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What the next generation of sales looks like

(Image credit: Image Credit: Razum / Shutterstock)

Artificial intelligence offers the promise of more efficiency, productivity, and customisation. This technology has come of age thanks to massive amounts of data available. We are in an unparalleled age of access, and this trend is only set to continue. A recent report from McKinsey even revealed that by 2020 a staggering 1.7 megabytes of new information will be produced every second for every person.

We are also seeing increasing success with training new machine learning algorithms. Indeed, we now stand at a very interesting time - one where we can make every salesperson more efficient by providing helpful and timely guidance that builds skills and confidence to sell with certainty.

Embrace AI and you’ll love it

There’s a lot of hyperbole around AI, with seemingly endless reports being published on how it will affect almost every sector and every job within it, both white collar and blue. However, the truth is that the occupations that are most likely to resist automation are those that require complex perception activities and more nuanced skills such as problem-solving, negotiation, persuasion, and empathy.

The use of AI tools has increased rapidly over the past few years, particularly within businesses. Adoption of AI in enterprise has already increased by270 per cent within the last four years alone. But, what does this increased adoption mean for the future of sales? It certainly doesn’t spell the death of the salesperson. Instead, this emerging technology will support sales professionals in significant ways allowing them to focus on more important tasks rather than repetitive details. 

One of the most exciting developments of AI for salespeople is the virtual assistant. A salesperson's day is quickly filled up with administrative tasks like emailing, scheduling, data entry — the list goes on. Great people will always be the backbone of successful sales, but AI will become the crucial tool supporting them. Think of it as a power-up — allowing you to do your job faster and better, and qualify leads more effectively.

Virtual assistants of all kinds exist for busy people (and salespeople are the busiest!) Some function almost exactly like a human assistant sitting in between your email and calendar, like and Clara. All you need to do is loop them into your email conversation—"copying Amy to schedule this meeting"—and they handle the rest. 

These assistants learn over time about your meeting preferences—conference line or Google Hangouts, coffee meeting or lunch, morning calls or afternoon—and free you up to do more important work. By taking on these administrative tasks, AI allows you focus on your talent, charisma, and empathy to build relationships with customers—current and prospective.

This is quickly becoming the new status quo. Indeed, a recent study from Spiceworks, the IT community, highlighted this. In an April 2018 report they found that within 12 months 40 per cent of large businesses (those with 500 or more employees) would implement at least one intelligent assistant on company owned devices. While at an admittedly smaller scale, we will also see major adoption amongst small businesses, with 27 per cent of them set to implement virtual assistants or AI powered chatbots.

Structuring your process

Other types of AI are now being baked directly into CRMs. Smart contact data technology can automate the long hours of manual research salespeople spend trying to get to know and understand potential customers. Data entry and analysis can help you figure out the “why” behind the “what” of your information.

One of the biggest time sucks for salespeople is trying to make sense of unstructured data—meaning data that doesn't fall into one defined category. Having huge swathes of available data is a great asset only if you have the tools required to effectively analyse and sort what can be an unwieldy resource. AI-augmented CRM systems can categorise, parse, and analyse unstructured data and find cues inside your trove of customer actions so that you can better understand why a deal fell through and what you can do next time. 

There is a huge amount of potential for personalised, AI-driven assistants in sales. This is extremely important, as personalisation has consistently been shown to be key to increasing conversion rates during the sales process. Econsultancy recently conducted a study - in association with Monetate - that found surveyed companies achieved an average sales increase of 20 per cent by personalising their pitches and experiences. These AI driven assistants can now help you while your on your phone - a constant coach, confidence booster, and ally in delivering support, visibility, certainty, and control over your sales. Actionable insights delivered just when they are need.  In the complex picture of day to day selling, every sales pro will do better with a compass towards true-north. In the years ahead, a sales CRM can and must do this to deliver more certainty for sales outcomes.

Furthermore, AI will also usher in a new era of clean and lean data collection across sales teams, which will help them qualify stronger leads and build data-driven action plans. Fortunately, the GDPR has already begun enforcing leaner data collection processes. Sales professionals now only gather data that is needed and that they have lawful grounds to process. In practice, this means less unnecessary data is collected which means more time is available to chase down quality leads.

Tapping into data

Salespeople love data. AI loves data. So the combination is a match made in heaven. This rapid advance in technology may seem daunting at first, but the reality is that the robot salesman isn’t likely.

Instead, this innovation will unleash salespeople from the tedious and repetitive tasks that bury them so that they can focus on the more essential—and deal-closing—skills of problem-solving, negotiation, persuasion, and empathy. This is a unique opportunity for salespeople to think more profoundly about their roles and how they want to shape their futures. AI is just the tool to get them there.

Vinay Ramani, Chief Product Officer, Pipedrive
Image Credit: Razum / Shutterstock

Vinay Ramani is the Chief Product Officer of Pipedrive.