Embracing the Artificial Intelligence Mind-Set Without Losing the Human Touch

Mike Restivo

Traditional salespeople need to learn that what they say doesn’t always go.

But they would be forgiven for holding onto this mind-set, especially if they started their careers in the 1980s and 90s, when sales success was, by and large, deemed to be dependent on instinct, gut feelings, and a natural ability to forecast customer trends. The reality is that, until recently, the majority of salespeople have been starved of useful, coherent information about their customers.

Greater Data
In 2016, more and more companies are turning toward artificial intelligence (AI), facilitated by customer relationship management (CRM) technology, to inform and support the sales process. Broadly speaking, AI refers to the development of machines and computer systems capable of performing actions which normally require human intelligence. While AI is helping engineers to build human robots and doctors to produce more accurate diagnoses, for sales and marketing professionals, the primary benefits are tied to the automated capture and analysis of customer data.

It’s easy to see why: upper management teams are putting increasing pressure on salespeople to validate their claims using accurate customer data. And automated data capture is quite frankly more reliable than the manual data captured by humans.

The gradual shift away from instinct and guesswork toward accurate, data-driven decision making is creating efficiencies in many different professions. Old-school London black cab drivers would once swear by their knowledge of that city’s busy, maze-like streets. Now, GPS often proves them wrong, but it at least means they can get more customers to their destinations, faster.

Accurate data capture is even more useful when facilitated by transparent systems. Community based navigation apps, such as Waze, enable users to help each other by sharing real-time information about traffic and road conditions in their area. The process of using GPS is therefore made simpler and more transparent for more people. The same principle applies to CRM. If your system of choice is both accurate and transparent, people within your sales and marketing teams will want to adopt it. More users mean more customer data, and more customer data ultimately means more reliable insights into up- and cross-selling opportunities.

However, adopting front-end CRM technology is easier said than done. There is a duty on the part of upper management to ensure staff understand the benefits of using certain systems and, perhaps more importantly, to manage their expectations of what the technology actually can, or should, do for them. They need to communicate that while adoption can be a long process, once systems are up and running the time for realizing value is very quick. This is especially true for CRMs that can be easily integrated with complementary software.

Healthy, Human Selling
There is also a duty on the part of end-users to understand that data is not a replacement for the ‘human touch’ of sales, but rather something that informs and supports it. While it was difficult for salespeople several decades ago to accurately predict customer buying patterns without data, it was difficult for them to add the ‘human touch’ to customer interactions for the same reason. Modern CRMs automatically track and analyze data from phone calls and emails to help salespeople understand how individual customers think and behave, which in turn enables them to improve the personalization of both their sales and non-sales communications. 

AI doesn’t mean the end of sales with the ‘human touch’ – far from it. For the companies that embrace radical transparency and company-wide adoption, tools like automated data capture and predictive analytics will become the foundation of a new customer-centric culture. Responsibility for customer relationships will transcend sales and marketing teams as staff at all levels capture vital information – whether related to new business opportunities or existing relationships – that may otherwise have fallen under the radar.

Changing traditional sales culture isn’t quick or easy, but AI is speeding up the process. Think of it like using a FitBit: as you exercise, you capture more information to help you improve your exercise routine in the future, and improving your exercise routine makes your healthier in the long term. In the same way, intelligent, data-driven CRM is driving a healthier, more efficient approach to sales.

Mike Restivo is the senior vice president of global sales at Bullhorn, a provider of cloud-based software for relationship-driven business activities.