Intercom’s LB Harvey on how tech is changing the world of sales

27 Aug 2019

LB Harvey. Image: Carly Wright/Intercom

LB Harvey discusses the sales techniques that have stood the test of time, the company’s book on building a billion-dollar business, and the importance of utilising data.

Today (27 August), software company Intercom released new data from a survey of more than 300 sales leaders, highlighting the fact that many traditional sales tactics are no longer effective.

The study also outlined the tools and resources that sales teams need to stay afloat and scale their business.

Intercom, which was founded by four Irishmen but is headquartered in San Francisco, runs a business messaging platform for sales, marketing and support. In 2018, the company achieved unicorn status.

In tandem with its research findings, Intercom is also publishing a new book based on the company’s experience in building a billion-dollar business, with insights and advice from the company’s executives.

Prior to the release of the book and the research, spoke to Intercom’s head of sales, LB Harvey, about the sales techniques that have stood the test of time and the approaches that need to change as technology advances.

“Salespeople want to get deals done as quickly as possible, in the path of least resistance”

Sales trends

While the company’s new book, Intercom on Sales, does not shy away from the fact that techniques come and go, Harvey said there are some trends in recent years that have been hugely beneficial for sales professionals.

“With people’s ability to connect via video conference versus just the phone, I do think a lot more business deals are getting done remotely, as opposed to sales reps having to get on planes and fly everywhere.

“I think it allows you to have that human-to-human kind of personal connection, even if you’re not in the same room.”

Of course, it’s unlikely that face-to-face meetings will ever lose their value in the world of B2B sales but, according to Harvey, these are needed far less often than they once were.

A man and woman stand in a modern conference room.

Intercom’s Dublin offices. Image: Carly Wright/Intercom

While she sees video conferencing as an immensely valuable resource for a salesperson, Harvey pointed to an interesting statistic that Intercom discovered while conducting its recent survey.

“It was surprising that more sales professionals said that they would give up video conferencing before they would give up live chat on their website.

“Speaking to how well I know video has changed the game over the last decade or so, I think that really does demonstrate how intensely people who are using live chat and automation today feel about it.”

Referencing another statistic from the study, she added: “Almost 90pc of sales professionals think that using automated chatbots or live chats has significantly improved the customer’s buying experience, and yet only a quarter of businesses are using them.”

Adopting the technology

When asked about Intercom’s typical customer, Harvey said that companies of all sizes have been implementing its live chat software.

“We do see companies that have less than 10 employees adopting live chat, but we do feel like the sweet spot for live chat is to really focus on mid-market enterprises, because that’s where you’re going to see a company not having any challenges staffing the technology,” she explained.

“We truly believe that all industries will benefit from this … We have seen chats and automation to be highly effective across a number of industries.

“We feel that B2B enterprise teams have the most to gain, simply because they have scaled sales teams, a larger amount of leads and that ‘time is of the essence’ mantra from a revenue perspective.”

Two men and a woman sit in a conference room, using iPads. There is a whiteboard on the wall behind them, with notes scribbled on it.

Intercom employees in Dublin. Image: Carly Wright/Intercom

As Harvey pointed out, the majority of businesses still aren’t using chatbots or live chat technology. So where should a business start if that’s something it is considering?

“When you use a tool like Intercom, it’s actually really easy to get started. We have made it very easy to install the messenger onto your website,” she said.

“I think to get your feet wet, it makes sense to start small and really only install your messenger on high intent pages. For us, that would be our pricing page. From that, you can measure success and scale up from there.”

Helping sales teams

Intercom’s study highlighted that just 26pc of sales professionals think their organisation operates at peak efficiency.

While this may seem startlingly low to anybody who’s not well-acquainted with sales, Harvey wasn’t surprised in the slightest. She said this figure can be attributed to the fact that salespeople are almost always looking for a better and faster way to do things.

“In every sales organisation I’ve worked in, when you do employee engagement polls, generally sales teams do score low. At the end of the day, salespeople really embrace the mindset that time is money. Salespeople want to get deals done as quickly as possible, in the path of least resistance.”

With that said, she noted that companies shouldn’t take a back seat when it comes to making sure sales operations teams have the components and support that they need to run smoothly. Intercom believes that communication is imperative to creating an efficient work environment for salespeople.

“One of the things we try to do is have open dialogue between our sales operations teams, sales systems teams and other sales teams. We encourage our sales team to submit queries or ideas on priority items,” Harvey said.

“We try to get together with the management team and go through the sales op roadmap and have some two-way dialogue and make sure that we have the right technology to set our team up for success, while still having some consistency.

“We don’t just want to create a smorgasbord of a bunch of sales tools that can’t possibly be rolled out cohesively, or that will have dubious ROI.”

Management support

Aside from dialogue, Harvey noted that support from management and coaching are paramount to keeping a sales team running as efficiently as possible.

“It comes down to having really great managers who are ready to get in there and provide a lot of coaching or listening to calls, joining calls and really investing in developing the talent that they’ve got,” she said.

Management can also benefit greatly from utilising the right data. Harvey doesn’t just examine attainment data because effective leadership in sales not always as simple as applauding someone who smashes their quota, and often involves looking at the bigger picture.

“I’m a big believer in understanding how someone got where they are. I’d want to know if someone was at 60pc of their quota, but maybe they only got 20pc of their leads or inbound pipeline that they were supposed to, but they went out and found a way to create their own outbound and still get 60pc of their quota,” she explained.

“To me, that’s interesting. I want to understand that data in the broader context of the story of their attainment.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic