Businesses with large sales operations could be forgiven for feeling fatigued by the seemingly endless stream of news and opinion on the latest innovations in artificial intelligence (AI). As a product manager, my focus is on delivering benefits to customers and AI is just one of the tools at my disposal to make this happen.
As we gear up for a new decade – a decade in which we will see gigantic leaps in the applications of AI technology – here are five ways in which we believe AI can practically support effective sales strategies for manufacturing, distribution and wholesale enterprises in 2020 and beyond.
“Better, more informed customer conversations, each and every time.”
One of the biggest challenges and frustrations for sales teams is seeing a longstanding customer reduce spend on a once favored product or, in a worst-case scenario, go elsewhere, often seemingly for no apparent reason. Product and customer churn can be preventable when the macro and micro drivers are known and understood. By harnessing sales data over time and drawing on critical internal and external factors, AI applications will increasingly be able to predict and indeed raise a red flag to sales teams when a potential risk to lost sales may be looming. The better harvested and organized an enterprise’s data, the greater the likelihood of it feeding more actionable intelligence down the line.
With sales operations in busy enterprises often extending into the hundreds of personnel, getting a holistic view of how your overall sales strategy is performing is essential to driving bottom-line gains. AI applications will continue taking this to the next level by delivering rich, tailored sales insights to sales personnel at all levels within the enterprise – from target-driven sales professionals at the coal face, through to profit incentivized directors in the boardroom. Practically speaking, this means a sales manager having real-time analytics to know when individual personnel are under and over-performing, for example, and sales execs having detailed intelligence to indicate when a customer may be significantly dialing up or indeed reducing spend.
“Our sales enablement platform provides more in-depth customer sales intelligence for busy sales professionals.”
Building effective, trusted personal relationships with customers will always be a vital element of the role for any sales professional. With the proliferation of data in today’s enterprises, emerging AI applications are facilitating next level customer insights that haven’t previously been possible through interpersonal relationships alone. By effectively harvesting and amassing historical data on a range of customer relationships, the most forward-thinking sales teams are developing ‘super-intelligent’ customer profiling that can help identify multiple opportunities to do better business – from insight on when a sale might have been missed right through to when an upselling opportunity may crop up in future. The upshot is better, more informed customer conversations, each and every time and ultimately, stronger customer relationships.
Enterprises collect vast amounts of raw data across multiple data repositories. The actual business value of this raw data is only realized when this data is combined to establish patterns using such techniques as statistical analysis.
These patterns form key business insights that enable organizations to spot hidden informational trends, identify both outliers and key business drivers to enable more effective next best action for sales recommendations.
Driving employee satisfaction and motivation is one of the critical challenges of the age for enterprises looking to retain and indeed attract top talent. We already see the potential of AI applications to significantly assist in this process by adding gamification elements to everyday aspects of the sales role. Popular gaming elements we increasingly expect to see become commonplace within sales operations in the new decade include leader-boards, badges, points and scores, levels and challenges.
“It ensures every conversation they have is insight-led and profitable.”
Of course, brilliant technical data solutions count for little without the touch of a skilled, physical salesperson to interpret the insights they deliver and it should be remembered that harnessing AI and machine learning isn’t about replacing the sales role, rather equipping sales professionals with the right tools to sell smarter.
As such, the uniquely human aspects of the sales profession – such as the salesperson’s perception of a customer relationship or account, for example – will continue to be essential in feeding valuable knowledge and intuition into the process.
What’s more, human insight will be equally crucial in overseeing the design and efficacy of AI models to ensure they are fully explainable and have removed biases caused by any false assumptions made in the AI learning process. Equally, human input will be required to ensure models are truly representative of a specific organizational structure and size, considering industry or sub-industry verticals together with regional and geographic variances.
Here at sales-i, we’re not just talking about AI like so many other commentators. Today we’re actively working on several exciting AI-based applications to deliver these benefits to sales professionals. These new capabilities will feed into our sales enablement platform to provide more in-depth customer sales intelligence for busy sales professionals, ensuring every conversation they have is insight-led and profitable. We’re looking forward to sharing more news on these developments over the coming 12 months.
By Megan Barradell, Product Manager at sales-i.