Companies that prepare for and embrace the changes AI brings will thrive. Those that don’t — won’t. It’s as simple as that. But what about those who use AI for sales? That’s a good question!
Sales is traditionally a people-to-people business, but technologies like artificial intelligence are making expert sellers rethink the balance between human and machine.
In fact, automation is already impacting sales, and its influence will only continue to grow. Leaders looking for ways to transform their bottom line should look to artificial intelligence to provide solutions.
The good news is that you can begin to plan for those changes now. So, what does the short-term future of AI for sales look like, and how can you begin using AI to beat the competition?
Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
- What is artificial intelligence in sales?
- The need for automation in sales
- What can AI do for sales?
- The potential future of AI for sales
- The need for more trust in machines to do the job
- The best AI tools for sales
- How you can use AI today
- How can AI be used to increase sales?
- Making the most of sales technology
What Is Artificial Intelligence in Sales?
Artificial intelligence in sales is the use of modern technologies to help machines execute cognitive duties like humans or even more efficiently.
There are numerous smart technologies in artificial intelligence for sales that directly impact your sales career. If you utilize AI for sales efficiently, your performance improves by a considerable margin.
The techniques that artificial intelligence for sales use predicts the leads that clients are most likely to buy from you. AI will help your sales company keep track of sales performance and optimize the prices of products and deals according to the market trends.
The Need for Automation in Sales
Sales has, generally speaking, been slow to adopt AI and automation.
Marketers have been much quicker to jump on the tech-adoption bandwagon. For instance, marketing language software — powered by machine learning — helped JPMorgan Chase increase headline clicks by as much as 450%.
The one notable exception to this has been conversational AI.
According to Salesforce’s recent State of Service report, more than half of service providers will be adding chatbots to their lineup in the next year and a half.
This is a start, but to stay ahead of the competition in today’s sales world, sales teams need to start utilizing AI much more than that.
The Salesforce State of Sales report notes that only 46% of sellers have access to client and prospect data insights (something that 85% of salespeople say helps them produce).
This difference in tech-friendliness between revenue-producing departments is not a surprise. Sales and marketing have always had different ways of approaching the same problems. This is what has led to the difficulty in coordinating account efforts in strategic ways.
However, with so many technologies transforming the landscape, it’s time for sales to jump headfirst into the fray.
Gartner research predicts that 70% of customer experiences will involve some kind of machine-learning component in the next three years.
The first sales teams to adopt AI and pioneer how to use it will have a massive advantage in the near future.
What AI Can Do For Sales
AI has become mandatory for businesses that want to grow and fit in the ever-growing entrepreneurial world. Here is how your sales will benefit from adopting artificial intelligence.
AI givesroom for business strategy development
AI for sales helps you focus on creating strategies for generating more leads.
Artificial intelligence will offload the monotonous tasks that sales reps have through machine learning programs. Therefore, you will have more time on your hands to develop strategies.
With AI, you will execute the following tasks effortlessly:
- Data consolidation.
- Honing customer profiles.
- Selecting content for leads that pave the way for the next steps.
- Sending the next-step content to leads.
With these duties off your hands, you have more time to develop strategies that improve customer experience leading to more profit realization.
AI facilitates the rise of leads
Connecting with every piece of information is time-consuming. Also, qualifying leads, following up with them to build and sustain a business relationship is equally time-consuming.
When you adopt AI for sales, the technologies take on those duties and deliver fast results. Consequently, the leads increase since AI helps you reach out to specific and targeted prospects.
Costs drop significantly
If you adopt artificial intelligence, you automate most of the low-level sales activities.
The result will be cutting the cost of running these activities since AI tools for sales are doing a challenging job for you. Your time and energy are better spent on making more significant profits.
Easier up-selling and cross-selling
With artificial intelligence, sales representatives are better positioned to identify prospects who are likely to buy from them. The sales reps also use AI to determine when they are most likely to make sales.
The AI algorithms pick prospects who are likely to sign up for solutions from your firm or company.
The Potential Future of AI for Sales
The full potential of AI may be generations away, but there are already avenues to integrate the technology into modern sales operations today.
It’s already being used at many businesses, and it’s slowly being adopted by sales.
Nearly 90% of business people who use AI say they already are or are planning to use AI for sales forecasting and email marketing.
In 2018, 21 percent of sales teams were using AI. But by 2020, 54 percent used this technology — a 155 percent increase in two years, and this will continue in 2021 and beyond.
AI does have its limits though.
Salespeople, especially on the enterprise level, need to understand their company, their product, their market, and their buyer exceptionally well.
They need to be able to pull data from multiple sources, interpret it, intuit the needs of others, communicate abstract concepts intelligently, and make decisions on the fly — often with little information available.
That’s unlikely to be completely automated any time soon.
This brings us to the most common fear when talking about AI.
Will it take all our jobs?
In short, no, not for a long time. But not all jobs are completely safe.
Sales jobs that only require basic functional knowledge of the product, basic problem-solving skills, or basic written or verbal communication will likely be replaced by AI in the next decade or so.
All sales operations require some amount of basic communication, and basic communication has increasingly fallen to machines.
What began as door-to-door sales has moved to electronic communication. Websites and chatbots have begun to take over, and they will continue to take over— especially as the basic language capabilities of AI improve.
Consider how this will affect the marketplace in the coming years.
The sales jobs of the near future will shift to things that AI still struggles to do: strategic conversations, complex problem-solving, and human relations.
The majority of sales roles will focus on human relationships and connections. They will focus on situations where people are skeptical of technology, or where the sales apparatus is more complex than merely offering a widget.
If your sales job is largely based on easy-to-answer, back-and-forth conversations, or functional scheduling, expect it to change dramatically — or even go away entirely — within the next two decades.
Sales jobs of the future will require a much deeper understanding of customers and market dynamics than before.
We Must Place Greater Trust in Machines to Do the Job
In order to harness all the capabilities of AI, humans will have to place a basic measure of trust in it to do the reliable, public-facing work that people expect.
There’s a degree of unease that comes with the rapid rise of machine-learning. The notion of AI proliferation can be off-putting for many people.
One thing that causes people to distrust AI is not understanding how it works, or how it arrives at its answers.
I was once asked by a client to explain how we were able to predict churn with higher accuracy. I could explain that we used AI, but I couldn’t do it in a more precise way.
I wasn’t being cagey; it’s simply a fundamental limitation of AI — specifically deep learning — as it exists today.
We don’t teach AI how to solve a problem, we teach AI how to teach itself to solve a problem. This means that the exact method it uses is often unknown, or too complex to understand.
This might sound problematic, but it’s not any different than what we experience when working with humans.
If you were asked,
“What did you have for breakfast this morning?”
You might respond by saying,
“A piece of toast.”
If you were pressed to answer why you ate that, you might say,
“I really like toast,” or “Toast was the only food I had at home.”
But that doesn’t explain why toast tastes good to you, why you chose it over going to the store, or how your brain even knows to classify it as food instead of some other inanimate object.
When we make decisions, it’s often because they feel correct. The true reason “why” is often well beyond our present grasp. Our brain simply does what it does. AI works in very much the same way.
Not understanding why a machine made a decision is usually only problematic when lives are at stake, like with self-driving cars, but for more mundane decisions, it’s not an issue.
If unsure, professionals can navigate this opacity by testing early and testing often to ensure the AI is making proper decisions.
It’s important to continually monitor what data is driving your AI’s decision-making, both to ensure the data sources are sufficient for driving the predictions and minimize the risk of undesirable bias due to limited data.
Distrust is something we need to get over if we’re going to effectively use AI in sales. Just because we don’t know how the AI solved a problem doesn’t mean we can’t trust it.
The Best AI Tools for Sales
When looking for an artificial intelligence tool to increase your sales, Troops is a great place to start.
The tool has brilliant salesforce slack integration that will help you automate critical workflows. You will also benefit from the insights the tool delivers, making your work easier.
Conversica is another vital tool in sales. The assistants in this tool will engage with the leads landing on your website.
Conversica will use AI to automatically contact and converse with the leads by tailoring appropriate responses to their queries.
Node uses proprietary artificial intelligence to go through online data carefully and identifies potential customers.
Node will analyze your company’s target buyers and deliver more prospects to you. In the process, Node continues to learn more about your buyers and improves future predictions.
The benefit of using Exceed is that it will engage with the leads entering your pipeline by using a human touch in communication.
The conversations are two-way, meaning the lead can ask questions and get appropriate responses through email or chat.
Appier uses AI to analyze buyers’ databases to segment them and predict how likely they are to react to sales campaigns.
With insight from Appier, you will not need to hire data scientists to analyze the market for you. You save both money and time used for research.
How You Can Use AI Today
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how you can stay on top of the game by using AI for sales to improve your efficiency, speed, and communication.
There are 3 main tasks that you can improve with AI in customer-facing sales right now.
We’ll look in-depth at each of these use cases to see how AI changes things, and how you can utilize it.
AI Use Case #1: Research
The struggle to find clients, research, and keep CRM data up-to-date is a task that sucks time and energy from a sales team’s day.
AI technology designed specifically for research can turn that job into a largely automated process.
Here’s the problem — AI cannot function without data, and it needs a lot of it to make high-quality predictions. Any manager who’s tried knows that getting sales teams to enter data consistently can be tougher than picking up the 800-pound phone to make a cold call.
Salespeople are busy.
When faced with winning or losing a commission check, they’re going to push forward and work directly with their accounts, not spend time entering data into a CRM system.
Luckily, AI and automation tools are also great for data entry.
Technology can’t take all the sting out of paperwork and data entry, but it can help.
Once solidly filed away, the data can then be curated by humans and bots. Salesforce notes that half of sales forecasts are driven by data alone, and that number should increase in the following years.
Now the only question is, how do you do use that data?
Finding the Perfect Client Fit
One of the best things you can do is put AI to work helping you find new prospects.
This can be done by humans, but it takes a lot of time and effort.
Most sales groups rely on guesswork, buoyed by rudimentary data-clustering, to map out their strongest prospects.
Plenty of smart salespeople (and managers) operate under the belief that they should keep repeating their most successful sales efforts — with the same types of customers — until they no longer get hits.
Instincts and guesswork alone won’t cut it in the future. If you don’t use AI, then you’ll almost certainly miss out on new selling streams.
AI can help identify good fits and unlikely prospects that more traditional methods would miss.
For Instance, the data might suggest that the director or vice president of sales is your best bet at companies within a certain range of revenue. However, companies in that range might have dramatically different go-to-market models.
One may be a great fit, another may not be.
During my tenure as a sales leader at my company, we believed that our product was best-suited for a moderately sophisticated sales organization, typically companies in the $25 million to $250 million revenue range.
By using our own AI for account selection, we noticed that the companies’ go-to-market complexity formed a better indicator of their lead quality for us.
This meant that companies with as much as $5 billion in revenue suddenly became fair game if they presented a compatible structure.
If that doesn’t convince you, then this stat might — investments in AI for sales has already exceeded $5.2 billion.
AI in Practice
I’ve seen this work firsthand. My company had a client that asked us to predict customer churn by looking at user engagement data.
With the help of AI, we were able to predict which customers churned with 45% higher accuracy than previous estimates. In the process, we found that 80% of the prediction improvement came from the structure and profile of the company using the product, not the engagement data.
None of those parameters were discernible by splitting up companies by industry, location, revenue, or other traditional classifiers.
Another time we asked our machine learning software to cull data for prospects related to the word “wine.”
Instead of concentrating only on wineries, the software returned unexpected potential customers:
- Fine restaurants
- Places in Napa Valley that had wine-oriented themes
- Sommeliers who didn’t have “wine” explicitly stated in their bios
It didn’t matter that these suggestions contained no direct mention of “wine.” To the algorithms, those keywords were associated with wine.
Most humans wouldn’t immediately make all of these connections without some knowledge of the subject matter — and certainly not at the scale of millions of businesses — they would lose out on hundreds of potential new customers.
Allowing automation to take over is the key to uncovering revelations like these in the future. Nearly 62% of top sales pros say that this kind of guided-selling will become essential moving forward.
AI Use Case #2: Communication
Consider all the low-level conversations that go on in sales that AI could take care of.
Many sales teams have already started adopting chatbots to do just this — freeing up reps for deeper relationship building and strategic conversations.
The possibilities for AI to improve communication will only grow as AI improves.
AI already reads at roughly the same level as humans.
- It can comb through complicated documents more accurately — and at far greater speeds — than even the best associates
- It can compose basic emails in ways that are strikingly similar to humans
- It can respond to simple messages faster and more accurately than any human could
And the technology is only getting better.
Companies like Drift have found that people don’t mind interacting with a machine as long as they receive the help they need.
In fact, 55% of respondents to a recent survey by Drift said they would enjoy receiving a quick response to an easy-to-answer question from a chatbot.
Platforms such as Conversica — a conversational AI service for reaching consumers — are already taking the early communication steps out of the hands of business development representatives. The technology can answer basic product questions and schedule meetings without human intervention.
Drift’s bot (which my company uses) is another service that helps clients get answers to basic questions without human involvement.
Knowing What to Say and When to Say It
Taste, tact, and timing are crucial parts of relationship building in sales. Knowing what to say and when to say it is what separates the best salespeople from the rest. It involves making a judgment call about what prospects need and want, and understanding enough about their lives to appear at an opportune moment.
The underlying fuel for this skill is information. The more insight a sales representative has, the more empowered he or she will be to judge taste and timing.
Sales reps commonly spend between 6.5 and 8.8 hours every week gathering information about prospective clients.
That’s a lot of time they could spend actually talking with prospects.
AI can be instrumental in giving reps the tools to say the right thing at the right time.
Gong and Chorus are great resources for this. They’re always publishing research gathered from their call analytics platforms.
You can learn the most effective conversational tone, the best proportion of listening versus talking, maximum continual talk time, and endless other insights.
At my company, we’ve coached our sales reps based on this research, and we have seen an uptick in close rates as a result.
Deciding the Best Next Move
A big part of sales reps’ daily conundrum is trying to judge what they should do next.
They’ve made a connection with a contact, but what should they do now to keep warming that relationship without overstepping or being impatient? Should they:
- Schedule a meeting?
- Connect with another member of the team?
- Send a piece of content or a reminder email?
These actions may seem similar or interchangeable, but the difference between the right connection and the almost right one can make or break an organization’s profitability in the long term.
Poorly judged communication can quickly weaken budding relationships.
AI for sales can help by collecting and inputting data without any leg-work from the sales rep. This leads to more accurate customer profiles that guide your reps to the most profitable course of action.
Platforms like Outreach and SalesLoft enable companies to experiment with different channels and cadences of communication to discover the most productive methods for different markets.
My company uses Outreach to find the perfect balance between phone calls and emails when prospecting.
We’ve found that a roughly equal number of calls and emails is optimal, with the addition of post-call email reminders providing an extra boost.
Without assistance from platforms like these — that utilize AI — we would be doing a lot more guesswork, and making a lot more mistakes.
AI Use Case #3: Training
Coaching salespeople might be one of the broadest and most transformational applications of AI for sales.
Reps need help understanding what mix of behaviors actually drive deals, and AI’s predictive capabilities can make this process speedy and accurate. In fact, the highest performing sales teams were 2.3X more likely to use AI guided selling.
AI can help direct training efforts, and in some cases can help predict where a deficiency may be before it appears.
Mobile devices work as great training devices because your sales reps all likely have some combination of phones, laptops, and tablets with them all the time.
For instance, the microlearning app Qstream can send training questions directly to the phones of sales reps. They answer the questions, and the managers review them.
This helps the reps grow their knowledge and confidence quickly and efficiently. Plus, it tells managers where sales deficiencies lie, and if more training is needed.
Of course, the best training pairs virtual training with in-person training by managers and peers.
Sales is all about relationships. But establishing good relationships takes time, technology, and training. Sales organizations that explore new technologies and training methods will see their reps improve faster and stand out in the sales world.
How AI Can Be Used to Increase Sales
AI for sales identifies patterns that help a sales rep determine leads that will most likely bring profits. These leads are easy to convert into deals reducing the time you would need to close a deal.
Artificial intelligence for sales also formulates actions based on actual data that leads to the most profitable outcome.
Sales representatives and managers who use AI for sales can see the salespeople likely to bring returns and other promising deals.
With this information, you will focus your attention on vital salespeople that are decision-makers.
Algorithms in artificial intelligence for sales study your deals, identify the ones you won and lost, and then synchronize all data points. AI for sales will then recommend the promising leads and suggest techniques you will utilize to approach these leads.
Dos and Don’ts of Making the Most of Sales Technologies
Sales teams that adopt AI stand to gain many benefits, just keep a few dos and don’ts in mind when you’re implementing high-tech solutions.
All these forms of AI assistance will enable sales professionals to get back to doing what they do best — selling — something they currently spend just 34% of their time doing, according to Salesforce.
With so many benefits associated with technology adoption, salespeople should think in terms of how to use innovation, not should they use it. Smart companies will start embracing AI today.
Also published on Medium.