B2B sales are changing radically. With increasing focus on methodologies like SPIN, sales interactions have shifted to a more structured format. At the same time, AI-powered sales operations automation tools are moving mainstream. Once there’s a closed-loop formula for the sales process, and automated tools in place to support it, the role salespeople play over the next decade will inevitably evolve.
The question is how deep will the AI-fueled change to sales reach? And, more importantly, should sales leaders start thinking about updating their resumes?
The Next Sales Employee of the Month: Wally or Wall-E
The short answer is no. Barring an unlikely technological singularity, for example, where AI develops true self-awareness and goes full Terminator on human society – AI will not be taking over any time soon.
In the foreseeable future, however, AI will continue to vanquish humans at chess and Go. It will create incredible original works of art and music. It will generate ever-more lifelike deep fakes. And it will even get so good at emulating human empathy that AI-powered companions will enjoy ever-wider adoption.
Yet the key word here is “emulating.” Because despite the most radical projections, along with questionable claims that AI self-awareness has already been achieved – it is unlikely that AI will develop actual empathy and actual curiosity. And it is these traits that facilitate the trust relationship that we in the business trenches know to be the basis of effective sales.
That said, digital emulation of human interaction will improve to a point where it will be increasingly difficult to tell the difference. This trend is already driving proposed legislation to dictate how organizations should use AI ethically to facilitate the “ecosystem of trust” that drives commerce.
And yes, the accelerated adoption of AI-powered sales solutions will undoubtedly whittle down the human element required for sales funnel management. But how far can this go?
What Can Be Automated?
Technology is already pushing the boundaries of what can be automated in the sales domain. Essentially, everything that’s transactional and repeatable can conceivably be accomplished by technology. If it can be broken down into consistent roles and actions, it can be automated. Here are some examples.
Sales Readiness – In the movie “The Matrix,” Neo learned kung fu in 10 seconds. We are not there yet, but AI helps accelerate learning and readiness so the process is done in hours rather than months. Sales reps can be empowered by AI to quickly master selling new products within new markets and adapt instantly to changing environments.
Pre-Sales – Pre-sales teams use automated web crawlers to gather competitor and market data, then apply AI-powered tools that analyze and predict total addressable market, revenue potential per prospect, and more. This helps sales organizations better forecast market trends, update quotas accordingly, and even systemize sales call plans. AI also helps pre-sales automatically detect the root causes of bottlenecks in the sales process, as well as generating call lists and instructing salespeople when to call which customers with which messages.
Lead Generation and SDR – For prospecting and lead generation, marketing and sales teams are already automating conversations with intelligent virtual assistants that communicate autonomously with leads and customers. AI-powered bots engage with incoming leads, respond to initial inquiries and (importantly) qualify leads at scale in real-time. When qualified leads are ready to talk to sales, the solutions automatically book a meeting or demo.
Sales Admin – Sales administration teams use AI and NLP-based tools to speed RFP response time – automatically analyzing and exporting pricing schemes, as well as accelerating discount or rebate management. Billing workflows are also streamlined with AI-based account receivables and payments management systems for invoice generation and processing.
Sales Interactions – AI is enabling salespeople to come into the picture deeper into the sales cycle. They’re better prepared to speak to prospects and can leverage powerful data-driven insights during interactions themselves. For example, AI-powered tools provide customer intent data based on past history, and on-screen response suggestions to issues raised during calls. AI-driven software can also offer real-time analysis of facial micro-expressions, to help direct salespeople away from potential landmines during calls.
Post-Sales and Sales Operations – After the sale, AI-powered tools automate analysis of customer feedback and behavior. This helps call centers improve customer satisfaction and lower Mean Time to Resolve (MTTR), while raising First Call Resolution (FCR) – freeing up valuable call center resources and lowering costs. AI tools are also used to identify customers with a high probability of churn and automatically generate retention offers.
What Can’t be Automated?
Simply put, people. Humanity cannot yet be automated.
AI is not yet sincerely empathetic. AI is not yet genuinely curious. In a business context, AI is not yet able to uncover needs the buyer doesn’t even know he or she has yet. It’s not able to help prospects think creatively beyond their immediate needs – something that any good salesperson does intuitively.
Yet most importantly, AI is not yet able to forge and maintain real trust. And this is why AI will not be supplanting sales leaders or sales teams in the near future. What AI will be doing, however, is using AI-powered solutions to lay the foundations of trust, and streamline the process of maintaining trust that is key to augmenting revenues and ensuring repeat sales.
AI will ultimately narrow the sales funnel – conducting many of the tasks at the top and bottom of the funnel that are currently done by humans, while leaving crucial trust-building and negotiations in the hands of experienced human sales teams.
Editor’s Note: Read our full report on how AI is changing sales conversations.