How to elevate your sales on a foundation of AI

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Published on: June 2018

Written by: Rick Cheatham

A version of this article was first published at in May 2018.

AI can empower salespeople to understand clients by condensing vast data into actionable nuggets. When using AI properly, and in the right capacity, sales teams can increase sales numbers in a reduced time frame.

Artificial intelligence is not just waiting in the wings to be utilized – it’s already transforming corporate America across industries. As many as 84 percent of enterprises now think AI delivers a competitive business advantage, and 63 percent think it’s a competitive necessity. AI is no longer a new opportunity and is now more akin to a business commonality.

AI may have become ubiquitous, but calling it mature would be a mistake. The work of AI applications is still often duplicated and verified by human analysts to prevent errors. Even the world’s biggest tech companies struggle to use AI efficiently and effectively.

This puts companies in a precarious position. They are eager to embrace AI but cautious about investing too much in the wrong solution. This anxiety is even more acute with the sales team. Sales has not historically been tech-driven, but AI’s ability to connect with new and returning customers makes it an appealing investment for sales teams.

Decision makers must first make the use case for AI in sales and then must implement the technology cautiously and carefully. Once that happens, AI can lead directly to increases in sales numbers.

Do Sales Teams Really Need AI?

AI is not the first technology that promises to give sales teams an advantage, but it is the first that can claim to deliver honest and accurate insights. AI can empower sales staff members to understand clients with incredible perception because of its fundamental ability to condense vast amounts of data into actionable bits of information.

While sales teams are eager to identify their “best clients,” they can find it challenging to determine who those clients are and the explicit value they deliver. AI can interpret sales figures to determine which clients drive the bottom line and which simply appear to.

AI can also speed up the sales cycle by automating the most time and labor-intensive aspects, allowing sales teams to focus on interaction and engagement. This can provide sales professionals with essential information gathered in a more time-efficient manner. As a result, it takes less time to reach the bottom of the sales funnel.

These are compelling tools to entice any sales professional. But AI is most attractive in how it can improve individual relationships with clients. Sales professionals look attentive and intelligent as AI expeditiously delivers right to their desks or fingertips the in-depth insights and information necessary to make a great impression. What sales team wouldn’t want to close more deals in less time?

Introducing the Sales Team to AI

It’s still important to be realistic about the impact of AI. When fully developed, the technology will likelier lead to sales productivity increase of 20 percent rather than 80 percent, but that still jumps out on any balance sheet. The challenge for sales teams, then, is to implement AI when and where it has the maximum impact. Use these tips to assist with that effort:

  • Understand the requirements of the sales cycle. AI is better suited to some sales cycles than others. If it typically takes four emails and one call to close a deal, AI could automate many of those emails and expedite the closing time. But if a cycle typically takes multiple in-person meetings over the course of a year, AI becomes less of an asset. It can still deliver insights and ease workloads, but it can’t replicate the careful relationship-building at which sales professionals excel. Being realistic about the scope and complexity of the sales cycle can give insight on whether and when AI is appropriate.
  • Experiment with the AI available. It’s important not to bet the farm on AI. This technology does have a lot to offer, though its present and future capabilities have limits. But there are no limits on the monetary amount companies can invest in unproven and underdeveloped AI technologies. Instead of making a big investment upfront, start working with AI in the form of apps available through your customer relationship management system. These apps require a minimal commitment and allow companies to experiment with what does and does not work for them. Introducing different capabilities in different sales areas allows for easy comparisons. It’s possible to make a bigger commitment to AI knowing the exact opportunity cost once enough actionable data is available.
  • Don’t underestimate the human element. Sales is now, and will always be, a fundamentally human effort. It’s the combination of smarts, charm, and service that ultimately leads to first-time and repeat sales. AI will never excel in that area. It’s important for sales professionals and their superiors to realize that real people are what drive sales. That said, AI is a means to amplify and upgrade the human element in any sales scenario. Think of it as a complement or supplement rather than an outright replacement.

AI allows sales teams to improve what they do and empowers them to evolve with the times, staying competitive and relevant as deals are increasingly driven by data.