually spell it out as 11sight.com or 11site.com. In the lower right corner, there is going to be a button, click that, click the sales department. You will either get to me or another team member. They have the ability to transfer the call directly to me.
So [crosstalk 00:27:51] We are ready and available to talk to anybody whom we can add value, and in five minutes or less, we’ll see what we can do for you.
Ray Zinn: That’s good. Well, thanks Aleks.
Aleks Gollu: So it’s vcall.link/aleksgollu, and given where I come from, Alex is spelled with K-S, A-L-E-K-S, G-O-L-L-U.
Ray Zinn: Well, thank you. This has been great. I really appreciate you taking your time to visit with us today and cover this important subject. So again, thanks for joining us today, everyone. We hope that you will come and listen to our podcasts going forward. We’re in the top 10 in Silicon Valley, you can look at our… Go to our website, toughthingsfirst.com, to learn a little bit more about us, and what we’re up to.
My new book is out, Zenn of Zinn II is now out for all of you to go get at Amazon, or any other nice book retailer. And we just really invite you to join us every week as we present these podcasts. So again, thanks everybody for being with us today, and we certainly have enjoyed this visit with Aleks.
Aleks Gollu: Thanks Ray.