Stephanie Sullivan, Growth Operations, And RingDNA


One of the most frequently-used phrases at business events these days is “the future of work.” It’s increasingly clear that artificial intelligence and other new technologies will bring substantial changes in work tasks and business processes. But while these changes are predicted for the future, they’re already present in many organizations for many different jobs. The job and incumbent described below is an example of this phenomenon. It’s a relatively new job that’s made possible in part by AI and related tools.

Tech startups are creating a whole set of new job types, and one set of them revolves around growth. There are Growth Managers, VPs of Growth, Growth Analysts, Growth Leads, and a variety of other jobs devoted to helping companies grow. One successful incumbent of the growth-oriented roles is Stephanie Sullivan, Director of Growth Operations at ChowNow, which develops online ordering for restaurants without charging them commissions on orders, but instead charges a monthly subscription fee. The company, based in Los Angeles, has raised over $60 million in venture capital and says it has helped restaurants generate over $1 billion in revenue, so the growth approach seems to be working.

Although there are a number of common attributes of growth managers, each one is somewhat different. Sullivan reports to the VP of Growth and has a focus on operational capabilities that turn prospects into customers. She works particularly on the top of the prospect funnel, trying to move leads along in the sales process and operationalize a disciplined prospecting and selling process. She acts as a bridge between marketing and sales, helping marketing to deploy targeted campaigns at scale, target audience segments, and analyze the effectiveness of campaigns, calls, demos, and meetings with prospects in terms of their impact on conversions. Attribution of leads is a key concern of hers as well; she wants to know where the leads are coming from in order to invest more in those areas and also to provide as much data on that lead as possible to the sales team. Many of these issues can be supported by technology, and Sullivan focuses on making effective use of ChowNow’s “tech stack” and its marketing automation capabilities.

RingDNA and Howard Brown

One of the key vendors Sullivan works closely with is ringDNA, another LA-based company that offers various tools to facilitate communications with customers and enhance the likelihood of a sale. The company’s CEO and founder, Howard Brown, is not your typical tech CEO; he has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and spent five years working as a licensed marriage, family and child therapist. Brown developed and successfully sold several businesses that developed online and communications capabilities for other therapists and then for all other types of businesses.

Perhaps unusually for a therapist, Brown was always focused on analytics and their impact on success. He noticed, for example, that when a potential therapy client called about getting help for an eating disorder, the vast majority of them were female. If they found a number to call on the web, and then they called and were connected with a male therapist, there was a 95% abandonment rate. He began to try to route such calls to the person most likely to help solve the client’s problem, and in effect he is doing that now with ringDNA for tech companies.

RingDNA began as an app to get and analyze critical information about sales leads. That’s still one of its functions, but it’s gotten smarter and developed more capabilities over time. Now it is a tool for inside sales people—or Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) as ChowNow refers to them—to make more calls, understand what’s working and what isn’t in their calls, suggest next best actions, and generally improve their performance.

RingDNA is both a communications platform and an analysis tool, and it’s closely aligned with Salesforce.com. It provides the phone numbers that customers dial, it matches different campaigns with different phone numbers, and collects all phone calls, emails, and SMS messages for later analysis. Using this information, it analyzes the ROI on phone calls. All of the information it collects about customer interactions goes into Salesforce.

Over the past several years, ringDNA has added several AI capabilities to its offerings. Since it has data from 180 million phone calls (converted into text), it can employ supervised machine learning to predict what messages will be successful in getting a prospect to agree to a demo or meeting. Brown says that the company’s “demo model” has a 92% success rate of predicting whether the language used by a rep will lead to a demo. Such models are very helpful to sales reps and SDRs in learning to adopt the practices of high performers, which are available in an online library.

RingDNA analysis is particularly useful to sales, pre-sales, or service managers, who can use the tools to advise reps—sometimes even in real time—how their calls can be more successful. If managers are listening to a call—either recorded or in real time—they can see insights surfaced by the system and annotate them. The ringDNA system might say, “rep did a poor job handling the competitive landscape,” and the manager can click thumbs up or down on the comment, as well as writing additional notes. The system also determines which people on the calls talk how much of the time, so if the discussion is excessively one-way the rep can be trained to avoid it.

RingDNA also has a rule engine that provides recommended interventions for sales reps during a call, such as mentioning the possibility of a demo when the prospect asks about a feature or function. If the rep does make the recommendation, ringDNA is then able to observe if it helps the outcome. In effect, it is able to improve the rule engine with machine learning.

While these capabilities worked well before the pandemic, they are particularly well-suited to a time when salespeople can’t visit customers face-to-face. Field Sales has become Inside Sales, and salespeople can’t read customer cues when they’re not in front of the customer. Demand has increased substantially at ringDNA during the COVID period. Not surprisingly, the company is working on the ability to analyze Zoom calls.

Applying ringDNA at ChowNow

Stephanie Sullivan pointed out that ChowNow uses multiple channels for its marketing, so attribution of where leads come from is both complicated and important. And attribution, she says, is one of the strongest priorities for ringDNA. The software can attribute different leads and prospects to different campaigns based primarily on the number the prospect calls, and determine that a campaign helped result in a sale. It can measure the success of each campaign and each channel in promoting it. If somebody calls a phone number on their website and they want to talk about possible sales, when the call gets transferred over, ringDNA scans the entire CRM (Salesforce) system to find out if there are matching sales or sales development reps who own that relationship, and then routes the call to the right person. If there is no owner, the software helps ChowNow determine which team is best suited to handle an incoming call, based on skills, subject matter expertise and more.

The AI capabilities in the software helps ChowNow improve the performance of its people. Sullivan says that particularly for managers, it empowers them and gives them a coaching tool, as well as increases their productivity as well as their staff’s. When they are hiring for roles on large teams, there is always a question of how many people they can support in their new hire class. But ringDNA’s AI helps them coach at scale, provide feedback on how their first calls went, and store coaching sessions in a library. “The AI speeds our time to ramp up,” she notes.

Sullivan and the Growth function are particularly focused on the sales development representative (SDR) role. At ChowNow they report into the growth function, rather than the sales organization. Their core function, she says, is to get on the phone—call as many prospects as they can, and get as many yes responses as they can. The goal is to secure demos or meetings with sales reps. SDRs, she says, are often pretty transient—it’s an entry-level role. The company needs to improve their efficiency as quickly as possible. RingDNA tracks the words that the reps use most often—“annual subscription,” for example, is more beneficial to the prospect and to ChowNow than “monthly subscription”—and the reps and managers worked together to use the best keywords on calls.

The analytics and AI in ringDNA are also helpful in getting potential customers to answer the phone when the SDRs call. Are they calling at the right time, for example? The company’s customers are restaurants, and ChowNow always thought they would fail to reach buyers if they called them during lunch hours. But the data suggested it was one of the best times to connect with them; restaurant owners and managers aren’t having staff meetings and are often at the restaurant, while the staff is attending to customers.

Sullivan and the growth function also make use of other support tools, such as one called Chili Piper, a tool for automating calendar bookings. Chili Piper automates the booking process for prospects and allows ChowNow to track the source of that meeting, similar to how ringDNA tracks the source of inbound calls.

Stephanie Sullivan concluded our discussion by saying that what she’s doing now at ChowNow isn’t her first job of that type; she has been thinking about prospecting for clients her whole career. She’s worked with several startups, each of which wanted to take an idea and shoot for the moon with it. She did not always work in the technology space, but she saw its value and adapted to the growing industry. Now, she says, her job has become very technical and automation-focused. Every day at work she asks, “When we find something that succeeded, what caused that and how do we do it every day?” Her job consists of defining and measuring the processes that drive growth in order to make them happen more often in a more disciplined way.



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