Episode 14: Erik Lyon

Episode 14: Erik Lyon Featured Image

Can virtual reality create the ultimate sales environment? Join us in this episode of ’73 and Sunny’, where we sit down with Erik Lyon, who brings a decade of experience in managing sales teams and a background in entrepreneurship. Now at Verse.ai, Erik navigates the integration of advanced technologies with traditional sales roles, exploring how AI is transforming the landscape. This episode delves into the evolving role of Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) in the era of automation, the impact of technology on sales tactics, and Erik’s unique insights into building effective sales structures. Tune in to discover how blending old-school sales grit with new-age technology can redefine success in the competitive tech market.




Damien: Hello and welcome to 73 and Sunny, the podcast about the journey of getting things just right. We talk to tech sales and marketing leaders about how they’re growing, dialing in best practices, and getting closer to that sweet spot. Today, we’re happy to have Eric Lyon join us. Eric has been managing sales teams for the past decade, has been an entrepreneur, and is currently managing sales at verse.

So Eric, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it. Thank you, Damien. Excited. It was more of a mandated thing, but I still appreciate you taking the time. Of course. Maybe just give us a little bit of background in terms of how you got into sales. I know that I didn’t get into sales thinking that I was going to be, Oh, as a little kid, I wanted to be a scientist or, policeman or something like this.

Not a lot of kids say, I want to be a salesperson when I grow up. But tell me your journey and how you got into sales. I 

Erik: think like most of these stories, this one’s fun, but I think I have two introductions. I first started off, I was in college, I was bartending, and It was friends with a guy who ended up just hitting me up with a, trying to remember exactly what it was.

His sister was engaged to someone who was recruiting for summer sales in Minnesota for alarms. And somehow they continued to talk to me enough about how much money was possibly available that I agreed to move for six months up to Minnesota. And then continued to do that job, I think for three or four years and had a lot of success, but it’ll teach you a lot of lessons, knocking door to door like that.

And finally there was just a moment of, okay, I need to get away from this. I’m making good money, but I don’t know if I want to knock doors for the next 40 years. So I had a friend through rugby who brought me into inside sales and it’s been one kind of continuous journey from there. Okay. 

Damien: And then, so you went from bait, literally outside sales, not getting on people’s exterior doors to inside sales with as an SDR or BDR, or, there, there’s a lot of the acronyms for the inside sales teams these days, but I’d love to get your thoughts on the relationship between SDRs.

And technology now, because I think there’s a lot of great technologies that are doing, I think a good amount of the lifting for, or what was typically in the past an SDR function. So I’d love to get your thoughts as to, Hey where are SDRs right now in the future? Where do you see SDRs, especially with a lot of the automation, because a lot of the.

SDR function is on the volume of just churning through a lot of these and qualifying a lot of these these different prospects and suspects throughout the funnel. So what are your thoughts on SDRs and technology? 

Erik: I don’t entirely know. But I’m starting to question it a lot. So I think like many salespeople in my past, I always liked the concept of SDRs and I think more and more, I think I look at the way the market is limiting the effectiveness of volume.

And then I look at are the economics of that at each business. And I more and more, I’m being convinced that the economics don’t always make sense. Just not only just from the salary perspective, but the tech stack that is used for them, the management that then needs to lead them.

Pardon me, just wonders if we need to bring in salespeople at multiple different levels and have them be in charge of prospecting though. Now they really point to that should be a market and lead effort. But at the same time, I think it’s it’s a. So at the same time you would use that as your feeder program for your sales, there’s nothing better than finding a hungry salesperson that is willing to put in the work as an SDR, get them early in their career in those most formative years.

And if you can retain that person, sometimes that rationalizes the whole department, but from a CAC perspective, it seems difficult to be successful these days. 

Damien: And by CAC for any of the listeners that don’t know, when you’re talking about CAC, you’re talking about customer acquisition costs. Correct.

Yeah. And I could see that where you want to have a feeder program or like a minor leagues for your up and coming sales people. I get that. But I also think that based on a different sale, like if your sales cycle is pretty short maybe you don’t need an SDR because then that, that would elongate the cycle.

But if you’re talking about pure enterprise, really long, 9, 12, 24 months, sales cycles. I don’t think that you want your super high value AEs calling on people that they’re going to be getting a note, no from for, 99 percent of the time. Like I, I don’t know. I think it, it might also depend on, on, on your sales cycle, your sales pitch, what, what the value is to your, Prospective customers.

So I do think that there’s a, definitely a place for SDRs, but to your point, maybe it’s, maybe we need to re imagine what that might look like. 

Erik: I think I’m heavily biased as well, just from early startup culture, where you have to educate your customer as to who you are and what it is you do as well.

It within the sales forces and Oracle’s and Amazon’s, I’m sure there’s Elements of people already know who you are and it’s trying to make sure that you’re top of mind when something comes up and they see you as the solution. So it, a lot of this might be from the angle I’m coming at. 

Damien: Right.

And we’ve had a lot of entrepreneurs on 73 and sunny. So help me understand your experience of being an entrepreneur and that startup culture and what made you do that and then also then now, Hey, listen, I’m okay with, being an employee instead of being, the owner, founder, CEO. 

Erik: It’s interesting to say this to my boss, but I think the reason that I’ve done that is because I don’t like having bosses.

But so done it twice now, once with a solar company, which came out of security and one time within marketing. And I think I’ve learned a huge amount during those times. And at the same time was not all that successful. And I credit that first to not looking for funding. I think that’s important, but.

I think everyone likes the concept of being their own boss, but also, uh, coming up and fixing problems. I’m a big patterns person. I went to school for engineering and I think every business is viable if you find the right way to do it in many different ways, but there’s a lot of structure parts of it that I enjoy.

Damien: Yeah. And I think that. You’re always going to have a boss and if you’re, if you, whether it’s you and me, or if, I report to a CEO or the CEO reports to a board, or if the board reports to the shareholders or whatever it might be, even if, you have a small company your boss is at ultimately your customers.

Erik: Yeah and it really comes down to structure. So I think I like to develop the structure versus work within someone else’s hence. Yeah. Now that I’m able to work collaboratively on structure I like leadership in many ways is it allows me that type of flexibility and problem solving without kind of the same pieces that come into being an entrepreneur.

But I patterns and structure of it all is really solving problems is what gets me excited. 

Damien: And I think that I totally agree with that. That’s what I would hope any salesperson would want. It’s I want to solve your problem and I think I can solve your problem with our solution.

So that I think is, should be the heart of it. Unless then it’s just drudgery, right? Then you’re just selling something that you don’t really believe in and selling something to, to people that you’re not even sure is going to be helpful. But that structure that you talk about, I think is important.

So let’s maybe talk a little bit more about the sales structure and some of the lessons set. That you’ve learned in terms of sales management and maybe, what’s what’s, what are you finding right now in terms of hiring new salespeople in terms of the struggles or, Hey, listen, it’s a great market, maybe it’s it’s a tough market or all of the different solutions or technologies that can help onboard people.

Onboard new salespeople make them more successful faster. And so that helped me understand your perspective on, on that structure at the top of the funnel for hiring new salespeople. 

Erik: I question it all the time and I’m not exactly sure. I think it, we’ve seen so much interest in change in that space.

So radically and quickly since COVID. So first you had that kind of great resignation where. It seemed that people had a new sense of what they deserved and what they wanted. And then with insurance or excuse me, interest rates changing there was such like a radical overcorrection where it just seems like every time I looked at LinkedIn, Huge layoffs were happening left and right within tech.

And I think that we’re seeing that both were right. And I am interested in seeing where it settles out in a couple of years, both in that. Remote work and the flexibility, like employees are able to control a lot more of who they look at and what they expect from a job at the same time.

I think what we’re doing is getting rid of some of that the amount of stagnant employees that have been somewhere too long. And potentially do not have the same level of production that they once did, or at least the efficiency of it. So for me, at least my fear is always trying to weed out the difference between the two who’s that hungry person who’s going to thrive within a new environment and able to see the vision of what this position can have, as opposed to those people that.

Potentially left a role and that they have five or seven years of experience and you’re thinking that you’re just found a diamond in the rough and little do you know, you’ve just found yourself a very frustrated employee. 

Damien: Yeah. And I think that’s, it’s interesting in terms of stagnant employees and not getting motivated.

And it goes back to what we were talking about. Hey, listen, can I solve a problem? Can I help someone is not, and I don’t think that motivation comes from Helping a company, but I think it comes from wanting inherently to help people. And if they’re at a company grade or if they’re a person and they need new windows or they need a new door garage, whatever it might be that I think there is hopefully a sense.

of altruism in the sales structure to be able to make sure that people are just being good people. And I think sometimes salespeople will get a bad rap for just being highly motivated just by money, which is also, I think not far from the truth, but I do, I would hope that a lot of this has to do with wanting to help other people.

But to your point about one mistake I make though. 

Erik: I always want to try to hire projects and people that I see the potential of getting them there. I actually find an interest in the employee that scares me is the one that’s very money motivated. But like how do you screen for someone that’s a sound project as opposed to someone that you’re taking on a lot of work and really probably should have got someone that has that good foundation already.

Damien: It’s a good question. And I think it just comes down to being able to relate to people during the interview process. I don’t know if being motivated by money is a bad thing in sales and everyone is motivated because you can help. People at a rapid clip and everyone wins, right? It’s people say, Oh, the sales just coin operated, right?

You just, put it in and they just keep running and running. And people are motivated by whatever it is. No one is volunteering for these companies. It’s I’ll be a project analyst. I’ll be a financial planner. I’ll do no one is, no one’s volunteering for this. It’s all for money.

But I think in sales, because there is so much stress, there is so much. At the end of a month or at the end of a quarter at the end of a year, people are saying, Oh my God, I need to get this done. And I think that’s, that is, those couple of weeks of a year is really what people focus on it of saying, gosh, I don’t know if I want to be a salesperson because it’s so money driven, but I think everyone’s money driven.

I think maybe it’s just more apparent in sales. But I wanted to go back to your point, Eric, about, stagnant employees or efficiency, because I do think. A lot of that has to come from the, just the drudgery of doing all of this. Oh, I need to put it into Salesforce or I need to do this and it’s just not sales.

It’s anything, but some of that efficiency I think is being looked at very carefully to be replaced by AI so that these are like the very. Low value types of things, but high time costs activities that are now being done by AI. Like it’s great. We use gong internally and gong is a, does a summary.

And then it also can create a follow up email based on the. The action items that you in a customer or prospect just talked about. That is huge. And that is just drudgery that is taken off the plate of a lot of the sales team. So what’s your take on AI and taking away some of that low level value activity that does end up take up, taking up a ton of time for normal salespeople?

Erik: I think we’re seeing it. In many ways, but I think we’re probably a couple years away from actually having it materialize. Seems like that’s going to be the best time to be a good salesperson. AI has just struggled so significantly at persuasion and yet all of the elements that salespeople do complain about to your point, whether it be a recap email.

Whether it’s going back to log notes, disposition of records, so much of that is the part that’s become automated. I think that we all see where we need that to go. That’s the trouble with tech. It’s like we can name seven things that it’s hey, if I could have AI do this part of my job for me, I could focus all my energy into the right things.

Now we’re just waiting for companies to take that and run with it. But absolutely. It is the part that causes burnout. That’s probably the first part that’s going to be automated, which is very exciting. 

Damien: What as a sales manager, what are the technologies that you can’t live without?

Like you need this in order to run the business in order for you to be able to manage up and manage down. What are those things that you need every day? 

Erik: It’s, I think there’s the basics still, which is going to be reporting sales forces, the boat itself for me. There’s a lot of exciting things around it.

So like gong, the ability to go in and accurately get good concepts of what pipeline looks like, what deals are good, being able to. Figure out what opportunity feels good to the employee, but potentially there’s some risk there and not have to go through 10 to 15 minutes of questioning on that opportunity, which drives the salesperson crazy.

But if we can all start at the part that has risk in it and seek to understand why they still feel confident, that part’s beautiful. I would say though, contact center. Software itself, while not as relevant within my roles where things get very exciting just the ability to organize these large groups of activity and people within contact centers.

I feel like I’ve seen significant differences in the last 5 to 10 years there. 

Damien: I would agree that what you just said about technology, regardless of what it is, if it’s salesforce, if it’s gong, if it’s call recording or. Automation for sending messages or whatever it might be, but it’s getting answers, right?

It’s what you said, seeking to understand it’s getting answers as a sales manager. I just want to know, I just want to, is this going to close? Is this not going to close? If it’s going to close, is it going to close this week? Or what are my risks in this? And it’s just seeking to understand or seeking answers.

And I do think that we are getting to the point where it is getting more exciting. To be able to get those answers front and center, like I’m logging into something and I can see a dashboard or I predictively look at this based on the algorithms or AI, Hey, listen this call only had two people or this person has ghosted your sales team for the last two weeks.

And just raising those types of flags is super helpful. I’m not really familiar with what, with the technologies for call centers. So what are some of the things that that are. That you’re seeing in the call center environment that could be game changing. 

Erik: I think it’s distribution of multiple channels is what excites me.

So the premise that it’s easier to communicate with a business than ever. So you’ve got email, phone calls, text messages. You’ve got your facts. But like social media. There’s five channels all under that group. And I think in reality, that’s made life far more difficult for businesses. So I could have someone reach now via any of the regular channels, but I also have people talking about me that I’m supposed to reply to them, but it doesn’t even come to me with social media.

And the, now to sync all of these different communication channels to individual contacts, be able to recognize a holistic view of that one account quickly and then to distribute it accurately and efficiently to the right person I think it took five years longer than when we needed it.

But finally, it seems like businesses are able to organize some of this noise at your largest levels. I think that was driving people crazy for a while. It’s already hard to efficiently do customer service, but When you don’t have a good sense of what you need, it, those large businesses that have the terrible brands for customer service, they were even further behind, whether it be airlines or internet service providers, et cetera.

Damien: Yeah, and I can see with the proliferation of data and the proliferation of different channels to be able to bring all that together is going to be tough to get what we were talking about is get those answers like, Hey, was someone interacting with me or my team? Maybe they weren’t interacting on email or phone or chat, but maybe they were on this particular social channel.

And maybe if you’re not listening for that, that you might not be able to get that right information there. This it brings me to another channel because I really don’t know about this, but a buddy of mine bought one of those Apple Vision Pros, the goggles that are The futuristic thing that everyone’s making fun of.

And he came over to our house this weekend and I tried it out and it’s very cool and it’s mixed reality of the spatial computing where like I can see the things around me, but I can also be doing work very, it’s an, it’s, it can get into virtual and augmented reality.

And it’s cool. I just don’t know if that’s. I don’t know what the use case really is yet for spatial computing, maybe for fun Oh my gosh, I don’t have to go to the movie theater anymore. I can see the movie theater with a 50 foot screen in front of me. But what, I don’t even know what how we would be using that in the business environment.

That’s another chance. 

Erik: It finally came into focus for me, I think with this rollout. First of all, I think it’s so cool to see Apple do something that seems Apple again. Whereas this technology existed already with Oculus and stuff, and yet we’re all talking about it because there’s nothing better than seeing it done well.

But it was, there was a review of it where it showed it was a weird animation, but realistic animation, I would say within FaceTime calls on it. And that’s where it clicked that I think the one that makes the most sense to me is remote work, being able to have like sales teams in person, but remote.

So something that I constantly feel like I’m missing is being able to walk around cubes or behind employees, see what they’re doing, listen to a call easily. But it’s also just how you learn from your peers or those water cooler moments of talking to people in other departments. I. Think it was probably five years ago, how ridiculous it sounded that big enterprises were buying conference rooms for the metaverse.

I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. But then you just see these silly things like kids using skins within video games. And you start to realize you’re going to have a personality and remote work. And at the same time, like if I can just. Here, your conversation with someone out of like the way I used to, instead of waiting for someone to say, I need help.

That to me is a game changer. If I could just sit there and see my entire team talk to people in a casual fashion, as opposed to everything needing to be like an actual meeting, I think it’ll make efficiency like a very good balance of all the benefits of remote work, the benefits of in person.

Damien: That is interesting to me. I hadn’t thought of having it be connecting people more in the in the metaverse or in the whatever verse that it’s basically, cause everyone, or I should say not everyone, but I think because I’m in Silicon Valley that I think, oh, everyone’s doing the same thing.

Everyone is working remotely, but they’re not. But I think. Maybe for those companies that need to, or are, have shifted gears would find that valuable to be able to have, again, what we’re talking about with the efficiency, right? With the efficiency of AI and then coupled with, Hey, listen, we can have AI and we can have a remote workforce, but we don’t need to pay for a remote workforce or we don’t have to pay for any of those buildings or conference rooms.

We can just do all this digitally, which to me is crazy. 

Erik: Yeah. I think the conference room is the piece I miss the most of going into the office. You just all sit down with a problem and you just all have to hash it out. Whether it’s writing on glass or just the ability to interrupt each other to point something out.

Sometimes you just need to all beat it out in a conference room until you figure out exactly what you need. 

Damien: Is that what is that a part of what it’s, what the promise is? I don’t even know. Like I didn’t even, is it like everyone can be around in this circle? I think I’ve seen some Facebook stuff, but.

Not with the Apple. Is that one of 

Erik: them? It was a huge corporation. I can’t remember the name. But they paid a absurd amount of money for a virtual conference room. So I guess that’s something that I’m bringing into this conversation is that’s always where I start with this metaverse as I think about was too, it was I think there was like Birkin or something had made a handbag in the metaverse that costs like 10, 000 and there was a conference room.

So anytime I think of the metaverse, I’m thinking of conference rooms and someone walking in with a very expensive handbag that doesn’t really exist. 

Damien: There was one of the things that was on the Apple thing was it was a Gucci. It was like a 20 minute commercial for Gucci and it was a Gucci handbag, but it was also immersive.

So it’s Oh, that’s crazy. And you could take sketches from Gucci and you can hold it up and you can go like this. And it was just crazy. It was nuts. It was a little crazy. So 

Erik: I’m telling you that it never made sense to me. And it’s starting to, I think that’s going to be a whole thing. I had a friend whose son stole his credit card and bought a whole bunch of skins for a video game.

And I was thinking it’s ridiculous. And then how is that any different than us buying clothes to try to impress our peers, that’s going to happen. 

Damien: And it is, we have four kids and my kids spend much more than I would, which is 0 on any skin. I was like, does this help you fight in the game? Does this help you?

Stay alive in the game. They’re like, no, we’re just doing it. And sometimes I think that’s just, it’s just not a good use of your money. But what do I know? I’m just a dad, buckle up, Damien. It’s coming. Yeah. Erik, listen, thank you very much for the time. I really appreciate it and best of luck to you because we’re a jointed the hip here.

I really appreciate you taking the time and looking forward to Other successful news stories from you and the rest of the team. Yeah best of luck to you as well, Damien. I 

Erik: hope you nothing but success. Thanks, Erik. Take care.