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  • July 15, 2019
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Top Sales Trends: AI Gives Sales Teams a Boost

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Over the past few years, advances in cloud technology, artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and automation have dramatically altered every key sales function, from initial lead generation, through sales negotiation, all the way to contract execution and beyond. In this complex software environment, if a basic CRM system is your only sales tool, your competitors are likely to have a much bigger and better pipeline and their sales teams’ performance metrics likely surpass your own.

Sales technology has absolutely advanced far beyond the basic sales force automation systems of just a few years ago, experts argue.

“There is [sales] enablement, optimization, acceleration, and effectiveness They are value-adds to basic sales force automation functions,” says Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group. “They can range from sales onboarding programs that are content-driven to sales intelligence to journey mapping/tracking/orchestration to customer-facing analytics.

“There are dozens of other tools that sales have had historically that are getting more and more sophisticated, such as sales compensation or configure-price-quote (CPQ),” Greenberg adds.

Jim Dickie, cofounder of CSO Insights and a research fellow at Sales Mastery, agrees. “What companies have traditionally been doing with CRM is expanding, and the goal there is making salespeople more effective,” he says.

With that goal in mind, perhaps no technological advance in the past few years has been more disruptive than AI. AI makes it possible for reps to offer personalized and automated responses to prospects’ questions through guided selling. It can handle activity logging, create new contacts, and predict which products and discounts will resonate with individual customers based on previous successes and customer profiles that it creates. It can roll up sales forecasts, prospect leads, synchronize calendar entries and emails, and recommend cross-sells and upsells. It can construct sales models, serve up recommended content, and even help with sales hiring, onboarding, training, and coaching. It can be used to harness Big Data to gain incredible insights into account health.

Look for AI to continue to evolve in the coming years. And as AI becomes more proficient at gathering information from social media, websites, and other sources, salespeople will not have to spend hours every day seeking out new prospects, adding them to the sales funnel, and moving them along in their customer journey.

“AI systems take the grunt work out of manually mining for leads,” says Ryan Moore, director of clients at Peak Sales Recruiting. “Using internet data and social media content, artificial intelligence can leverage existing connections between companies, products, and people. AI can also integrate with existing marketing automation software to find details from your inbox or CRM.”

AI is also being used in virtual sales assistants, which Moore says are “useful for taking over the most monotonous, time-consuming tasks for salespeople,” like pipeline management, meeting scheduling, and data entry. “They can also analyze data to assist with lead qualification, forecasting, and follow-up,” he adds. “This frees up salespeople to spend more time on relationship-enriching activities that foster trust and boost sales.”

AI like this is being infused into just about every sales platform available. In fact, IDC recently noted that interest in AI has definitely reached “a fever pitch.”

Research from Salesforce.com supports this as well. In a recent “State of Sales” report, the company found that sales leaders expect AI to grow faster than any other technology: Only 21 percent of sales leaders in 2018 said their organizations were using AI, but AI adoption is set to skyrocket by 155 percent through 2020, when 54 percent of sales leaders expect to be using it.

The reasons are simple, according to Moore. “AI technologies are a boon for productivity,” he says. “AI will continue to get more intelligent, faster, and more powerful as a means of taking over repetitive tasks and handling time-consuming analytics, creating more availability for people to focus on higher-level tasks that require a human touch.”

Moore goes on to say that AI “augments the capabilities of a team’s best salespeople, allowing them to work smarter, sell better, and utilize their time—a finite resource in high demand—more efficiently.”

BECOME AN ENABLER

Many of the capabilities that are being automated with AI fall into a class of sales technologies called sales enablement, which research firm MarketsandMarkets currently values as a $1.1 billion market globally. The firm expects the worldwide sales enablement market to more than double to $2.6 billion by 2024, growing at a compound annual rate of 19.8 percent.

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