Life comes at you fast in the world of digital transformation.
But we’re here to cast a little light on the uncertain future.
We recently sat down with a couple of sales leaders to discuss, specifically, what the future of AI in sales looks like.
In this article, we’ll look to answer some of the most pressing questions about this beguiling technology and its role in sales development.
What is the future of AI in sales?
AI is a trend that won’t go away.
Mike Thomas, COO and co-founder of Track Selling Institute, has a long career working in Tech and Sales.
We asked him how they’ve been using AI to support their coaching programs as well as sales processes.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work in the last few months to automate the process and to help the salesperson [by providing] them with tools that allow them to accelerate their movement to close, their ability to close deals, and to support them in the process of interacting with the client with the prospect.”
The introduction of automation into sales has revealed to us just how many administrative tasks SDRs have.
“My perspective comes from [a] view that over the last 20 years, we have burdened salespeople with way too many administrative tasks,” he continued.
Whether or not you buy the hype, the biggest companies and consulting firms in the world are implementing AI into their technology whenever they aren’t recommending you do the same.
McKinsey & Company, to give an example, found 30% of “sales-related activities” can be automated. And this was 3 years ago (at the time of this writing.)
3 Ways to use AI in sales
“I think that we’ll see that there are going to be tools that are available and techniques that salespeople can use to reduce that administrative burden down to almost negligible amounts.”
The market will find ways for you to use AI and make you a more productive worker – no matter how “productive” AI and related technology really is.
It’s up to us to determine which AI sales tools and use cases will stand the test of time and help us become better salespeople.
The goal of using AI in sales is not to be more productive. It’s to build sales pipelines and generate revenue at a lower cost.
The automation of tedious data entry is a good start.
Let’s look at some other areas where AI will have the greatest impact on both sales development and revenue.
1. AI lead generation
The bedrock of sales development is lead generation.
We judge an SDR on their ability to identify the right accounts that fit their ICP, collect lists of prospects, and map out a campaign of targeted outreach.
Where in this process can AI help them the most? We turn back to Mike.
“[I’ve] been following literally dozens, maybe even hundreds, of tools that are becoming available to help with lead generation processes, whether it’s allowing you to more finely focus on the appropriate leads or to better communicate with those leads.”
“There are many tools that, for example, are being used with LinkedIn to help [you] communicate or communicate more directly or properly follow up.”
Mike continued by illustrating the challenge SDRs face when juggling many prospects and messages at once.
“A lot of times you’ll initiate a conversation, you’re doing it with tens or maybe even hundreds of people at the same time trying to keep up and you drop the ball.”
“[The] tools that are available today will reduce that.”
2. Streamlined documentation
Like most white-collar work, sales is swimming in data.
Successful sales teams streamline the administrative work of data entry and categorization.
The need to keep up-to-date, accurate customer info in a company’s CRM will only increase as the levels of data rise.
One way AI can help sales teams in the future will be through seamless documentation and reporting, especially around cross-departmental communication.
Pete Wisowaty is the CRO of Wilab, a telecommunications company that uses ML frameworks and AI to help automate network operations.
He identified how AI could effectively streamline the process of CRM documentation, and how valuable that is for both SDRs and AEs working in enterprise sales.
“[Sales teams] have an imperative… that everything is documented into the source of record, the CRM. Why? Because you’re sharing with other people. It’s a shared model and you have different team members, especially on a complex sale.“
“You’ve got to have notes in there. They’ve got to be descriptive,” he continued. “They’ve got to be it done in a very logical way. They’re very concise and summarized so someone can take immediate action.”
If note-taking isn’t administrative work, we don’t know what is.
3. Real-time analysis
One of the most talked about benefits of AI is its ability to recognize and analyze patterns faster than humans.
In sales, this kind of analysis might look like the buying habits of your ICP.
Or even deal forecasting that draws on insights from past quarters to predict future ones.
We’ve covered how AI can help teams with data enrichment and organization to create a comprehensive understanding of the info in a CRM.
But it can also gather information through vetted, streamlined research.
Pete gave some examples of this use case, in particular, when qualifying prospects through the sales qualification methodology BANT.
“AI can play a part in every single area… So, budget for example, what is a typical budget of the company you’re targeting? What do they normally do for CapEx? OpEx? And how is that done? And where is it?”
“That’s all derived in mind if it’s a public company from their 10K reports or annual reports,” he continued.
“You’ll see [AI] can accumulate that information [on] what the buying authority is like, what the needs are… How does that match the industry standards [and] the time frames? And all these can be collated and associated and summarized.”
What are the risks of AI in sales?
If you’ve followed the trend of AI, you’ve no doubt heard about the many risks that come with it.
Fears of AI range from a complete takeover of humankind to a massive layoff of human labor.
Thankfully, neither has (yet) occurred.
There are, however, some risks associated with AI for organizations hesitant about investing in the tech. To explore them, we’ll again turn back to Mike.
“In my opinion, there are two risks. One is not doing anything.”
“[A] lot of people are sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to happen. And you know to some degree we’re still very very early and that may not be too bad of a strategy, but my recommendation would be that you actually start a pilot or a small group that you experiment especially in a larger organization where you can try out some of these concepts so you don’t get left behind.”
“The other thing is that there are an overwhelming number of options.”
“Everybody in the world has their thing or their AI perspective, whether it’s tools like Salesforce with its Einstein capabilities which has been around for a long time and expansions on that, or other companies that are coming out with their AI cut on the world.”
“So the risk there is that there are just literally thousands of choices and you get distracted by one or two or three and then another better one comes along.”
He concluded by saying the biggest risk is doing nothing at all.
“Whether it’s the efficiency of their Salesforce, whether it’s better information, whether it’s more effective communication, there’s a lot of different things that you can get from adopting AI that if you don’t take advantage of it in the short term, you’re going to be very very far behind.”
Will salespeople be replaced by AI?
AI has incredible potential to change the way sales teams work.
It gives SDRs messaging enriched with customer data, automated summaries of meetings, and streamlined research.
The SDR workflow is transforming as AI cuts out the time-consuming admin work to give sales reps more time to sell.
Does this mean AI will eventually replace salespeople?
Not as long as sales development remains people-oriented. The biggest impact on revenue comes from meeting people.
At its core, the magic of sales requires us to read, study, and empathize with others on an intuitive level.
The humanistic soft skills that make up the foundation of sales are its most timeless qualities.