When it comes to improving the performance of their sales teams, organisations are willing to invest heavily in things like employee development and sales consulting services, but they are often slightly more sceptical and resistant to artificial intelligence, because it is a technology that has been hyped for decades.
Nevertheless, while some healthy scepticism is sensible, the reality is that AI has already entered the sales environment and is going to play an increasingly prominent role in future. In this article, we go beyond the hype and take a closer look at how artificial intelligence will be used and why you should get on board.
Reducing Sales Tedium
Although salespeople are primarily employed to make sales, the reality of modern roles is that a lot of their time is occupied by other things, such as gathering information, arranging meetings and inputting data into CRM systems. This can be thought of as the tedium of sales – essentially the necessary but mundane side tasks.
Ultimately, these tasks keep your salespeople away from what they are really hired to do and what they are experts at, which is speaking to potential buyers and generating sales. This aspect can be thought of as the ingenuity of sales – creatively or innovatively meeting customer needs and providing solutions to problems.
Perhaps the most important use for artificial intelligence in the sales world is going to be addressing this imbalance by taking over some of the mundane tasks, or at least taking over some of the heavy lifting. As a result, your salespeople will be able to spend more of their time on core sales activities.
“20 percent of a salesperson’s time is tied up generating their own leads, doing their own research,” says Jim Dickie, co-founder of CSO Insights, speaking at the 2017 ELEVATE Conference. “[AI] is removing the tedium because, 24/7, it is looking at all the information available via the internet, via social media, inside your own systems.”
Improving Sales Effectiveness
Over recent years, it has become increasingly clear that something needs to be done to improve sales effectiveness. According to the CSO Insights Sales Performance Optimization Study, the percentage of salespeople meeting or exceeding quota has been declining every single year, falling from 63 percent in 2012, to 55.8 percent in 2016.
This decline in effectiveness is one of the reasons why companies are increasingly relying on things like sales consulting and employee development programmes. In the current business climate, products and services do not provide a sufficient competitive advantage, but the way you sell can.
It is here that the value of artificial intelligence really comes into play, because the technology can be used to dramatically improve effectiveness. In addition to taking away some of the tedium, AI can draw from data to help identify the best opportunities, or for lead scoring, meaning less time wasted on low potential chases.
“All opportunities are not created equal,” Jim Dickie says. “There are a certain set of attributes that make an opportunity less likely or more likely. Have they engaged us before? Is this the type of person we should be talking to? AI is going in and taking a look at things, it’s taking a look at past results – wins, losses and no decisions.”
AI Guiding Behaviour
In the B2C environment, artificial intelligence is already being used all the time and some of the most obvious examples of this can be seen with services like Amazon and Netflix, which make use of data gathered from their customers to make seemingly intelligent recommendations or suggestions.
For example, when purchasing products on Amazon, you will encounter “Customers who bought this also bought…” messages, which are used to recommend additional purchases. Similarly, Netflix makes use of AI and its data gathering to provide recommendations of what else to watch, based on what you have just finished watching.
While similar technology can be used to guide consumer behaviour in the B2B world, it can also be used to guide the behaviour of salespeople as well, using data to make suggestions for the next course of action.
“AI makes a recommendation: people who bought X, also bought Y,” says Dave Boyce, Chief Strategy Officer for InsideSales.com, on the Playmakers podcast. “It’s not a huge leap to say: people who called X also called Y. If I’m on a complex deal with multiple decision makers, I’d like to know who else to call to make my deal more successful.”
Artificial intelligence is a technology that has generated significant buzz over the years, and it has now made its way into the sales environment, where its influence is only going to grow in the years ahead. Going beyond the hype, the main uses for the technology will be in reducing some of the tedium of sales and guiding salespeople’s behaviours, so that they are better equipped to go after high-quality opportunities and are ultimately more effective.
Discussion about artificial intelligence was prominent at the 2017 ELEVATE Summit. More information about the 2018 event, which will take place on June 20th, can be found by clicking here.