How is artificial intelligence (AI) changing the sales process? I sometimes hear people being dismissive of emerging technologies such as AI, mostly because they have had a negative experience with an automated system that they believe was controlled by AI. Often these are the same people who are happy to use a Google Home or Amazon Echo device at home without realizing that none of these smart home devices would work without AI.
But how is AI changing sales?
There are a number of ways in which consumers are already interacting with AI systems without ever really being aware of it. When you do a search on Netflix, an AI algorithm will decide how to present the search result to you so they can maximize the chance that you will watch something new. When you purchase a product from Amazon, it is AI that ensures the platform always recommends additional relevant items for your basket. When you call for a car using Uber, it is an AI system that ensures cars are usually available quickly in your area.
Companies are using AI to make their service smoother and smarter. The emphasis is on making life easier for the customer. You might notice that all these consumer-led examples are essentially based on predictions. The system is predicting what you might buy or watch next or where the next car request is likely to come from. This is one of the key strengths of AI — it can examine the behavioral data you have on your customers and predict what they are most likely to do next.
But predicting customer behavior is just one area where AI can help your sales team. According to research in the Harvard Business Review, there are five key areas where you should be thinking about how to benefit from the insights and predictions AI can offer:
1. Price optimization: You want to win that deal, but you don’t want to leave money on the table, so an AI system can analyze customer behavior and offer the best possible price.
2. Forecasting: Manage your inventory and resources better and know when you need to throw more resources into sales to keep hitting those targets — AI can tell you when and where to focus your sales efforts.
3. Upselling and cross-selling: You have data on your existing clients, so why not use it to predict new products they might need or when they might want to upgrade? Conversely, the same insights can help you to prevent losing customers by targeting those likely to stop using your service with special deals.
4. Lead scoring: Still using gut instinct to decide where to focus inside your sales pipeline? Feed emails, social posts, and everything else you know about your customer into an AI system that can filter the noise and tell you which is most likely to buy next.
5. Managing for performance: AI can help sales managers to view a broad perspective of their entire sales team. Who is performing well, or failing, and why? How can the manager adjust sales behaviors so that performance improves?
Instinct and human-to-human communication remain important to sales professionals, but many of these AI tools support the sales team and give them deep insights into customer behavior that are not usually visible. I believe that any sales leader today needs to be exploring how their team can be enhanced through the use of various AI-enabled systems.
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