B2B Artificial Intelligence and Sales

ai for salesArtificial Intelligence. If you’ve been online in the last six months, you’ll see talk of AI everywhere. Experts across the globe are offering up their own take—trying to be first to tell you exactly how artificial intelligence will impact your industry, your company, your product, your job.

And, at ZoomInfo, we’re no exception. We recently discussed AI in the following post: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on B2B Marketing. Today John Holland, Chief Content Officer of CustomerCentric Selling, helps us cover the other side of the coin—artificial intelligence within the sales process. Keep reading.

The Problem with Artificial Intelligence and Sales

Only a mere 13% of the modern sales force is comprised of ‘A Players’ – or reps who consistently exceed quota. For the other 87% – the B and C players – almost every year is a struggle. In fact, for the last few decades, only about 50% of sales reps have achieved quota (source). For many sales managers, the solution to this issue lies within artificial intelligence—or AI.

However, artificial intelligence presents its own set of challenges. Although AI is intended to simplify processes and tasks—most technology still requires these two things: human input and data. If you don’t have the proper strategies and processes in place to control these two things, AI can do more harm than good.

CRM as an example:

In the early 90’s, Sales Force Automation (SFA) was failing to deliver results that would justify expenditures. As with many software offerings that fail to thrive, they changed their name (to Customer Relationship Management [CRM]) and introduced expanded functionalities. At the time, many felt it was quite a stretch to imply software could manage relationships, but nonetheless, CRM took off.

At the time, one of the primary motivations for a CRM purchase was the promise of an increased pipeline, visibility, and control, which many believed would lead to more accurate revenue forecasts. However, while CRM adoption did have immediate benefits, improving forecast accuracy was not one of them. That process took longer.

The problem? Seller opinions were still the input to the system. Meaning, the progress of an opportunity recorded within the program was based primarily on the subjective view of the seller. Anyone see a problem here?

Both sales reps and managers had their own motivations when projecting revenue, and ultimately there was very little control over the process. As you can imagine, forecast accuracy did not dramatically improve in the short term.

As the old IT adage goes, “garbage in-garbage out.” Unsurprisingly, when an organization operates using inaccurate data, such as seller opinions in favor of true pipeline milestones, all reporting is going to be compromised.

B2B Artificial Intelligence as Your Competitive Advantage

As companies struggle to align their sales processes with the way buyers want to buy, a new opportunity to differentiate yourself has come about – your sales process.

Companies that can identify, share, and adopt best selling practices will be able to leverage that as a sustainable competitive differentiator. In other words, the sellers themselves become the single most important factor in determining win rates.

Here’s where artificial intelligence comes into play. The companies that provide their sales teams with the best and most effective technological resources will come out on top. In fact, top performing sales teams are four times more likely to use predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to augment how they sell (source).

On its own, artificial intelligence can cause a big problem for sales teams. But, accompanied by a strategic process, artificial intelligence promises increased efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately, success in sales.  Consider these statistics:

  • 81% of executives believe artificial intelligence boosts productivity (source).
  • 80% of executives believe artificial intelligence improvers worker performance and creates jobs (source).

Lay the Groundwork for Artificial Intelligence and Sales Success

Here are four components of the sales process that organizations must adopt to effectively prepare for the onslaught of AI:

  • Standard pipeline milestones a seller must execute, for each type of transaction that may take place.
  • A defined, shared skill set that outlines how a seller can achieve these milestones.
  • Consistent messaging sellers can use to position offers to the same types of people.
  • Buyer actions that managers can audit to validate milestone achievements.

Remember, most AI-based technologies require terabytes of historical data to make connections and inferences that are likely to improve results. It’s the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. So, do yourself a favor and set your team up for AI success. Using the structure defined above, develop a set of best practices, controls, and strategies to guide your use of AI.

Key Takeaways Regarding AI for Sales

At its core, artificial intelligence is reliant on rich, accurate data – without it, the technology isn’t able to ‘learn’ effectively. Although AI technology promises to reshape the way we sell, it cannot function without the aid of human interaction. To operate at its most optimal level, artificial intelligence needs a strategic process in place.

If you retain one piece of advice from this post, let it be this: To reap the biggest reward, companies must lay the groundwork to support artificial intelligence. This will allow your sales processes to become more productive, collaborative, and streamlined—making your salespeople your biggest competitive advantage.

John Holland is Chief Content Officer for CustomerCentric Selling® (CCS®). CCS® specializes in world-class sales training that helps organizations predictably improve revenue growth and sales performance. Founded in 2002, CCS® helps clients worldwide to implement repeatable, auditable and scalable sales processes that, when combined with CustomerCentric Messaging® (Sales Ready Messaging®), guides marketing and sales to have meaningful conversations with customers and prospects. CustomerCentric Selling® is annually named to Training Industry’s list of Top Sales Training Companies. For more information, visit www.customercentric.com .