February 9 by Gordon Benzie
Artificial Intelligence is a natural outcome of the explosion of data access that has occurred over the past decade. Collectively referred to as “big data,” this information can now be aggregated, analyzed and acted upon – by either humans or machines. When machines are doing the processing, and producing output as a decision or an action, we call this Artificial Intelligence, or AI.
AI is quite a broad category, comprising several technologies including machine learning, predictive analyses and big data analytics. We increasingly see AI in our personal lives every time we ask Siri, Alexa or AlphaGo to perform a command.
Or, as we type a text message and are prompted with 3-4 suggested words as the next thing we want to type. As a sales professional, you can expect to see the role of AI becoming an increasingly intertwined component of doing business.
Within a sales capacity, Artificial Intelligence can automate routine tasks, unearth insights off sales data, or assist sales professionals by improving productivity while enhancing their customer’s overall experience.
According to a Harvard Business Review article, “By 2020 customers will manage 85% of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human.” The sales cycle will be no different.
As referenced in the book, Sales Growth: Five Proven Strategies from the World’s Sales Leaders, companies that have pioneered the use of AI in sales are positive on the outcome, which includes, “an increase in leads and appointments of more than 50%, cost reductions of 40%–60%, and call time reductions of 60%–70%.” Further, if one considers the opportunity created by having sales representatives now available to spend more of their time closing deals, then the value of AI is even greater.
Will Artificial Intelligence Eliminate the Role of Sales Professional?
It is highly unlikely AI will eliminate the position of sales representative. But, it certainly has the potential to create changes in the way the sales process occurs. While some positions, such as order takers could be automated when paired to an e-commerce website (e.g. the “spare parts” salesperson,) the impact of AI on the sales process will be primarily focused on automating activities and adding intelligence for smarter decision support.
The “human touch” will still be needed, focused on managing exceptions, tolerating ambiguity, using judgment, shaping the strategies and responding to customer questions, which machines will help them to respond to. Those sales professionals that sell complex products with a complex process will come to appreciate AI to help manage complex relationships and sales cycles.
How will the Role of Salesperson Change with AI?
If history is a good source for inspiration on how new technologies can disrupt an industry, sales professionals can learn much by looking back at how the music industry has undergone a significant digital transformation.
By connecting buyers directly to digital music, several companies have emerged as new leaders offering direct access to purchase and experience music on their own terms, at their own time, delivered via a highly scalable channel – the Internet.
The first disruption with the music industry was that the channel shifted – there really wasn’t a need to go to a record store anymore to purchase music. The second disruption is the knowledge and intelligence that is now available on how and what people buy, when they consume it and what other songs they might also like to purchase next.
Successful sales professionals will align themselves in a career selling value added products that require more interaction than clicking a link on a website to close the sale. Where AI will come into play is with the more sophisticated sale, to provide the necessary support and intelligence to enable moving opportunities through the pipeline, to conclude the sale.
For example, machine learning and automation tools can source, qualify and perform far more sales opportunities than a sales professional could even keep up with, as part of the pre-sales activities. Sales leadership would then be wise to develop clear escalation and exception protocols such that only typical, repetitive tasks are assigned to Artificial Intelligence. The moment an exception arises, or the sales process gets more complex, is the time for a human to get involved. The last thing anyone would want is to have an automated procedure lose a big sale.
Extracting and Sharing Sales Process Intelligence
The next step to sales excellence with AI comes from better understanding how one’s sales process is performed, how efficiently time is spent during the cycle, and how does that compare to the rest of the sales team’s performance. This is an opportunity for sales team managers to embrace new intelligence gathering and software analytics applications as part of how they manage their team’s performance.
Several excellent examples now exist, such as Prodoscore, which offers managers and sales professionals instant access to a productivity score based on what digital sales activities were performed that day, week or month. As this information can then be compared across team, companies and industries, a significant learning potential becomes possible through an examination of this information, to then make modifications for future performance improvement.
Tomorrow’s Sales Professional
Activities such as this learning practice will, over time, change the role of a sales professional. It is highly likely this evolution will create new opportunities for some, while trigger others to consider new careers. One thing is for sure: as our society continues along our current digital path, the future continues to evolve, with many new and exciting potential discoveries that were seemingly impossible to consider just a few years ago.
Those embracing the change with an eye for what new opportunities are possible will be rewarded for their vision, and time spent on applications or tools that can help provide intelligence or decision support will help pave a new way forward. Those experimenting and willing to learn new processes will capture new opportunities and be nicely rewarded.