Sales Training, Coaching Will Benefit from AI

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When companies infuse artificial intelligence (AI) into sales training and coaching, more individualized learning experiences can scale across the organization, Gartner analysts contend in a recent report.

Creating a high-performing sales organization is difficult with traditional training and coaching technology, primarily because coaching content and recommendations are generally delivered by role to the sales organization as a whole and do not account for individuals’ learning styles, the analyst firm finds.

“To have a more performant sales organization, training and coaching content must be delivered based on individual learning style,” says Melissa Hilbert, a senior research director at Gartner. “Learning styles such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic affect how sales reps receive training and coaching information, creating an imbalance in performance if not accounted for at scale.”

Many companies are already using AI to deliver role-based training (where one set of training is offered for contact center line workers and another for contact center managers, for example), but such technology will continue to evolve in the sales training and coaching space over the next few years, according to Hilbert. Right now these tools are in the early-adoption stage, but they will move to full mass market use relatively soon, she says.

“AI is already embedded in many of the personal lives of sellers and sales leaders, and it is beginning to emerge in the workplace through training and coaching tools,” Hilbert says. “By 2020, Gartner predicts that 30 percent of all B2B companies will employ some kind of AI to augment at least one of their primary sales processes.”

In a Gartner survey of organizations piloting or deploying AI technologies, 61 percent of respondents reported significant value delivered to the organization. Among the benefits cited were increased efficiency, cost reduction, and improved revenue streams.

“This is what sales training and coaching technology is targeted to do,” Hilbert says. “If you can decrease the time it takes to get a new seller productive, you have become more efficient, reduced your training costs, and have the possibility for more sales outcomes.”

And AI, which can identify the learning style of sellers, provide prescriptive recommendations based on those styles, recognize which types of material are most effective for each individual seller, and provide those types in the future, is uniquely capable of delivering those outcomes.

The next few years will also lead to even more individualized training, Hilbert adds. Complex machine learning algorithms can guide reps and sales managers with recommendations for training and coaching based on their learning styles.

AI can, for example, use branching, a method to guide an individual’s learning through a module based on responses, as well as adaptive learning, where the system directs learners to appropriate training or coaching based on their interactions with the system, according to Hilbert. “Then [salespeople] will learn better and sell better.”

Hilbert says she recently talked to a vendor of sales training programs who is already working on this type of AI-based material.

But she expects most companies to take a more cautious approach with these individualized programs, at least at first. “You’re talking about training that will impact a company’s revenue, so it’s very important that they get it right.”

Taking that one step further, Hilbert foresees AI being used to inform salespeople how customers best respond to different types of pitches. For example, some customers might respond better to a detailed, two-page fact sheet or informational brochure, while others respond better to graphic material with very little text. The technology will alert the salesperson to the best materials for converting the customer from looker to buyer.

However, Hilbert says many of these expected developments are at least a few years away as companies move cautiously to see what is successful before fully embracing advanced AI in their sales training and coaching. 

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