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It will come as no surprise that, today, salespeople spend only around a third of their time on core selling activities in front of a customer trying to understand their needs, according to Byron Matthews, president and CEO of Miller Heiman. Research from CSO Insights, which is part of the group, found that reps spend the majority of their time on peripheral activities such as travelling, training, meetings, admin, post-sales account activity, lead generations and research – what he terms the “tedium”. “All that stuff is not really what we call the ‘ingenuity around selling’.”

Moreover, the status quo is set to change in a dramatic way over the next three to five years as digital transforms the sales space. “Technology is going to be a disruptive force in selling. I think we have a huge transformational horizon in front of us. I think sales is going to go through the largest amount of change than any other function in a corporation over the next five to ten years.”

Matthews predicts that the main outcome of the rise of digital is that the “tedium” will be stamped out by technology. “What is going to be left for a rep is the vast majority of their time is going to be on the ingenuity of their job.” Matthew’s organisation conducted a market survey, which found 27 companies that claim a sales-related artificial intelligence (AI) component (narrowed down to 17 that actually had a viable product ready). He highlights a number of examples of how digital will start to transform sales.

Recording conversations

Take a typical web conferencing situation: clearly the online meeting itself saves travel time but then it gets more sophisticated. Matthews explains: “Imagine now if the system were listening to the conversation and it said: ‘Hey, you’re talking 80% of the time; let them talk. Ask these questions.’”

Meanwhile, the system is recording everything the salesperson is saying, and it knows the agenda, so it now categorises what the client is saying by agenda items. There’s no need to take notes; it integrates directly with your CRM, so it cuts down on time spent entering information to the CRM and it also gives you a measure of follow-up needs to happen after the call.

There are further ramifications. “It’s like your online coach if you will. The information is also sent to your sales manager. The technology is creating immense transparency.” The advantage here is that the sales manager receives an unbiased report and knows exactly how the meeting went. This not only saves time but also increases transparency.

Blue sheets

Matthews cites another example: the blue sheet – basically a salesperson’s “strategy on a page” for winning a deal. This can integrate with the CRM (you can use blue sheets in Salesforce. com) but linking this capability to an AI engine makes the system a whole lot smarter, as it begins to learn about how individual sales professionals go about their business.

For instance, consider the situation where a salesperson is unsuccessful in their past, say, three out of four deals: the system picks up underlying patterns and insights, and comes back with suggestions (on-screen prompts) – for example, you didn’t get to that economic buyer or you didn’t identify a coach. “It starts teaching the person as they’re using the methodology… as they’re actually selling… and it finds behavioural patterns and suggest things that they should go do as action items in deals because they’ve got to know the person and they’re seeing patterns and how they use the methodology.”

Previously, that process was just static: you’d fill out your blue sheet, enter it into Salesforce, send it to your manager, have a discussion. “Now the blue sheet has life.” Not only does this save time but it helps both salesperson and manager adhere to the sales methodology. According to Matthews, this is automating some of the routine coaching that lies within the remit of the sales manager – but not all of it – to allow more time for other things.

Reproduced by permission of the International Journal of Sales Transformation. © 2017.

Access The Latest Trends:

If you want to know more about the future of selling, watch Byron Matthews presentation at the Miller Heiman Sales Summit covering ‘The Three Ts Of The Future: Training, Technology and Talent‘, which is based on the latest research and trends in the global sales industry.

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