EPISODE 636: AI for Sales Prospecting Update with Reply.io Growth Leader Vlad Oleksiienko

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Today’s show featured an interview with Vlad Oleksiienko, the VP of Growth at Reply.io, the sponsor of this episode of the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Find Vlad on LinkedIn.

VLAD’S ADVICE:  “Try new prompts, because when it comes to sales development, it’s all about cold outreach. It’s all about your sequences. Check your stats, check your open or reply rates. If you want to increase your open rates and increase your reply rates, maybe you should try ChatGPT here. Say, “Here’s my sequence. Maybe can you suggest some ideas here to improve it?” Maybe ChatGPT could suggest you something and it’ll be maybe something that could help right away.”


Fred Diamond: I’m very excited. Today we’re going to be talking to Vlad Oleksiienko. He’s the VP of Growth at Reply.io. I want to let listeners know you’re in Ukraine. I’m in Virginia, as most people know. This is the first time that we’ve interviewed someone literally in Ukraine. We’re doing today’s interview in the fall of 2023 and we’re going to be talking about the power of AI for sales development. Your company, Reply.io, I want to let people know, sponsored today’s program and is one of the leading developers of solutions. It’s an all-in-one sales engagement platform that leverages AI and B2B contact and company data to help businesses find leads. We’re going to get deep into AI today and I’m very excited because obviously, that’s one of the topics that’s on everyone’s mind.

There’s a lot of AI tools on the market, and there’s a ton of them. Obviously, AI has been around for a long time, but it got really popular with the launch of ChatGPT, probably over a year ago. Some are good, some are bad. Your tool is excellent, and I’m excited to be talking about your toolset, what we should be knowing. AI software, of course, can be used for developing ICP segmentation, personalization, lead generation, crafting messages, replying to people, booking meetings. There’s so many things and people were wondering, how can I best use this?

Let’s start diving deep. Again, Vlad, it’s great to see you. First off, how are you doing today? People want to know how things are going in Ukraine. You’re on the western side of the country, how are things going in general? Then we’ll get deep into the AI stuff.

Vlad Oleksiienko: Thanks for having me today, Fred. Great question. I would say hard to say, but it’s just cruel, at least was in the very beginning. But we I would say get used to it, actually. It’s not normal, of course, but we get used to it and we’re still fighting. We’re still creating businesses. We are building companies. We are trying to do both invest in companies and in our country. It’s hard to be focused on two separate things, but we are trying our best. Well, just fun fact, it sounds like this year our economy will even slowly grow, even because of war, which is cool.

Fred Diamond: We’re obviously very supportive of everything that is happening over there. Specifically, let’s talk about your company. Let’s talk about what your solution is. Tell us a little bit about you. Again, you’re the VP of Growth, and you used to manage the SDR team. Obviously, you’ve gotten promoted. Good for you. Give us a short background on whatever you want to tell us about your career and what you’re doing right now. Then I want to ask you, your company develops these solutions on AI. How has AI really impacted the sales industry? You guys are at the ground floor, you’re having customers using the technology, so you’re seeing things as they happen. Give us a brief overview on you and then let’s get deep into how AI has impacted the sales industry.

Vlad Oleksiienko: My name is Vlad and I’m head of pure growth here at Reply. Previously I had spent almost seven years working as an SDR leader. I have built our sales development team from scratch here at Reply. I was in charge of different things like prospecting ideas, tactics, new tools, new sequences, email templates, lead list, et cetera. All that stuff. Then I realized that I want to try something new. I did this shift to a new role. By the way, lots of companies outbound sales development prospecting as part of growth departments, a part of growth function. It’s also another trend in B2B sales, outbound as a part of a growth function. Lots of growth leaders also focused on outbound. That’s my background.

I’m super keen on things like new sales tools, AI, and our founders are super huge fans of new sales tools. We exchange ideas every day, “Here’s a new tool, we want to try it.” It’s all about AI prospecting, new tactics, new growth ideas in terms of sales development.

Fred Diamond: AI, from a broad perspective, I don’t want to make this an ignorant question and say, should people be investing? Of course, they should. We know generally some of the things, but give a little bit of your insights into how a company with a sales development organization, how should they be thinking about AI right now? Again, we’re doing today’s interview in October of 2023.

Vlad Oleksiienko: Interesting fact. We actually integrated OpenAI’s API three years ago. We were one of the first probably sales engagement tools who did this. It was something simple. We integrated OpenAI’s version two of their API. Now they have ChatGPT 3 and 4, but we did it on ChatGPT API version two. Last year we’ve noticed, as lots of people will notice, so there’s probably going to be a next revolution in the world actually, not just in sales, but in sales particularly. Then we started thinking how we can implement AI. Now, we see lots of use cases for both sales development function and account executives for both of them. There are different use cases there, but when it comes to sales development, what we’ve noticed so far is the most useful probably in terms of complexity and impact, are things like AI-generated sequences, AI-generated emails, AI-generated intro lines, first lines, PS lines, sometimes they call it icebreakers. Objection handling, another use case. Because when it comes to sales development, typically we can bucket all our responses in maybe 5 to 10 buckets. Like, not interested, not now, forwarded, let’s talk. How do you compete, for example, with your competitor?

What we’ll notice, lots of SDR use AI for objection handling. Because they can use things like, “Okay, just grab information about my company and about my competitor,” and they can write personalized objections based on specific question, et cetera. Objection handling, response handling, just writing emails, helping to write better version of an email or a sequence, et cetera. These are the most common use cases. I would say, the last maybe huge trend is to use AI for personalization at scale. Because you can actually use a function to say, “Okay, personalize me 100 rows based on their company description,” or, for example, “Personalize intro line based on their job title,” or their industry vertical, et cetera.

Fred Diamond: People want to know, is AI taking over everything? You just gave a great description on all parts of a lot of the sales process. People say, “But it looks too much like AI.” What’s your advice for sales SDRs and other sales professionals on using AI tools and the human element? People are generating all these things from ChatGPT, et cetera, from your tools, and then they just copy and paste, if you will, or shoot them in. How much of the human element for the actual independent SDR, do you think, is it a balance of 90/10, 50/50? I’m curious on that aspect and what you guys see.

Vlad Oleksiienko: That’s a very interesting question. In my opinion, it’s a spectrum. It depends on the openness of every person. It’s like a spectrum. Someone can say, “Okay, we will outsource everything to the AI.” We see there are actually a bunch of AI SDR tools, so they can do everything. You just type something. “I want to reach out to 100 VPs of sales from California. Here’s my product, here’s my website, here information about my product. Just do everything you want.” That’s one site. Then another site of this spectrum is something like, “Okay, we’ll just observe everything. We will manage everything, but we will allow AI to just tweak our maybe proposal, tweak our email templates.” So, someone say, “Okay, it’s 100% AI,” and some of them can say, “Okay, it’s just maybe 10%.”

Currently, what we noticed, lots of tools offer something, like there is a setting in their products. You can use our AI feature as autopilot, or you can just click accept or reject or regenerate, let’s say, email. There is a possibility for both sides of the spectrum. For me, in my opinion, AI is pretty good at writing emails now. Of course, it’s all about writing right prompts, because prompts are super important when it comes to communication with ChatGPT, for example, because sometimes they generate really, really bad thoughts and ideas, but prompts are super important.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk specifically about revenue and meetings. You’ve led SDR teams. The whole purpose of the SDR is basically to get meetings or to get a conversation. At the end of the day, and matter of fact, all sales is about getting to the next step, which is usually in most cases… A lot of our listeners, Vlad, they are enterprise sales professionals, enterprise technology. A lot of people in professional services listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast. We say that the real goal of sales is get to the next place with the customer, whatever that may be. Hopefully, it’s a meeting. Let’s talk about AI and booking meetings. Give us, maybe, I hate to use the word hack, I don’t like to use the word hack, but let’s just say what tactics or hacks could be used with AI to reach the meeting quota.

Vlad Oleksiienko: I would say framework, probably, framework for prospecting here. How to reach your quota? When it comes to sales development function, you are right. It’s all about trying to reveal interest or to reveal their pain or just figure out if they need something in your category on your segment. How we can use AI here? Step number one, of course, we can A/B test things. Because sometimes marketing teams prepare sequences, email templates for SDRs. I’m a huge fan of allowing SDRs create their own sequences based on, of course, messaging and pain points that the management team or marketing team provides them with. In this case, I would suggest number one, AI can help SDRs generate new variants of email templates, CTAs, just try new ideas, because with lots of sales engagement tools, you can A/B test everything, steps, subject lines, openings, value prop, et cetera. This is number one.

Number two, you can even generate the whole sequence. Just say, here’s my step number one, write three more follow ups, for example, based on my persona, my vertical. You can generate follow-ups, and of course, A/B test for these follow-ups. You can improve your copy, actually, because sometimes, they actually are afraid of changing even copies, but sometimes even small tweaks can change everything. For example, soft CTA can help get more replies.

Number three, I would say if you’re an SDR who’s focused on mid-market, so probably it’s all about volume. You have more accounts, you have more prospects in your list and to-dos. In this case, AI can help you personalize variables and personalize data points, and research your accounts. There are a bunch of tools, spreadsheet interfaces, for example. You can use OpenAI as a function and provide a function like, “Here’s a job title. Write a CTA based on their job title or their persona.” You can create, you can add more personalized variables, personalized I would say data points and research data points to your list, objection handling. Because sometimes when you get a response like, “I’m not interested in,” they will just skip this or abandon this response. Now, AI helps be more proactive with these ‘not interested’ emails. We can try different options, be creative here, to be honest.

Fred Diamond: Those are great points. Actually, I like especially the last one. They say sometimes it takes up to 40 touches to get some type of interactions. Sales professionals historically maybe stop at three. The use of AI can further think through a notable response or something that would be of value to the customer, that the customer probably doesn’t really know. What are your top three favorite AI tools for salespeople and why?

Vlad Oleksiienko: I will keep it simple. Number one, of course, is ChatGPT. That’s how everything started last, I think, November or so. ChatGPT, it helped. I use it every day basically for new ideas, new email templates, new sequences, personalization, again, objection handling. You just copy and paste the whole email thread and it’ll understand the whole context of this conversation of the thread. Number two probably is Rows.com. It’s a spreadsheet-like interface, I said before. It’s just a spreadsheet. You can use different integrations, for example, with OpenAI API, and you can just connect your OpenAI account, and then you can use Rows as functions. You can write hundreds of personalized emails at scale, just providing a prompt inside of a cell in Rows.com. It’s a pretty cool thing. Number three, maybe something for summarizing notes for sales calls, and maybe it’s going to be Grain or Tldv.io. It records your conversation and provide you a summary notes, objections.

Fred Diamond: I’ve used AI as well. I use ChatGPT, and I didn’t realize some of the things that I could be doing here. For example, even me, I do a lot of prospecting for my business, the Institute for Excellence in Sales. If I get a no, even if it’s a no right now or no for something specific, I’ll reply back with, “Thanks, I’ll reach out to you again,” or something. Now, I’m thinking about how I could best use these tools to be specific to the challenges of my customers. A lot of times, sales professionals are very generic or give homogenized type of answers. Like, “Here’s why our technology provides great solutions.” But in reality, we talk about this all the time on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, Vlad, the customer needs to know how are you going to possibly help me, because I have these challenges? I and my company has these challenges right now. I’m already bubbling up with ideas on how I could find out what my prospects specifically are going through using the tools that you talked about here.

Vlad, before I ask you for your final bit of advice that you would give to sales professionals new to AI, or who’ve been slow to get off the market, if you will, tell us a little more about Reply.io. What AI features has Reply.io integrated into the platform, and specifically, why were these added? What are some of the benefits that these provide to users?

Vlad Oleksiienko: Reply.io, basically it’s an AI-powered sales engagement platform for B2B sales professionals, founders, business owners. It’s all-in-one solution for B2B data, plus AI, plus sequences, and cold outreach. You can save on some dollars on different tools. It’s all-in-one solution, and it’s an AI-powered solution. We added some AI features within the past few months. Number one, I would say it’s magic sequence. It’s basically something like in ChatGPT you can say, “Hey, write me a sequence for job title at industry,” or it could be anything you want. Then through our platform, they send millions of cold emails and we know best practices on what works and what not. We will actually use ChatGPT API, and our knowledge about best practices on cold emails. We’ll write the whole sequence, including emails, follow ups for you. Then you can just play around with it. Then you can change these templates, you can play around with them, add new variants, et cetera.

Number two is Jason AI. It’s basically AI bot that integrates with your email inbox, for example, and helps handle responses basically. When you get something negative, we already prepare a response for you based on your company, your company’s descriptions, et cetera. It helps handle objections, it helps book meetings, because it can provide a link, and as I said, you can choose whether it’s an autopilot or it’s a human-driven project, can reject or accept our AI suggestions, these two features.

Fred Diamond: Well, congratulations again on the success of Reply.io, and congratulations on your success. Again, want to thank Reply.io for sponsoring today’s program. It’s been very informative. People have obviously adopted AI and they’re constantly trying to understand how can it really assist me with the challenges that I’m either blocked with, or I’m not optimizing? There’s so many ways along the sales process that you’ve explained where AI can come in and provide some type of a boost.

Before I ask you for your final action, again, just want to acknowledge, again, you’re in Ukraine. We’re in the United States. We have listeners all over the globe. We’re thinking about the people of Ukraine constantly and pull in for best outcomes for everybody. I want to applaud you and the company for growing, like you just said, and continuing to find solutions for your customers around the globe. We hope that you and all your people remain safe.

What advice would you give to sales professionals who are new to AI tools and want to start using them to improve their performance? Give us one thing. You’ve given us so many great ideas. Give us one specific thing that sales professionals, SDRs, or account execs, whatever level they may be, sales leaders even, should do right now after listening to today’s show as it relates to AI tools to take their sales career to the next level.

Vlad Oleksiienko: First of all, thanks for your support and your kind words. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to all of us in these times. Thanks again. When it comes to the question, what’s my piece of advice here, an action item after this podcast, just probably try new prompts, because when it comes to sales development, it’s all about cold outreach. It’s all about your method. It’s all about your sequences. I would say just check your stats, check your open rates or reply rates. If you’re happy with this, that’s fine. You can actually maybe even improve something here. If not, if you want to increase your open rates and increase your reply rates, maybe you should try AI here, maybe it could be a solution for you. Just try maybe ChatGPT, something simple. Say, “Here’s my sequence. Maybe can you suggest some ideas here to improve it?” Maybe ChatGPT could suggest you something and it’ll be maybe something that could help right away.

Fred Diamond: Actually, like I told you, I’ve been using AI for certain things, and now that I’m thinking about it, again, the key thing I’m going to do is based on what you were telling us, is every company has unique challenges right now. Again, we’re doing today’s interview in the fall of 2023. There’s events around the world. As we all come out of the pandemic, there’s issues, there’s macro, but there’s also micro-level issues that relate to each company. The great sales professionals are the ones who have done the research, done the preparation, done some exploration, and it’s not simple BS type stuff like, “Gee, I know that your customers are challenged coming out of the pandemic.” Of course, they are. Every company on the planet is challenged with that. But what is it specific about your company that maybe provides food service to hotels and in a certain part of a region? What’s specific to that particular company offering that particular service to that particular audience? I’m going to test out some of the AI sequences to find some specific things.

Even me, I run the Institute for Excellence in Sales. We do simple things. I don’t want to be doing simple things, but sometimes I’m thinking about my sales process and I don’t practice all the things that I preach, and I want to see how AI can solve that. Once again, I want to thank Reply.io for their support of today’s program. I want to thank Vlad Oleksiienko for being today’s guest. My name is Fred Diamond, and this is the Sales Game Changers Podcast.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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