AI Is Taking the Art Out of Sales
There are few professions with as much mystique as sales. A salesperson is revered for making the impossible happen and for overcoming insecurities and self-imposed limitations to close massive deals under pressure. We admire successful sales professionals because they do what we assume we could not: They close (and subsequently get that cup of coffee. Thank you very much, Alec Baldwin).
But times are changing and the salesman that has been portrayed in countless movies and TV shows is becoming irrelevant, or rather, obsolete.
Today’s sales professionals operate in a completely new environment. To be sure, some deals still happen in wood paneled boardrooms or over rounds of martinis, but most sales are being pursued in digital environments -- email, websites, even text messages (funny enough, I close 20 percent of deals via text for my software agency). It's a big shift from cold calling, which was the most popular sales strategy for years.
According to a Forrester Report titled “Death of a B2B Salesman,” more than 20 percent of B2B phone sales reps will be out of a job by 2020, replaced entirely by ecommerce. The author of the report, Andy Hoar, explains why: “B2B buyer behavior has changed significantly in the past few years. Nearly 75 percent of B2B buyers say buying from an ecommerce site is more convenient than buying from a sales rep, and 93 percent say they prefer buying online when they’ve already decided what to buy.”
Sorry, Jordan Belfort, your tactics won’t cut it anymore.
The change in environment demands an entirely new skill set.
“Today, sales organizations still need 'The Closer,' individuals who doggedly pursue deals,” says Uzi Shmilovici, founder and CEO of Base CRM, an AI powered customer relationship management system. “But that characteristic is competing with others that are actually more relevant today. The salesperson who succeeds today is a sales scientist, an individual who can plan meticulous campaigns in a digital context to drive large volumes of deals to close.”
In the past decade, the outreach abilities of a single salesperson have increased exponentially from just the number of people that could be called in a day, to the number of people that could be emailed and targeted with customized pitches.
Now, artificial intelligence plays an important role in the modern sales office, helping to declutter and refine customer relationship management. These AI platforms monitor a salespeople’s habits over time and then begin to make recommendations to improve their performance. Shmilovici says prescriptive sales platforms do more than project sales numbers in the future, they make meaningful recommendations for improvement.
“Most CRM technologies help you to see how much you have sold, how much you are likely to sell, and which factors are most influencing your performance,” he says. “Prescriptive sales goes further than that by identifying which practices actually improve sales performance. These data-driven pieces of advice empower salespeople to take advantage of opportunities they may not have otherwise.”
Simply by observing how salespeople work and what is successful, prescriptive sales platforms learn best practices, and those can be incredibly precise. For example, it may find that cold pitch emails are 20 percent more effective on Tuesdays than they are on Mondays. It may discover that placing a follow-up call within 10 minutes of a web registration increases conversion. There is nearly an infinite number of potential insights that could be uncovered.
Humans working by themselves do not process large scale data effectively. But a prescriptive sales platform running quietly in the background can, and its recommendations add a layer of sales intelligence to every business.
Partnering with an AI to improve sales performance requires more of the disposition of a scientist than a Glengarry Glen Ross. In the famous speech given by Alec Baldwin, he decries complaints from the sales team about leads. Today, AI can play an active role in scoring leads by finding common traits between deals that closed.
You can make the argument that yesterday’s sales professionals who were most successful had instincts that helped them pick the best leads and intuitively know when to call and what to say. But technology augments those instincts, and now what is most important is that salespeople are able to leverage all of the technology at their disposal to strategize the highest possible outcomes.
“Sales organizations are changing rapidly as the result of AI,” Shmilovici says. “They are hiring a different kind of salesperson, adding roles for sales scientists in their operations, and integrating with other aspects of the business more closely. All of these changes are improving results, which is what sales are all about.”
Is it sad to see The Closer lose the top spot in sales? Yes, in a way. But technology is creating a new and fascinating future for business. Young professionals do not have to recycle the same narratives that business leaders from decades ago have already acted out. We are in the early days of a radically new economy and it is exciting to see how it takes shape.