AI and automation are no longer nice-to-haves. Instead, they've become necessities. Companies that prepare for the changes these technologies will bring will be ahead of the curve. Others will fall behind.
Sounds a bit scary, right? Well, I promise not to start yelling "the robots are taking over! The robots are taking over! AaaAaAaaAh!" too many times in this article.
Though you might think sales is the most people-focused industry, and that robots have no place in such a human business. But technologies such as AI and ML are forcing even the most traditional sellers to rethink their strategies. All this isn't about getting a robot to take your phone calls, but about using AI to support your day-to-day activities, making the stress less so.
So, any leaders looking for ways to transform their bottom line can look to AI to aid their sales teams, processes, and customers.
Ai's capability to process, and utilise, vast numbers of disparate data is where its power lies. It does this at a rate no human being could and even has the potential to update its algorithms based on feedback, learning and adapting as it goes.
It's no surprise then that 63% of executives whose companies have adopted AI report that it resulted in increased revenues in the business areas where it is used, and 44% of executives say AI has reduced costs.
According to Salesforce, AI stands out in a field of fast-growing sales tech. In fact, sales leaders expect their teams AI adoption to grow fast than any other technology, with adoption set to skyrocket by 155% over the next two years.
So, let's get into it, and define:
What Does AI Look Like For Sales?
Artificial Intelligence, on its own, is a term which includes a number of technologies, including machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, deep learning, and more.
All of these technologies help machines perform specific cognitive tasks in a similar way to humans, just with more power behind them.
But where do sales come in? Well, think automation on a bigger scale. These technologies analyse large data sets and use their advanced computational firepower to extract insights from this data.
These insights can then be used to make predictions and decisions.
Obtaining reliable customer data is vital for salespeople's success. But in this day and age, data is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The daily amount of data uploaded every day is set to grow to 463 exabytes by 2025. That's too much for one human being to handle. So, the possession of billions of data points is basically useless for businesses without some way to sift through them.
So, that's where AI comes in. It can wade its way through all this data, organise it, and put it to use. This way vendors get to understand their customers, prospects, and market by looking at the (now neat and clean) data they generate. This can help with:
- Lead generation
- Pipeline monitoring
- Sales forecasting
- Real-time marketing
- Communication with customers
- Enhanced productivity
Speaking about enhanced productivity, AI can really help in its automation of tasks, removing mundane or tedious workloads from your team. This removes time restraints and room for human error. It'll also speed up communication inside your organisation, making it smoother.
AI Use Cases for Sales
Salesforce has found that high-performing sales teams are high-performing sales teams are far more bullish than their underperforming competition on the impact of AI across various use cases.
AI gains businesses an advantage over their competitors that can be very difficult to compensate for. Plus, companies are now expected to be available to their customers at all times via multiple channels, with 64% of consumers expecting brands to respond and interact with them in real-time.
But what areas will AI impact in sales over the next few years?
Sales forecasting. AI systems already exist which can predict outcomes using past data, and use this data to suggest and guide future results. These predictions can include:
- Deals or prospects most likely to close
- Deals or prospects to target next
- New customers whose interest has been piqued
These predictions' accuracy will depend on both the system being used and the quality of the data. But if you get those two things right, AI is capable of revealing future outcomes.
This can also be applied to sales team performance, helping sales managers forecast their team's numbers for the quarter, and take constructive steps based on these predictions.
Communication with prospects. It is very important how and when you reach out to your customers, and AI can help. AI can enable chatbots to work well with the help of natural language processing and can be available round the clock.
Though unable to replace humans, chatbots can be useful when a customer needs a quick answer and can buy some time until a sales rep is available.
But AI extends beyond chatbots. It can also provide salespeople with important info about potential customers that can lead to substantial improvements in communication. The algorithm can figure out the best time to reach out, such as when a website viewer is on the right page. The AI can recognise the visitor's intent, initiate the conversation, and then bring in the sales rep.
Lead scoring and prioritisation. As we've mentioned, AI can look through huge datasets from a variety of sources, and tell you which leads you should prioritise.
This unbiased approach is apparently a more effective way than using human reps, according to Victor Antonio. He suggests human salespeople often approach this in an unscientific way:
"Often, this decision-making process is based on gut instinct and incomplete information. With AI, the algorithm can compile historical information about a client, along with social media postings and the salesperson's customer interaction history (e.g., emails sent, voicemails left, text messages sent, etc.) and rank the opportunities or leads in the pipeline according to their chances of closing successfully."
Expert Recommendations. Some AI systems may begin to recommend sales actions, even telling sales teams which actions the system thinks will make the most sense, based on goals and data insights.
This might be on how to price a deal, whom to target, or which customers to approach with upsells or cross-sells. This takes the time-consuming deliberation out of the sales process, freeing the salespeople up to close deals.
Sales Automation and productivity. Like we've said before, AI can automate and augment work, by taking away some of the mundane tasks that take your team away from higher-value goals.
This can be as simple as managing your calendar, scheduling meetings, to assessing a sales team's pipeline, all using historic data to make decisions.
Personalised recommendations. New technologies can have an overwhelming effect on the customer experience, which can make selling a heck of a lot easier. This is all about improving the CX, to drive sales. This is where we see personalised recommendations come in.
Obtaining and processing a bunch of customer data becomes worth it when you can personalise the content and experience to suit a user. In fact, more than 50% of consumers are ready to offer their personal data to companies if that means they'll receive more relevant recommendations and content.
An AI algorithm can be created that generated personalised recommendations, which can be improved with every new piece of feedback or data fed back.
How to Prepare Your Team for AI-Assisted Sales
- Foster a data-driven mindset. In order to create the space for AI, your business needs to rely on data, as well as their own expertise. Successful companies in this space embed data into their core business functions.
“My motto is ‘People don’t do what you expect, they do what you inspect,’” says Chester Liu, VP of Growth at Allego.
“Sales leaders can influence their teams to be data-driven in a number of ways. This includes being transparent about using your data to make decisions and making sure everyone on the team who needs access to data has it. Be strategic about which metrics you want to measure. These will rise to the forefront of your team’s attention."
- Monitor and evaluate sales tech. In order to keep up with changes in the rapidly evolving market of sales tech, sales leaders must be up for the challenge. This means being aware of the space, which can be eventually facilitated by AI, which can automatically transcribe analysis to managers.
- Integrate your data. AI tools need access to multiple data sources to train the models and feed them real-time input for analysis. This data might be managed by your company, using CRM, conversations, content analytics, digital interactions, customer success and support systems etc. Then, information from third-party sources or business datasets can be fed into the AI.
- Train your team. Your team must be set up for success with training to fully leverage your AI's capabilities. Although most of the inner workings will be invisible to users, AI works best when a team is trained. They need to be trained on the consistent set of rules the AI will follow, i.e. how the reps should articulate the brand's core positioning, and messaging. By analysing calls, and applying these standards, the AI can give sellers suggestions for appropriate buyer content to follow up with, as well as personalised coaching, and remediation training.
Are the Robots Taking Over?
Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, but no.
There is no doubt that AI is going to transform the sales landscape. However, these tools all gather round their human counterparts. Instead of replacing, AI seeks to augment human salespeople. So, AI tools are not taking jobs, but taking over the work that salespeople don't have the ability or capacity to do.
Instead of leads falling through the cracks, as is common, every lead is contacted, nurtured, and qualified. Once the lead is warmed up, or required human contact, the AI sends them toward a human rep.
In fact, Salesforce has found that as AI gains momentum, people remain the backbone of sales.
Sales remains a growing profession, with the majority of teams increasing the number of reps on staff. In fact, hiring trends show that teams already using AI are more likely to have added reps over the past three years.
“AI is digital, humans are analogue. The difference is important. When we have sufficiently large data sets,
we can rightly hold algorithms to higher standards of accuracy and consistency, but we can’t infuse the
algorithm with judgment, integrity, creativity or compassion.”
— Donal Daly, Executive Chairman, Altify, Inc.
So, it's pretty darn likely that AI won't be "taking over" in the traditional sci-fi sense. The process of sales will almost certainly not be full automated, with no human involvement at all. But, it will become a necessary aid to sales departments and human sales reps in your company - if it hasn't already.