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How Will Artificial Intelligence Impact Salespeople?

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Marketing automation platform HubSpot recently acquired an artificial intelligence startup called Kemvi. In the process, HubSpot took the first step down a path that will transform how salespeople do their jobs.

Kemvi “analyzes public data so that salespeople can can identify the best time (say, after a job change or the publication of an article) to reach out to potential customers. It also proactively reaches out to verify leads,” reports TechCrunch.

Artificial intelligence is a suite of technologies that perform cognitive tasks. These tasks include reading content, writing content, recognizing images, or analyzing data. AI is the science of making machines smart, to enhance or augment human operations.

Related Read: Learn more about AI terminology in this article.

HubSpot Chief Strategy Officer Bradford Coffey (@BradfordCoffey) writes about the Kemvi acquisition:

“At HubSpot our sales team spends an amazing amount of time developing an understanding of the companies they’re working with. Importantly they’re searching for moments of change within an organization where they can engage and provide helpful advice. We call these trigger events.

“Over time reps have all developed their own approaches to identifying these events for their prospects — monitoring job changes at the company, devouring news articles, and even staying on top of government filings. This is something that takes an enormous amount of time and can be more efficiently done using machine learning. It’s how Kemvi’s technology can help HubSpot and the companies we work with deliver a more personalized, helpful, sales process.”

Kemvi is a perfect example of how sales will change in the age of AI. So is Salesforce, which is baking its Einstein AI into its product suite and investing heavily in AI

Based on our years experimenting with AI, we recommend salespeople begin to evolve. If they fail to do so, they risk becoming obsolete. But if they take the right steps now, they'll find a wealth of opportunity to enhance performance with AI.

Why AI Will Disrupt Sales as Usual

You don’t need to be an AI expert to grasp how it will transform business as usual in sales and marketing. You only need to understand one idea:

AI that teaches itself can improve at an exponential rate in a short amount of time.

Some AI systems are hard-coded to perform certain tasks. They do not improve unless a human improves them. Other AI systems learn from data provided by humans, then improve themselves. In both cases, these systems can produce solid results. But this isn't where the real progress in AI is being made.

There is a third category of AI system. These systems teach themselves using advanced machine learning techniques, without human intervention. They figure out how to achieve a goal (determined by humans) on their own. In the process, they find innovative new ways to improve performance that humans miss. These AI learn from every performance cycle and improve much faster than people do.

This means the right AI could go from zero knowledge of a task to master-level performance fast.

For example, an AI system recently beat human players at Dota 2, a complex computer strategy game. The Verge reports:

The system “learned purely by playing successive versions of itself, amassing ‘lifetimes’ of in-game experience over the course of just two weeks.”

This means that self-taught AI could learn and master marketing and sales tasks fast. Imagine all the time salespeople spend on the following activities:

  • Outreach emails
  • Social media engagement
  • Lead qualification
  • Prospecting
  • Building personas
  • Etc.

It's likely AI will automate or augment some of these tasks. In fact, tools exist right now to perform some tasks done by salespeople.

Kemvi monitors “trigger events” that salespeople look for to signal a lead may wish to engage. Phrasee suggests the most effective email subject lines and performs better than humans. Siftrock updates databases, sifts through email, and finds new leads using machine learning.

None of these tasks alone comprise a salesperson’s entire job. But AI can “unbundle” a lot of tasks salespeople do daily. Economist Tim Harford shares one example of how AI unbundling works in warehouses:

“Computers are good at counting and scheduling. Humans are good at picking things off shelves. Why not unbundle the task and give the conscious thinking to the computer, and the mindless grabbing to the human?”

Instead of having a machine or human do both, unbundling occurs, and machines and men divide the labor.

Salespeople need to think hard about how this thinking applies to their roles. What tasks do you perform each day that an AI system could do better? What work do humans perform best in your organization? How can you leverage AI to achieve greater results than you currently produce?

What Salespeople Should Do About AI

So far, we’ve proposed that AI will transform the function of sales teams. That change will unbundle sales activities and augment human activities. And we’ve shown why this will happen. But, this is not a foregone conclusion. For AI to augment, not replace, salespeople need to take some proactive steps:

1. Understand the basics.

You don’t need to be a technical expert or a programmer to take advantage of AI tools. But you do need a basic foundation in AI's key technologies and terms. The post below is a great place to start:

Guide to Artificial Intelligence Terminology

2. Learn what’s possible.

In this post, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with today’s AI. Know what AI can do, and you'll be better prepared to use it for your benefit. The article below is a good survey of some AI capabilities:

12 Artificial Intelligence Articles Everyone Should Read

3. Experiment often.

Many AI tools are available to experiment with. Hands-on experience is a must, since tools and their capabilities vary. Plenty of companies offer free trials or demos of their tech. Here’s a list of some initial use cases you may want to test:

How Brands Target Consumers Better and Sell More with Artificial Intelligence [Case Studies]

4. Find experts to consult.

There are three groups of people who can help you understand and adopt AI:

  • AI solutions providers
  • Marketing automation and CRM partners
  • People who actually use AI (like us: get in touch here) << LINK


Read this article for more details on each group:

Who Can Help You Implement Artificial Intelligence?

5. Subscribe to the Marketing AI Institute.

We connect marketers and salespeople with actionable information on AI. To do that, we publish exclusive interviews with AI experts and advice on how to use AI. Our list receives this information before anyone else: subscribe here so you don’t miss out.

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