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With AI for Sales, Familiarity Breeds Respect

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As part of Sales Mastery’s recent AI-for-sales study, the last question we asked the 420 sales professionals who took part in the survey was to assess what impact they saw advances in artificial intelligence having on sales organizations three years from now. The chart summarizes their responses.

Here we see that most study participants viewed AI as a key enhancement to their CRM technology stack, if not an outright necessity for their organization to be able to compete effectively in the future. But a deeper dive into the data found that focusing on the summary analysis alone was hiding divisions in attitudes.

As part of the study design, we sought input from three different classes of sales organizations: Those that have already evaluated AI-for-sales solutions, those that are currently or plan to evaluate solutions this year, and those that have no current plans regarding AI for sales. The objective was to have equal representation of the approximately one third of the respondents that made up each category.

It is important to note that in ensuring adequate representation from all three cases of use, these figures by no means reflect the market penetration of AI for sales. Our past benchmarking found that the percentage of firms implementing AI today is still in the low single digits. However, we are seeing an increase in firms looking to evaluate these solutions.

When we segmented the answers to this question based on firms implementing, evaluating, or having no interest in AI, the views were dramatically different. Within organizations that had no current interest in AI for sales, 67.6 percent viewed AI as just a nice-to-have addition to CRM or something that sales organizations could get by without. That number dropped to 11.6 percent for firms that were evaluating AI and was cut even further to 4.7 percent for firms that were already AI-for-sales users.

I have been around the sales enablement space too long to not still have a degree of skepticism about how, and how fast, AI will impact the roles of sales and sales management. But compared to previous studies we have done on emerging technology trends in sales, the initial study data is far more positive than any we have ever seen.

Will we find that some AI claims are, in fact, too good to be true? Sure. Will some implementations encounter speed bumps, potholes, or even sinkholes as they travel down the AI highway? Undoubtedly. Will we see ongoing shakeups in the AI-for-sales marketplace as vendors disappear, new players enter the space, and consolidation occurs via mergers and acquisitions? That is the nature of technology.

But the assessments of firms that have firsthand experience with these solutions, even at this nascent stage of applying AI to try to transform aspects of their customer life cycle management, cannot be ignored. The majority of firms that currently have no interest in AI for sales would be wise to at least investigate AI further to see if it represents a true early-mover competitive edge—versus finding out a couple years down the road that they are now at a late-mover disadvantage in their marketplace. 

Jim Dickie, cofounder of CSO Insights, is currently a research fellow for Sales Mastery, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking case study examples of how companies are leveraging technology to transform sales. He can be reached at jim@salesmastery.com or at @jimdickie.

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