Just like the story of AI, the story of sales too is a series of advancements. In a specific way, the current state of AI in sales is a convergence of advancements in various disciplines that hold tremendous potential to transform the world of sales. These are the same set of advancements that I covered in the previous section. I have listed those developments which are translated into solutions to the sales organizations worldwide, in increasing order of efficacy:
- Price bots: How much to discount? Whether to discount? These have been some of the go-to questions of salespeople for the longest time. Victor Antonio, in his book, “Sales Ex Machina: How Artificial Intelligence is Changing the World of Selling”, writes that today’s AI algorithms can look at structured data points like size of the deal, product specifications, compliance, number of competitors, company size, territory/region, client’s industry, client’s annual revenues, public or private company, level of decision-makers and influencers involved, timing etc. to propose a discount rate most likely to win you the deal. But is discounting the most powerful trick up a sales person’s sleeve? Certainly not. At best this is an incremental improvement to the sales process.
- Sales forecasting: Accurately forecasting sales is one of the most difficult tasks for most sales managers. Victor further writes that using AI algorithms, Sales Managers can predict their quarterly revenues with a high degree of accuracy. However, this is more of an operations/procurement focused or cost benefit. But isn’t revenue generation and revenue augmentation and growth the primary focus of a sales leader? A 2017 white paper produced by Harvard Business Review in collaboration with Apttus states that “B2B revenue generation processes offer huge opportunities to benefit from the (AI) technologies.” They further state that many pilots of these AI-enhanced revenue generation systems are underway. Where are those huge revenue generation opportunities and what exactly are these pilots trying to achieve?
- Lead & Opportunity scoring: These solutions have been around for a while and have proven themselves, albeit as incremental benefits, enabling more efficient allocation of sales efforts.
- Up/Cross-selling recommenders: Again, Victor writes in, “Sales Ex Machina: How Artificial Intelligence is changing the World of Selling”, of AI algorithms that predict your existing customers most likely to buy a specific product or offering. But up-sell and cross-sell are by definition incremental. Sure, AI enabled recommendations for up/cross selling would help to grow at a faster clip but does it fundamentally transform how an organization sells?
- Performance management dashboards: This is by far the most consequential part of a sales manager’s job. Fortunately, AI is here to help, with algorithms that predict opportunities with a high chance of closing and those that are at high risk. This allows sales managers to do a relatively more accurate, and hence more impactful allocation of resources. One may argue this rewards better selling behavior albeit in an indirect way.
- Voice-based conversational AI: This has been one of the most under-utilized AI disciplines in the sales context. Current voice-based sales assistants mostly include products that help the sales rep fill in more of the structured data we have already discussed in various contexts. There are a small number of cases where inside sales teams are empowered with voice transcript driven coaching. But these solutions are not nearly as prevalent as some of the aforementioned ones.
- External data feeds/news aggregation: This is the darling of most sales leaders. We have seen sales leaders around the world looking for data feeds that will fill the top of their funnel with good quality leads – a magic wand for sales if there ever was one. The hard fact still being that most similar organizations have the same set of companies or customers making up their total addressable market, and the key differentiator in such a scenario is the effectiveness of the organization’s sales tactics.