September 5, 2017 Ted Bauer

What do you need to really know about artificial intelligence and sales?

If you’re even remotely in the sales ecosystem, you’ve probably heard about artificial intelligence (from here on out we’ll probably call it “AI,” more simply). Heck, if you exist in any profession — white or blue-collar, really — you’ve probably heard how AI will automate a lot of jobs in your profession and you/your kids won’t have a clear path to economic freedom. Wow. It’s pretty heady stuff, right?

In the sales world, the big argument is always “Well, we build human-to-human relationships, so we can’t be replaced.” As AI got to scale faster and faster, the question became “We can’t be replaced, right?”

So what’s the deal with artificial intelligence and sales? What’s going to change? Are a percentage of the people going away? What do we know and what’s still kind of BS?

Why more people are talking about artificial intelligence and sales now

That’s largely because of the partnership announced between Salesforce and IBM back in May, which pairs Salesforce’s Einstein (CRM AI) with IBM’s Watson (the computer that won Jeopardy and has been profiled on 60 Minutes).

When the two companies announced the partnership, there was this paragraph:

IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein Integration: Integrating IBM Watson APIs into Salesforce will bring predictive insights from unstructured data, inside or outside an enterprise, together with predictive insights from customer data delivered by Salesforce Einstein to enable smarter, faster decisions across sales, service, marketing, commerce and more. For example, by combining local shopping patterns, weather and retail industry data from Watson with customer-specific shopping data and preferences from Salesforce Einstein, a retailer will be able to automatically send highly personalized and localized email campaigns to shoppers.

Some buzzwords in there, to be sure — and mostly B2C applications with some interesting data sets around weather and brick-and-mortar appearances of consumers. But still, this is potentially just the beginning.

Are salespeople less useful, and does that make AI a threat?

Destination CRM and CSO Insights worked on the “2017 World Class Sales and Service Practice” research (1,200 companies on the performance of their sales teams), and this graphic is a bit troubling:

artificial intelligence sales

There could be a lot of reasons for this, including digital noise (too many channels to populate) or cost cutbacks (sales principals being left thin). It could also be BS designed to get you to buy a CRM, because in the very next paragraph of the report, they talk about sales enablement going from 19% adoption to 45% adoption in a few years. (Sales enablement is essentially more concentrated work between sales and marketing, usually through a CRM or other platform.)

But if quotas are dropping, could AI replace out salespeople?

And then: gulp!!!

Gartner says that, by 2020 — just a few short years — 85% of business interactions will occur without any human interaction.

And then, remember that whole Microsoft buying LinkedIn for $26 billion deal from earlier in 2017? (Hmm, LinkedIn is worth 2x what Whole Foods is…). Well, LinkedIn is getting closer to a proprietary CRM with pre-populated data, potentially tied with Microsoft Dynamics.

Let’s hear from the Growbots guy

Growbots is a personalized outbound sales service mostly operating on the U.S. side. Their CEO rightfully admits this about the current sales process at most orgs:

Currently, salespeople spend a ton of time on tasks like searching for potential customers, scoring leads, segmenting prospect list, and managing the marketing campaigns that move them through the funnel.

He goes on to up-sell his own service a little bit, so we’ll end the quote here.

But this is the whole part you need to know.

Artificial intelligence is going to reduce the “I’m so busy” side of sales

… and ideally replace it with “I’m doing important work.” (Although some people will still claim to be busy, because it’s a legitimate human need.)

Imagine if LinkedIn and Microsoft drop a proprietary sales CRM with names, emails, phone numbers, histories, etc. Lots of people want it. So now you have a super powerful CRM and your cold calls can be informed, your emails can be more targeted, etc. Awesome.

You still need people to manage those relationships.

You still need the good ol’ closers.

You might need less “utility” guys, especially if you’re paying more for a CRM, but you know, someone falls in all these situations.

Now imagine if AI can automate out some of the busy work, the lead scoring, the quantifications.

Now you have more time, and more contacts at better quality.

You’re gonna be a rock star!

So it’s actually possible that artificial intelligence is going to make a lot of us better at sales, even though that feels a little counter-intuitive.

What, if anything, are you hearing/thinking about artificial intelligence and sales?

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