Artificial intelligence is one of the most intriguing technologies of the 21st century — perhaps the most. It has the power to reshape the way people live, work and play. It also has the power to fundamentally change the way companies do business. One of the first places its impact will be felt is in the sales department.
AI can free salespeople from busywork so they have more time to do what they want to do — sell. AI-powered bots, for instance, can be programmed to answer prospect questions, respond to emails, book sales meetings and provide price quotes. Bots can also help with routine manual tasks, like creating sales reports, completing paperwork and inputting data to CRM systems.
Here are some ways AI can change the sales process for the better.
Prospecting and lead qualification
Qualifying leads takes as much as 80 percent of an average sales rep’s time. Nearly one-quarter of sales reps cite lead quantity and quality as a major challenge to their productivity. Salespeople are typically directed to prospects through cold calling, cold emailing, social media research and other online investigation.
AI can use tools like neuro-linguistic programming and visual listening to discover leads at social media and elsewhere on the web, as well as to identify talking points, trends and pain points among potential customers. By the time a salesperson is ready to make contact, they already know what motivates the prospect to respond and on what platforms. In fact, one study from Harvard Business Review showed that companies using AI in sales increased leads by 50 percent.
Superior sales forecasting
Done well, forecasting renders insight that can guide the way a business manages its resources. However, approximately 85 percent of companies struggle with accurate sales forecasting; more than 66 percent of businesses classify their sales forecasting as ineffective.
AI tools can offer prescriptive sales insights, such as the most lucrative lead/rep combinations, as well as estimated close dates and win likelihood. As deals close, AI systems can learn and evolve to improve future forecasts. Sales managers and leaders can gain a clearer, more objective picture, quarter-to-quarter, of their pipelines. They can understand trends segmented by sales rep and sales stage.
More personalized engagements
Sales teams need to shift the conversation from “what it is” to “why it’s for you.” AI promises to increase sales engagement by providing sales reps with prospect information and key insights to drive more meaningful conversations. It can segment an audience by gender, location, purchase history, web behavior, etc., then dive even deeper and provide insight to individuals.
It can create personalized messages that will resonate with particular prospects and customers, and determine the best channel to deliver a targeted campaign.
Securing the best price
Nearly one-quarter of salespeople say their biggest negotiating challenge is getting the highest price and not prematurely discounting in order to win a deal. AI can recommend a pricing range based on buyer persona, organization health, account potential, probability of closure and historical sales data. It can also analyze customer response to the quotation and suggest the best follow-up actions for sales teams.
It’s not just prospects that want a personalized experience. Legacy customers expect the same. The strong bonds that a sales team builds with legacy customers means more than repeat business — it also means referrals.
AI can sort through current customers — once a manual process that sales teams had to perform — to discover which of them are prime targets for upselling current services, introducing new products or services, or replenishment. It can help salespeople answer questions like, “When will this particular customer buy again?” and, “How do they use our product now?”
AI in sales is all about empowering and augmenting sales reps, not making them redundant. In fact, new Forrester Research states that companies that blend AI insight with human intelligence report improved sales rep satisfaction, heightened operational efficiency and improved customer satisfaction.
Raju Vegesna is chief strategy officer at Zoho, developers of a multi-tool office suite containing word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, web conferencing, customer relationship management, project management, invoicing and other applications.