Yet lately, many sales teams are demonstrating a guarded concern when it comes to adding artificial intelligence as a new tool in the toolbox. Some are dealing with tech fatigue, and see AI as just another tool-of-the-month. Others are grappling with a more sinister impression of AI, and fear that it may take their jobs away entirely. In fact, the recent Sales DNA Report by the Canadian Professional Sales Association found that 30 per cent of commercial sales professionals feel there is a moderate or high risk of sales functions being replaced by some form of AI.
The good news for sales professionals is that AI can actually address some of the significant challenges that have been plaguing the sales profession for years, and can enable and help, rather than replace salespeople, including both inside and outside reps. The trick is for organizations investigating AI to overcome tech-induced anxieties and define the use cases that make sense for them, both now and in the future.
Here are three reasons why sales teams should embrace, not fear, AI:
AI is a boost, not a threat to sales jobs
A recent study revealed that even in the age of AI, sales is a booming profession. A 2018 study found that sales representatives are the second most in-demand job in Canada. And a recent Salesforce State of Sales study shows that more than three-quarters of teams using AI have actually increased numbers of sales representatives since 2015. By blending human ingenuity with the data-driven insights provided by AI, companies are building sales teams that are stronger than ever.
Why? Because salespeople who allow AI to take some of the work off their desks are able to spend more time engaging with customers, understanding their needs, and becoming their trusted advisors.
This connection has never been more important as customers are expecting more, and sales teams are on the hook to deliver.
AI helps sales teams meet rising customer expectations
In a global economy, competition is fierce, and customers know it. With so many options available to customers, sales teams need to manage these growing expectations of contextualization and personalization in order to maintain loyalty. Customers want more than a sales rep: seventy-nine percent of business buyers say it’s very important to work with someone who’s a trusted advisor that adds value to their business.
Even though customer satisfaction is now the most tracked KPI among global sales teams, most teams spend only one-third of their time actually selling and connecting with customers. Instead, they’re focusing on non-customer-facing tasks, such as logging activities, getting quotes approved and other more menial tasks. This overwhelming expenditure of time on inefficient processes can be detrimental: 57 per cent of sales reps expect to miss their quotas in 2018 because they’re overloaded with tasks not focused on customers.
This is where AI can really add value. Sales teams can use AI to surface deep customer insights to increase the quality of personalized and predictive efforts, which is something that would be too time-consuming, if even possible, to collect. It can also automate the tasks that limit the customer-facing time sales reps have available, such as capturing critical customer data like call logs, calendar appointments and more.
This value isn’t just theoretical. The State of Sales study found that high performing sales teams, defined as the top 24 per cent that have significantly increased year-over-year revenue, are nearly five times more likely than underperformers to use AI. It also found that these top teams are twice as likely as underperformers to prioritize leads based on data analysis, and 1.5 times more likely to base forecasts on data-driven insights.
Adding AI into the sales mix enables sales teams to supercharge their selling capabilities, and focus on the soft skills that customers demand, such as listening and attention to detail.
AI can bridge sales gaps
Along with customer demands for contextualization and personalization is a demand for availability. The world no longer operates on a nine-to-five workday, and customers expect answers and service when and where it’s convenient for them. A study from Accenture found that 65 per cent of Canadian customers want multiple channel access to service, and that 77 per cent expect customer service and support to be easier and more convenient to obtain.
We’ve seen this transformation in retail, where the sector grew seven per cent in 2017, and online retail was up 35 per cent in Canada last year. Many retailers – as well as B2B organizations – are now relying on chatbots for preliminary conversations with customers. Knowing that customers are looking for a quick, knowledgeable response, bots are used to have initial interactions and provide an immediate response 24/7. Bots are a win for both customers and sales reps: customers don’t necessarily care if they’re engaging with a human or a bot as long as it gets the job done, and sales reps are saved the time of answering simple questions.
It’s time for sales reps to look past the fear and at the facts about AI, because like it or not, AI is coming. Sales leaders around the world expect their teams’ adoption of AI to skyrocket by 155 per cent over the next two years, and 54 percent of sales teams believe they will be using some form of AI by 2020. This time-saving technology will provide the intelligence and insights sales teams might not know they need now, but soon won’t be able to live without.
Rich Eyram is Salesforce Canada Country Manager.
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