How AI Can Make Sales More Human


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Artificial Intelligence in sales has been mostly associated with generic emails, robocalling, and predictive analytics based on tracking the number of outbound contact attempts even when no meaningful connection was made – all which take the “human” out of the sales process.

Every seasoned sales person knows that sales is all about building relationships and trust. This is a verifiable fact. Sales Benchmark Index reports that 84 percent of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral from someone known and trusted. Regardless of popular science fiction, at this time in society, people don’t have relationships with anything they don’t perceive as being 100 percent human. I certainly don’t.

However, the artificial intelligence used for most sales automation and management tracking is about activities that have very little to do with fostering a relationship or trust and can actually ruin relationships as fast as tapping delete.

So how has AI crept into the human domain of sales relationships that require thinking creatively in novel situations, empathy, and trust?

The crux of a good sales professional is how to stay in front of a prospective client without being annoying. That’s hard work. It’s hard for me to do as an individual. To make it tougher on the sales professional, according to Gartner, an average of seven to 10 people are now part of the B2B buying decision process. Compound that with the challenges of staying in touch with 250 organizations in a territory that are likely to buy but aren’t ready to commit just yet. So how can you determine the most effective steps to move sales prospects down the funnel and meet your monthly sales quota?

It only makes sense to automate tasks that make the sales process more efficient. But these should focus on the tasks that AI is uniquely good at – such as high-velocity crunching of ridiculously huge volumes of data – allowing sales professionals to be more human in their relationships with prospects.

AI can crunch far more data points than any human is able to. AI can do all of the grunt work behind understanding buyers and what’s going on in their worlds, while keeping track of all of those details. This allows a human to efficiently trawl through an enormous amount of correlated research and find the right insights to advance a conversation.

Most first meetings with a prospective customer turn into “Hey Sean, that’s interesting, good stuff, really glad I learned about it. We should totally keep in touch. Not gonna buy right now.” And most relationships span a long time and multiple jobs.

AI can provide awareness of what is happening with those important contacts and the events in their lives to provide reminders and meaningful ways to stay in touch. Noticing a recent award or commenting on a new executive hire can open up new conversations that go beyond product implementation and are an important path to developing deep relationships. This is much more effective than just marching to an automated cadence of “Hey, just wanted to keep in touch with you. Again.”

AI can help monitor pipeline health

Particularly important for an accurate assessment of pipeline health, AI can keep track of which relationships are decaying or robust.

Long cycle deals are a major challenge for sales relationships. When there is long-term interest, but no immediate deal in play, sales needs to stay in touch. They must remain relevant and educate the buyer over time.

AI can monitor long cycle accounts and relationships, ensuring that sales never loses touch, and share powerful messages that work to keep long cycle relationships engaged. The goal is simpler and more effective outreach.

Accounts where sales only has one strong relationship are high risk accounts for purchase, retention, and referrals. AI can show sales where they lack access to the right roles in the buying center, and which deals in forecast are most likely to slip or close. For example, a New York-based legal consulting firm used relationship insights provided by, an AI platform for sales, to generate a million dollars in revenue.

Mysterious workings of artificial intelligence

While there are many ways to think through the solution to a problem, here is how uses AI to gather relationship intelligence that helps sales professionals create moments that matter, or more specifically, the little personal touches that keep a potential customer engaged.

Model the world

A map of all the people and companies in the world is created. AI is used to piece together the signals of everyone and understand who is working across different companies. From this, a strong understanding is developed of what relationships exist.

Topic modelling

AI is used to understand the content of more than 200,000 articles per day and the mentions of the people and companies within them. It gathers relationship intelligence by:

  • Finding people that you know and mentions of them.
  • Monitoring the social media activity, marketing engagement, and product usage of every account with which you wish to build a relationship. 
  • Setting up news alerts to make one-on-one conversations more meaningful.

Team insights and collaboration

AI is also very useful in synching information from CRM or sales engagement platforms, as well as tracking your teams’ emails, calendars, and social media interactions to understand who in your organization engages with which accounts.

Besides helping to avoid interfering with existing dialogues, you may discover your team has access to important leaders that can support the buying decision. AI can unearth opportunities for warm introductions to target accounts by mapping the existing web of relationships of your team members with individuals at the account, through potential connections in their extended networks, including collaborators and colleagues.

We were told by one of our clients, “Our team was having trouble breaking into the account – everyone was unresponsive. I used to find a common connection to the account. Three days later I had a scheduled call with the VP of Revenue.”

Three Tips on Choosing an AI-enabled app for sales

There are many apps available now that utilize some extent of AI. In choosing one to support a robust sales organization, here are three tips to guide your decision:

AI should understand context

Sales people do not like learning new tools. AI-enabled apps should be smart enough to understand what you are doing, whether you are in email, Salesforce, Salesloft or Slack, and prompt you with just the right insights for that moment in time.

Ideally, any new AI-enabled apps you deploy in your company should also integrate with your key CRM or sales engagement and automation platforms to avoid time-consuming double entry.

AI should make your sales team more human

Focus your AI purchases on things like background work and research that can help sales become more human by providing personalized insights on people and companies that can help spark a conversation. Insights should include company news updates that give sales an opportunity to share an interesting point of view and social media access that allows real-time points to engage with a prospect.

AI can make unscalable things scalable

Make sure the AI app is adept at revealing hard-to-find “nuggets” of value – like relationships on your team that could get you into key target accounts – that provide actionable insights to improve pipeline health.

By using these guidelines, you can find an AI-enabled solution that will help put the “human” back in the equation, increasing the depth and quality of business relationships that are the basic building blocks of a successful sales organization.

Steve Woods
Steve Woods is cofounder and chief technology officer of, a relationship intelligence platform that helps businesses find and grow the right relationships that drive sales. Prior to that, Woods served as cofounder and chief technology officer of Eloqua, a company he helped guide to a market leading position in marketing automation.


  1. Great insights.

    All the best with making sales more personal, effective, and efficient as well as more rewarding for those in business development.

  2. I agree that AI will augment the work of people engaged in selling, and that AI portends to make that work less tedious and more productive. But even as a business development strategist who champions the role that people play in B2B selling, I struggle to buy into the idea that “people don’t have relationships with anything they don’t perceive as being 100 percent human.” People can – and do – have relationships with many things that are not people. For starters, I have a relationship with my ancestry. I have a relationship with my alma mater (something I’m reminded of quarterly, and especially at year-end, at the very least). And yes, when asking for money, my beloved university tugs at my heartstrings by mentioning my relationship to my school). I have a relationship with technology and the environment. In fact, I have a long list of non-human relation-ees. Or relation-ers. Or, whatever.

    In the last 30 years, technology has chipped away at consumer expectations for human interactions. I grew up at a time when the only thing a person could purchase without experiencing (or, depending on your perspective, enduring) a human in the mix was soda or candy from a vending machine. Back then, there were a lot fewer people in the world buying a lot fewer things with a lot less frequency. We could afford to pay human cashiers to intervene when we tendered payments. That was before we helpfully assigned them a more anodyne job title, Associate. And we used to put up with salespeople because we had no choice. Today, we do. “No thanks, I’ll just purchase my life/auto/health insurance online . . .”

    How times have changed! Just now, I took a quick inventory in my mind of how many retail and B2B transactions I complete every week without any human involved, and there are so many, I don’t have time to list them. And there’s no need. All of us do the same thing, but because we’re so jaded to human-free commerce, we don’t think about it any more. “I have a relationship with my vendors, I just don’t speak with any of them.” Sometimes, the most banal statements can be parlayed into a witty cartoon caption. This one might take some work.

    I don’t look to AI to make sales more human. I just want AI to make sales better. And if that means no human, then more power to AI!

  3. Artificial intelligence in sales does not replace sales reps, it makes them more human. Smartly deployed, AI can do the heavy lifting of research and awareness, and leave the relationship-building and trust creation to the humans on the team. Ultimately, it’s a combination of skills that gets the most out of man and machine, drives more results, and is more satisfying to the salesperson and buyer.


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