Your best inside sales reps and telemarketers know how to think on their feet. They have the human intuition and personality to engage a prospect and build a relationship. So what’s all the buzz about AI in sales?
Well consider this: The average rep today only spends about a third of the time selling. The majority of their day is spent working on non-revenue-generating activities. They’re swamped with administrative tasks, such as data entry, lead analysis and prospecting, when they should be spending more time engaging prospective customers. AI has the potential to free up reps and allow them more time for selling.
Need more incentive? According to the Salesforce State of Sales report, high-performing sales teams are almost five times as likely to be using AI than those struggling to make quota.
Here are some of the ways that AI is benefiting sales, and how you can get started successfully.
Boost Your Productivity and Performance
On those days when you wish you had ten hands and could clone yourself, an AI personal assistant is the next best thing. An AI personal assistant automates many mundane tasks. It can compile and customize sales information based on a prospect’s interests and needs, respond to basic email requests and schedule phone calls.
Perhaps even more useful, AI can identify critical queries—both email and phone—and highlight these for your immediate attention. AI can even help structure your responses and suggest discussion points.
Chatbots are taking over the task of answering basic questions, redirecting inquiries to the correct department and generally improving a business’ customer service. For sales, a chatbot will also collect initial data and set up the next steps, such as a phone call or meeting with a rep.
By running customer profiles and algorithms, AI further assists reps with lead qualification, scoring and even prospecting.
But one of AI’s greatest strengths is data processing and analysis. Running algorithms against large data sets enables AI to forecast individual quotas, departmental sales and company-wide revenue. What’s more, AI can analyze prospects in the pipeline and help reps focus their time and energy on those deals with the greatest likelihood to close. AI can also identify new contacts to reach out to at a target company or identify new companies to target.
Furthermore, AI can power up your CRM use. AI takes on much of the drudgery of data management and at the same time optimizes its efficiency by consolidating customer data and keeping records up to date and complete.
How to Succeed with AI
If AI is such a boon to sales, then what’s the problem getting started? Why isn’t every sales team using AI?
InsideSales.com asked sales and marketing leaders what was holding them back. Here’s what they said:
- 25.7% said, “I don’t understand it.”
- 20.5% admitted, “I don’t trust it.”
- 19.4% said, “I think it’s too expensive.”
Trust is often a matter of understanding, and you need to measure the costs against the benefits. Here are several strategies to help you move forward successfully.
Assemble the Right Team
As you move forward, you want to forge teams that have the necessary skills and ability to communicate clearly and effectively. You need people who understand the technology—engineers specializing in natural language and machine learning and data scientists skilled in big data management. You also need the sales perspective—experienced salespeople who understand how to work with customers and can identify prospects with the highest propensity to buy.
Often overlooked, but essential to your success, is the individual who understands both sales and technology and can communicate with experts on both sides. This intermediary provides the glue that will hold your projects together.
Focus on Incremental Progress
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is trying to integrate AI into every aspect of the sales process all at once. You need to make AI a long-term project. But get up and running quickly by dividing projects up into small tasks.
Focus on several small ways you can use AI to boost ROI. Set up a chatbot that can serve customers and prospects 24/7. Use AI to identify prospects with the greatest likelihood to close. Or focus AI on identifying prospects that most closely match your ideal customer profile. Then, over time, you can move on to ways AI can improve the data quality within your CRM and many more critical tasks.
Integrate Data Sources Gradually
Just as you should select your projects with an eye for expediency and success, so too should you integrate data sources. Your goal is to set up data in a way that AI can both use it (e.g., for analysis, scoring, predictive purposes and outreach) and optimize it (e.g., keep it clean, up to date and accurate).
When you factor in the many types of data collected today, both structured and unstructured, you have a big challenge. Select only a few data sources to start and gradually introduce new data sets as you make progress. Try to apply the 80/20 rule. If you take the time to assess the ways you use your many data sets, you can identify the 20% that deliver 80% of the value. These will be the first ones you integrate.
Get Your Whole Sales Team Onboard
Anything new is bound to meet resistance. It requires changing how people work and learning new skills. If you want to succeed with AI-based sales applications, introduce them slowly. Make sure that your salespeople understand that AI is here to help…not take over.
Emphasize the benefits, especially the drudge work that AI can take on. Show them how to use AI to become more productive, surpass quota and get back to spending more time selling.
And provide training. Ensure that everyone knows how to use AI tools effectively. Make it a team effort so that everyone feels they are on the same side.
We’ve only just begun to see the benefits of AI-based sales tools. Over time, they’ll take on more of the lead analysis, forecasting, predictive analysis and prospecting, freeing up your inside reps, telemarketers and field reps to do what they do best…sell to other people. The key is to get started right.
Jeff Kalter is the CEO of 3D2B, a B2B vertical service integrator that offers high-level telemarketing, advanced lead nurturing, and CRM services.