There’s a lot of talk these days about the future of sales. And a great deal of that discussion is propelled by just two little letters: AI.
Obviously, I’m talking about artificial intelligence.
By default, when you talk about AI, you’re not just talking about the tech behind it. You’re also talking about things that are far more impactful, like how it’s going to change the way we live and work.
Lately, I’ve noticed that many of the narratives around sales and AI are ominous, focusing on things like how and when bots might “steal” people’s jobs, or take over the world. They capitalize mostly on people’s fear of the unknown, without really digging into how AI and bots might be beneficial in the sales space.
Look, there’s no doubt, changes are coming. But the future of sales and AI doesn’t have to be bleak. In fact, AI has the potential to elevate the sales profession in a way that nothing else has in the last twenty years—but only if sales orgs and reps get ahead of this change.
So what do sales reps need to be successful in the future? Let’s talk through it.
4 Ways Reps Can Future-Proof Their Sales Careers
1) Understand the new way people buy
The behavior of the B2B buyer has fundamentally changed.
People don’t shop for business software the way they did ten or even five years ago. In most cases, they’ve done a ton of research on your business and brand before they even hit your site. And once they’re there, they don’t want an aggressive pitch from a sales rep—they want an ally. Someone who can help them solve the business challenges they face without making them jump through hoops.
Despite this, most B2B companies still force old school sales practices on new school buyers. Instead of building relationships, they’re burning prospects with endless and impersonal outreach that goes nowhere.
Not a winning strategy.
This type of conversational sales doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice talking to prospects at scale. With the help of tools that enable one-to-one conversations and data that helps us get to know prospects faster, it’s easier to imagine a future where sales reps elevate their game with AI.
2) Use information to contextualize a sale
Buyers have more choices than ever before, and brands no longer have the option of delivering a bad experience.
But we can’t put the burden of providing information on the buyer. No one wants to fill out a ten-field form just to talk to a rep about a product. That’s a terrible experience.
Now–and in the future—intelligent chat will provide the insight and context sales reps need to guide buyers to a purchase without intrusive forms. Bots powered by AI can even play a role in improving your sales process efficiency.
They can help build your pipeline, handle initial conversations with prospects on your site, and route them to the right sales rep. This allows businesses to scale conversational sales while maintaining a one-to-one connection with prospects.
3) Own the friendly/strong sales persona
Sales will always need humans, plain and simple. But the rep’s role needs to be elevated from mere touchpoint to trusted guide in the sales process.
“Humans will always need help from a rational point of view, and an emotional point of view,” Steli Efti, founder and CEO of close.io says, referring to the influence of AI and bots in the sales process.
But their involvement must be marked by an obsession with doing right by the customer—not driving a sale. By cultivating a “friendly/strong” persona with a buyer, reps can become the trusted ally business buyers will demand in the future.
4) Know how to listen
Sales reps of the future must know how to listen. But that’s easier said than done.
“You need to be listening carefully and well, which is the hardest skill to learn in sales,” says Efti.
Listening is the starting point for building rapport.
One of the easiest ways to do that?
Focus the sales conversation on your prospect, not what you’re selling.
Sounds simple, but how many times have sales calls felt more like a monologue rather than a dialogue? How many times have you recited a script versus truly trying to get to know the person you’re talking to?
“If you pay attention–if you truly care–and if you make the prospect feel truly understood… you’re always going to have people that will want to buy from you,” Efti says.
Of course, how you listen, speak, and build rapport depend on the type of outreach you’re doing. For e.g. these cold call statistics show you can’t approach cold calls the same way as other sales calls.
The Future Starts Now
AI is going to change sales, but not in the way that we think. Leveraged in the right way with the right tools, it can actually be used to streamline the sales process and make it easier for people to buy—and what business doesn’t want that?
But AI is also capable of much more—specifically when it comes to elevating the status of sales reps.
By employing bots and other agents of artificial intelligence to handle the repetitive tasks associated with sales, we can free reps from the work they dislike. Thus giving them more time to do what they do best: sell.
In the process, we transform sales professionals into trusted allies in solving business challenges.
Also published on Medium.