- The shift to virtual selling has put more pressure on to be successful and accountable to eliminate risk from the pipeline
- Only 47 percent of digital sellers say their CRM is a go-to tool and it didn’t make the list of top five tools used daily by sellers
- AI is a game-changer for sales technology, but it’s not used to its greatest potential
- There is a massive opportunity to deploy AI in sales organizations that can help sellers prioritize, focus and sell such as removing the burden of data entry and automating time-consuming tasks
- If you fully embrace AI and take certain steps outlined below to realize the potential of the technology, you’ll reap the rewards of better CRM adoption, cleaner data, and more accurate forecasting
The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was said to be coined in 1953 – a time when the idea of a machine being “intelligent” was far-fetched. But today, we see AI in our everyday lives: when we unlock our phones using our face when we ask Alexa what the weather forecast is and when we use Google Maps for directions. AI makes our lives easier because it automates mundane tasks and allows us to focus our time on more important activities. Now, think about being able to have that same reality in your job. Especially if you are in sales, it’s a game-changer. I’ve certainly never heard of a seller wishing to do more customer relationship management (CRM) updates.
Why AI’s current application in sales technology is negligible
Sales technology today does use AI, but most vendors – and therefore, customers – don’t use it to its greatest potential. Point solutions that are centrally built around AI and machine learning (ML) as a differentiator tend to have a very narrow focus compared to wholesale systems such as sales force automation (SFA) or CRM tools. For those, AI is often a bolt-on, run outside CRMs rather than being embedded as a native and pervasive element of the whole solution. Simple probability and prediction scores are overhyped as deep machine learning, or ML models are designed using standard data and broadly inclusive features, making the algorithms inherently generic.
Given that this is the experience many sellers have with AI, they don’t find it valuable because the intelligence isn’t new, timely, or specific enough. They trust their gut, their experience, and perhaps even their manager more than a machine. But that’s not scalable when the majority of sales organizations have gone virtual, making it harder to onboard new reps and provide tailored one-to-one sales coaching and guided selling over Zoom. Plus, if the sellers aren’t adopting AI and providing feedback, it all becomes irrelevant very quickly.
And that’s assuming that the AI in your sales technology is delivered to sellers in the first place. Much of the AI available to solve sales problems focuses on helping sales operations with forecasting or helping managers spot macro trends. It’s AI for the sales organization, not necessarily for the seller.
AI holds the key to a spectrum of opportunities for sellers and customer experience optimization (CXO)
The good news is that there is a massive opportunity to deploy AI in sales organizations that can help sellers prioritize, focus, sell, and then sell some more. AI can serve sellers by:
- Removing the burden of data entry: Flagging stale data or automatically identify and clean up duplicates
- Automating time-consuming and administrative tasks: Automating activity capture or recurring tasks while also auto-detecting and correcting CRM activity
- Delivering curated, persona-driven selling experiences: Personalizing content to the account, the contact, the sales rep, and the sales play, helping a rep close a deal with a targeted offer that aligns with a marketing campaign
- Empowering customers to define their sales engagement, help them self-manage straightforward sales engagements so sellers can work on more complex deals
Sellers were already in need of help pre-pandemic. Now, the shift to virtual selling has put more pressure on sellers to be successful and accountable to eliminate risk from the pipeline. Today’s CRM isn’t helping anyone – only 47 percent of digital sellers say their CRM is a go-to tool and it didn’t make the list of top five tools used daily by sellers according to findings from Beagle Research. It’s time to embrace AI, adopt tools that help sellers, and ultimately increase the bottom line.
Advice to help leaders inject AI into sales for success
Here are a few steps to see AI success in sales.
1. Don’t add another step
AI should just be a native, integrated, and nearly invisible element of the selling process – offering help and guidance when it is useful. It shouldn’t require an extra login or app to manage on top of the CRM. It doesn’t need a lot of extra custom fields on every page, and it doesn’t need a big flashing neon sign screaming “This is AI! Please use it!” Sellers have enough on their plate. Just build AI into intuitive CRM workflows and use it to surface insights in the appropriate context, embrace AI. And for goodness sake, don’t make reps go 4 clicks deep into a record to find an irrelevant probability score.
2. Get your data house in order
This will enable real-time AI which is crucial because the more you use it, the more specific and helpful it gets over time. No one cares about a recommended next best action 24 hours after a lost deal.
3. Remember, one size doesn’t fit all
You need AI to suit your unique business needs. However, building, iterating on and refining AI models is time-consuming and requires expertise. You want ML tools that can speed the model creation and refinement process, or even automatically suggest and select the right model for a problem. But you can still “Bring your own data” and fine-tune those models with the features that matter to you. The brutal truth is not all data lives in the CRM and AI technology experts are not experts in your company’s unique business processes. That’s ok; you just need a plan for how to make the most of it.
4. Deploy AI to first solve common problems
The most common challenges that your sellers’ experience should be the ones that you deploy AI to tackle first. These include: how to plan/organize their day; where and how to focus their energy; how to spot leads and opportunities that are at risk for stalling; understand discrepancies between what they think they will win/close and what the actual likelihood is; and how to grow their pipeline including identifying and reacting to dormant accounts, and scan and conduct white space analysis to unearth cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. If you can free them up from the activities that consume their time, they’ll be more successful. You can always make discovering new sales models or innovating in new markets part two of the plan.
If you fully embrace AI and take these steps to realize the potential of the technology, you’ll reap the rewards of better CRM adoption, cleaner data, and more accurate forecasting. And yes, you can achieve all those goals without the weekly sales manager “account check-in” meetings or mad dashes at the end of the quarter for sellers to call deals with arbitrary win probabilities. That’s reason enough to embrace AI.
Kayleigh Halko is Senior Manager, CX Product Strategy, Oracle Advertising and Customer Experience.