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Going Head-to-Head: Will AI Replace Salespeople in 2024?

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Human vs machine used to be a fun debate to liven up any dinner party – but with numerous use cases and early adopters, the transition is finally happening. From retail to healthcare, transportation, education, and finance, AI is going to touch all of it sooner or later – it's unavoidable. So, what does the evolution of AI mean for the future of sales?

The global AI market is currently worth over $200 billion and is expected to reach $1.85 trillion by 2030. On top of this, the AI market in sales and marketing is expected to reach $13.4 billion by 2025 – a significant slice of the pie.

It’s no secret that the world of sales has changed since its conception. From door-to-door sales to telephone calls and solution selling driven by technology, we are now facing a time where sales are more often than not in the virtual world – with 44% of millennials preferring no face-to-face interaction at all.

But salespeople still hold the key. They know their product better than anyone else and can add value to the customer experience over and above a simple transaction.

With that in mind, what does the future look like? Will robots really take over, or will salespeople find a way to work with advancing technology for the benefit of all?

How does Artificial Intelligence revolutionize sales?

The role of AI in sales is gradually shaping the future sales landscape – often so subtly that the shift is imperceptible. How quickly have we become accustomed to using productive chatbots?

But AI's integration with the sales processes is more than customer-facing electronic helpmates. It’s in everything from integrating with ERP & CRM systems to lead generation and customer data analysis to insightful recommendations: you name it, AI probably has a hand in it.

Some see this as technology taking over, but it isn’t necessarily hostile. AI has undoubtedly enhanced many of these applications, removing the tedious tasks that kept salespeople from actually selling their products and streamlining processes to make them more efficient. But how far can it go?

What are the core principles of sales AI?

AI is used throughout the sales process in a number of ways, from back-office operations right through to closing the final sales deal – but what does this mean in reality, and how can it help your teams?

Sales Intelligence:

We all need a helping hand sometimes, but sales intelligence is designed to do more than that. Sales intelligence is your team's virtual guru, collecting data so you can monitor, track, and even analyze your customer’s behavior to help you make more sales. AI can also analyze historical trends, low-purchase customers, and customers who are more likely to complete a related sale, giving your team confidence in their decision-making.

Sales Effectiveness:

AI can steer your reps towards genuine sales leads, maximizing your team’s efficiency and making sure they aren’t off-chasing red herrings. Every deal counts, and with an AI-packed tech stack, your sales teams can enhance sales effectiveness, increasing the likelihood of successful sales.

Sales Analytics & Forecasting:

Analytics are AI’s superpower – transforming what used to be guesswork into accurate forecasting data. AI can analyze customer trends data extracted from your ERP – predicting demand to inform stock decisions and potential sales peaks. 

How can a sales team reap the rewards?

If this all sounds like something that would boost your sales performance – you're absolutely right. AI will help your team make decisions based on accurate, real-time, and historical data – including which accounts to chase for the purpose of upselling and cross-selling.

If your business relies on Big Data, bringing in AI to analyze it will further increase efficiency. AI organizes, administers, and makes data simpler using automation. It helps sales teams with data processing, visualization, and predictive modeling.

But the benefits don’t stop there. AI can analyze sales trends, for example, by creating lists of your most responsive customers or products and segmenting them by the highest margin or repeat orders.

The possibilities of AI are endless and will enable your sales team to meet your customers with relevant and tailored products and pitches – increasing the likelihood of success. Combine this with AI’s ability to automate processes, such as analyzing and qualifying results that prevent your salespeople from actually selling, and the wins become all too obvious.

AI vs. Salespeople – a head-to-head

All the above can propel your sales team to greater success, but AI can’t do it alone. 

Why is that?

why ai will not replace salespeople

It’s crucial to never underestimate the importance of people's power in the selling process. People comprise your culture, and that’s what makes your company unique and keeps your customers coming back. While AI can improve processes and enhance user experience, it still doesn’t know the ins and outs of your business quite like your team.

We’ve put together some top areas in the battle of AI vs. salespeople that clearly show when it comes to sales success, a combination of AI and smart reps is what your business needs.

  1. Sales objection handling:

    Even with the best products in the market, some customers would find reasons to skip or delay a purchase, citing a lack of need, disagreement on price points, or trust in your organization as a whole. AI might be able to deliver insights to recommend profitable products per customer or recommend accounts with higher spending power, but it’s your sales team that will be utilizing this data, building relationships, and turning the most common sales objections into purchases.

  2. Personalization:

    AI can help to identify key customer information from the snapshot of an account, but it’s your reps who will create a bespoke sales strategy that will make your customers' problems truly seen and understood – backed with personalized solutions. For example, AI might show which of your customers responds better to online communications – particularly if they’re a millennial and you are developing a strategy to successfully sell to millennials. If that’s true – there's no point in wasting time on doing unprepared & untargeted phone calls. Hook them in with an email-first strategy to make those sales or strategically develop a sales call pitch to grab their attention.

  3. Open-ended conversations:

    Automated tools can be a great fit to capture answers to simple (yes/no) questions or even for FAQs that every business should have on tap. Such tools can help analyze the responses in a variety of auto-generated visual formats. But what happens when a prospective conversation requires a little bit more? Unlike ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ it requires human input to understand and process open-ended conversations with prospects. Salespeople use their experience and knowledge, enhanced with AI tools, to guide conversations and keep the prospects engaged.

  4. Complex negotiation:

    For dealing with customers who may have complex needs, it’s your sales team who will close the deal. By responding to different requirements and creating a bespoke solution, your sales team can use AI to model different scenarios to predict outcomes, leading to an empowered negotiation based on data. Salespeople play a vital role in understanding a problem and customizing the solution based on your customer's needs.

  5. Empathy and judgment:

    Salespeople know when to go for a hard sell and when to hold back. As yet, AI cannot mimic human empathy and judgment. Deep customer relationships are vital for the whole time they are with the business, and understanding when to push and when to take a softer approach is key to long-term success.

  6. Bonding before pitching:

    AI is like a supercar – eager to go from 0 to 100 in seconds. But this isn’t always the best way to land a pitch, as not everyone makes impulse purchases, and some customers, especially in the B2B landscape, may not be ready for your products just yet. It’s vital for salespeople to nurture relationships in the long run and use sales intelligence to pitch at the right time when a customer is ready.

The future of AI and sales

There’s no stopping the new digital era, but as we’ve seen, there’s plenty of room for smart sales teams in the digital future. So, what does the future look like?

Human and robot harmony

We think the future looks a lot like sales representatives enhanced by AI. How? By making use of new tools throughout the sales cycle, from prospecting new customers to closing deals. Using AI can instantly free your reps from repetitive administrative tasks and get them to close that sale more quickly. AI brings all the background information your sales team needs to one simple dashboard, allowing them to understand it at a glance.

This means they can quickly access sales insights, including warm customers, customers who may need attention, product stock levels, and more, all of which go on to inform their sales strategy to make it more effective from the start.

Merging traditional practices with modern techniques

Encouraging your sales teams to take up new strategies, such as AI-guided selling, should see your team stay ahead of the competition. This approach leverages AI over and above basic analytics and forecasting to enhance the sales processes and provide your team with actionable insights on products, customer behavior, and sales performance.

The crunched data enables your teams to score leads, accurately forecast sales, and personalize the experience at every step of the sales process. These insights are backed by customer information, including suggesting opportunities to up-sell or cross-sell where appropriate. The more data you input, the better the AI outcomes will be, allowing your teams to maximize every opportunity.

Anticipating the year ahead: Key characteristics for sales success

So, apart from enhancing the sales tech stack, what attributes salespeople should possess for the year ahead?

Data confidence:

Your team needs to be equipped to understand the sales intelligence tools and trust the data that AI generates. The most important thing is to make sure that these powerful tools are being used to their full potential.

Emotional intelligence:

AI can do so much already, but it’s no match for the power of human empathy & judgment when it comes to building lasting relationships with customers and prospects. So, train your sales reps to embrace AI and leverage the insights.

Bespoke strategies:

When it comes to customer satisfaction, bespoke is best. AI-driven insights will allow salespeople to create tailored strategies and be prepared for every sales scenario.

Ethical selling:

No one wants to be pushed into buying the wrong products. Salespeople should use AI as a tool to ensure that all their communications are relevant, informed, and customer-focused right from the start.

To learn how to transform your sales team and generate greater sales success, see sales-i in action.

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