When it comes to deciding whether AI in sales can positively impact a business, there are many factors that must be considered.
We’ve said many times that sales is all about people: It’s about the talent you recruit into your team and about the way you train and lead them.
It’s also about the quirky nuances that show up in your customers. When sales works optimally, your high-performing team build productive relationships with these customers and your business soars.
So instinctively our response is that AI can never replicate this. It can’t grasp the nuance that is the heart and soul of human interaction.
But with AI the hot topic of 2023 it’s worth asking in what ways AI can make sales teams more effective.
What’s the worst that can happen with AI in sales?
Not everybody in business enjoys LinkedIn. Some people use it very successfully as a business growth tool while others bemoan its self-promoting, “fake” profiling.
Love it or loath it, it’s a platform on which virtually everyone is polite. Sure, people present the side of themselves they want the public to see, but they actually exist. You can tell that from their career history.
The advent of AI threatens a dark future where a great chunk of content you see on LinkedIn and platforms like it is created artificially.
We’re already in a world where character recognition tools will filter CVs for job applications. What’s to stop this advancing to a place where sales proposals are created artificially and early stages of the procurement process filter you out without a human ever being involved?
You’d hope that in this future there’s a premium placed on genuine, authentic human interaction.
The distinction is between one-on-one relationships (for example in Key Account Management) and one-to-many. If you have lots of customers or prospects you might find creating messages using AI is a great time saving, whereas understanding the personality of your most important customer contacts will likely pay back in a different way.
How can AI make selling more efficient?
This is where the big upsides are likely to show up with AI in sales. Anything that’s a bit laborious can be sped up.
Imagine you have a big presentation coming up to a potential new client. If you felt lazy (or bored) you could ask AI to write the presentation for you. If you’re anything like a good fit for winning the work this is unlikely to fully demonstrate your best side.
But let’s say you want to research your client’s latest company results and how the City and media responded to it. Make that request of AI and you’ll receive a quick summary of the background information you’re after
Who are the key board members, where are they based and what’s the holding company? All this basic research can be answered simply and quickly with AI.
If you have a big number of customers, you can probably use your sales data to predict what company is likely to buy what service from you next. What are the typical repeat rates and timelines?
It’s probably no surprise the first example of AI we saw in sales was the generation of cold call emails. If everyone goes this way we’ll all be teetering on the brink of the worst case scenario outlined above.
Yet if you use email marketing there’s no doubt that using AI to craft your first draft will save you time. It’s easier to critique a starter for ten than it is to start from scratch.
So as a rule of thumb, AI in sales is likely to be more relevant in one-to-many selling scenarios, and it will probably help you save time in repetitive or administrative tasks.
Why should you be careful with AI in sales?
Some organisations have already placed restrictions on how their employees engage with AI. AI can only create insights from your customer data if you share the data. That opens up all sorts of issues around data protection and your own company Intellectual Property.
If you have a big product launch coming up you might want help creating a presentation to help you achieve sales of £1m in your biggest client. But there are very likely some constraints on how much of this story you can share with an AI tool.
You can guarantee there will be high-profile court cases over breach of data rules in the near future.
It’s the job of AI to trawl what’s already been written on a subject and present it to you in simple form. It’s your job to check the validity of the source data and ensure you’re allowed to use it. Failure to do so can be a breach of copyright or might just end up leaving you looking stupid!
This is the big hidden cost of AI. It places a big demand on data processing which in due course has implications for emissions.
Accurate measurement of the carbon footprint of AI is in its infancy. But stand by for lots of comparisons between the energy used in an email or Google search compared to AI.
You’ll need to account for this in any ESG measurement or carbon calculations you share with your customer base, so use of it is not net neutral.
How do we see the future of AI in sales?
The most important place to start is to admit we’re not experts in AI (if anybody is). We have years of experience in sales but very little in AI.
Those years of experience have led us to believe in the importance of humans in selling. It’s been said many times that to buy from someone you need to know, like and trust them. And machines can’t do that.
Yet it’s already clear that there are ways in which AI in sales can help automate simple or repeating tasks. And it’s likely this will free up time for real people to focus more of their time and energy on customers.
So the jury is out – and it will be for a long time – but at the moment AI in sales looks like something to embrace.