Artificial intelligence or AI is encroaching on the sales process at an exciting rate, or alarming, depending on your side of the coin. Using machine learning, predictive analyses, and big data analytics, AI can now automate routine tasks, unearth insights off sales data, and assist sales reps in enhancing overall service.
We see it integrated in CRM, salesforce automation, help desk solutions, and other B2B apps.
Even as vendors are pushing the envelope for smarter solutions. The benefits of AI to sales efficiency are high, and the stakes, too. Let’s take a look at both sides.
Artificial Intelligence Increases Leads
We’re talking about exponential growth here. A Harvard Business Review study showed that companies that use artificial intelligence in sales claimed to have increased leads by 50%.
Already, there are accurate automated lead assessment in the market. AI will only enhance salesforce solutions that are now sorting historical patterns, social media profiles of prospects, and their historical transactions and online interactions.
Predictive analysis in AI is going beyond the “what” in data and delves into the “why.” Specifically, vendors like Salesforce are developing automation that contextualizes the online engagement and digital details of leads against big data. Driven by advanced algorithms, qualifying leads is smarter, faster, and more accurate. The result? Sales reps can cover more ground in less time and follow the most qualified ones with more time on their hand.
Artificial Intelligence Means Fewer Administrative Tasks
As in most industries, artificial intelligence starts disrupting fundamental processes and works its way up to more complex stages. Right now, time-consuming, repetitive sales tasks can be taken off the reps’ daily workload with sales automation. These include product-profile matching, order-taking, transaction processing, and templating reports.
Furthermore, AI is increasingly stepping into the middle-of-the-funnel. There are lead management applications that assist sales reps in sustaining follow-ups up to the proposal stage. This is nothing new, for that matter, with multi-tiered email marketing. But the automation now extends to B2B sales process, where automated cold calling can arrange face-to-face presentations.
With more time on their hands, sales reps will be master of the 80/20 rule. They can focus their energy, resources, and time on the most profitable customers.
Artificial Intelligence Means a Shorter Sales Cycle
Where lead generation and qualifying is automated, the sales cycle is cut short. Sales reps have a huge head start when their actual leg work starts at the “Propose” stage. The time they put in on administrative tasks is allocated to thinking proposals. It is likely they can funnel prospects faster to “Negotiate” and “Close” stages.
Artificial Intelligence Means Faster Customer Service
The advances made in consumer tech like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, not the least Microsoft’s Tay chabot, are spilling over to B2B landscape. We already have chatbots on vendor websites.
Artificial intelligence can parse FAQs and predictable customer queries (the what-when-where-why-how). Initial contact with customers through chats, emails, and phone is now in the AI realm. As AI develops more cognitive skills–Tay, for instance, can now loop up to 14 cycles of talking to a human–it will handle more complex customer queries.
With faster response rates, companies make customers happy or address issues before they blow up. The same customer queries can be plow back into the CRM and funnel to the sales pipeline for upsell and cross-sell opportunities.
Will reps lose their job?
The other side of the coin is the sales rep who looks at artificial intelligence with huge skepticism. After all, a McKinsey Global Institute study analyzed that “40% of time spent on sales work activities can be automated by adapting current technologies.” And the figure can only increase as AI gets more intelligent.
It’s one thing to be free of workload… and another, of work. Offloading 40% of work doesn’t make you, the rep, less important, Just more efficient. The real question is, how far up the rate will go? Not too high, perhaps.
Artificial intelligence cannot make snap judgment on ambiguous situations or wise up to the nuances of human emotions. These are skills important in selling.
At worst, sales reps need to adapt to a new role. They’ll be marketers, even managers, sort of. They need more analytical skills to derive insights out of data and use it to run territory campaigns. Much of what AI churns out, reps need to interpret and understand these.
Likewise, they need to manage AI with escalation protocols on what it can and can’t handle. Managers may be responsible for the overall protocol, but it takes a rep to help the AI navigate through the tricky parts of his or her territory.
In fact, one artificial intelligence virtual assistant vendor puts this succinctly with a disclaimer: “[Our] machine intelligence is backed 24/7 by experienced Executive Assistants, promising an AI that actually works.”
Yes, AI needs the rep