AI-Guided Selling is Finally Here. What Do Business Leaders Need to Know?

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For years, technologies like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana have helped users search the internet, schedule meetings, and remember important dates. Artificial intelligence technology has permeated not only daily life, but also business. It is a generational shift in technology, a wave as big as the internet.

For salespeople in particular, artificial intelligence has promised to bring efficiencies and improved sales execution for some time now. More than two years ago, an article on this very website discussed how AI could support the work of a salesperson. And yet, AI hasn’t had its “mainstream moment” yet in sales technology. The interest is certainly there — in a recent survey, 97% of sales enablement leaders predicted that artificial intelligence capabilities will be embedded in sales enablement platforms in the next two to three years.

Now in 2021, AI seems to be stepping into the sales spotlight due to the current state of buying and selling in remote and hybrid business environments. According to analyst firm Gartner, “the pandemic exposed cracks in many organization’s sales processes. Knowing that sales process discipline must be improved to increase the chances of closing new deals, sales leaders are investigating new data-driven, AI-based guided selling functions for improving sales execution.” Gartner goes on to say that AI has “permanently transformed the form and function of guided selling capabilities.”

If you’re a sales leader who hasn’t explored how AI can improve your sellers’ efficiency and productivity, here are a few things to know as you dive deeper into how this technology can benefit your sales teams and wider go-to-market organization.

1.) You need great data

First and foremost, start with great data from all of your engagement channels. The systems we use today continuously generate various amounts of data. Each of us creates a footprint of data across the different systems we use — email, social, CRM, etc. — and that footprint is only getting larger. With AI, the idea is to harness the data that is becoming available from various interactions, become smarter, and gain a deeper understanding of the context of every interaction.

For example, the past 18-24 months has been focused on the shift to digital. During this shift, there have been numerous engagement channels that have surged in usage, from email and social media to Zoom — all of them providing us with new levels of data and insights that never existed before.

The next challenge is to identify the patterns and behaviors, and separate them from the ones that resonate and the ones that don’t. When you’re interacting with a buyer over Zoom or a social media channel, what is the best form of engagement? In a world of overwhelming amounts of content, how do you personalize the interactions and make them more relevant? Is your new talk track landing with the target audience?

Today’s technology can tell sellers and marketers which content is performing best at the top, middle and bottom of the funnel. It can show us which slide a prospect spends the most time on, or skips entirely. It can identify how long a customer watches a piece of video content, or if they scroll past it.

These are all patterns and trends that AI can help analyze and predict, making your sellers smarter and more efficient with each new data point. And, every time there’s an interaction or engagement, the data footprint becomes bigger and new forms of data become available. You leave breadcrumbs behind on the success of the interaction, which makes your data even better.

Quite simply, data will only continue to grow and the businesses that take advantage of these datasets will be the ones that are going to win. Further, companies that adopt AI early will be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors because the more data you leverage, the more patterns you discover, the smarter your recommendations become, and ultimately the more deals you’ll close.

2.) AI will not take away jobs, but make sellers even better at their jobs

Headlines will often report that AI will take jobs away from humans. Sellers may feel the same way when presented with a new AI solution. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The key is to look at AI as not an “either/or” technology, but the combination of human and machine intelligence.

Your organization is full of best practices and institutional knowledge, and sellers have accumulated great insights from past experiences to devise core competencies. AI doesn’t erase that invaluable knowledge — it helps augment it because there are many other, larger datasets and patterns that may not be obvious to the human eye. This augmentation can have huge implications.

That’s why it’s the combination of AI and human intelligence that can help companies go from good to great. While some companies may have been great in terms of generating success, the business environment changes, new challenges emerge, and products evolve. The constant change and adaptive environment may go beyond the human ability to analyze and evaluate on the fly. Particularly in sales, the buying process has changed, and so the selling process must change as well.

The job of AI is to make the right recommendation to the seller at the right time — something that goes beyond what the seller may be able to determine by themself. If a seller is working on a particular client at a specific stage in their journey, the AI solution can compare against other similar selling situations, match certain behaviors that resulted in positive outcomes, and use that information to make a smart recommendation. Then it’s up to the seller to run with that recommendation, or take another action.

Gartner also recommends this human-AI approach to selling in its Future of Sales 2025 report, writing that “AI-based guided selling functions would be most relevant by identifying the least efficient parts of the sales value chain. This can include processes that require a lot of human educated guessing, such as what to do next on a complex B2B deal.”

In the end, the power lies in the hand of the seller as to whether they choose to take advantage of these recommendations, do something else entirely, or a blend of both.

Hopefully the above tips help dispel any myths around AI-guided selling, and point you closer to the right solution as you look for ways to increase seller productivity and efficiency with artificial intelligence.

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