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Is sales automation and AI all it’s cracked up to be?

Jacco van der Kooij

Written by Jacco van der Kooij

Founder, Winning by Design

5 MINUTE READ
sales automation

Everyone in sales today is looking to get more out of their day.

That might be understanding how to reduce the manual entry into your CRM, or figuring out how to reduce the amount of time you need to communicate with a client, or maybe it’s being more efficient with the emails you write.

Being more efficient with these every day sales tasks enables you to focus on the prospects that are a better fit for the business, which inevitably improves your sales conversion rate. Because you’re not wasting time with prospects that will never buy, and instead focusing on the ones that are much more likely to.

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Over the last few years I’ve seen a lot of people turn to technology to help increase their effectiveness in many of these areas. If you listen to Forrester, a million B2B sales people will be replaced by technology by 2020 and that is just in the US!

The CEO of LeadGenius, Anand Kulkarni, stated that most sales jobs are going to be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) in the next 10 years! That’s pretty scary stuff for anyone that’s feeding their kids on the back of a commission cheque.

But the reality is not all doom and gloom. In fact, there’s a huge amount of opportunity for salespeople to adopt AI and improve their sales process.

What is AI in sales?

Before I talk more about how you can use AI to improve your day-to-day sales process, let’s define what it is we are talking about.

When most people think of AI, they tend to think about the sort of tools that give them the ability to review historic data; such as customer activity, company funding, or hiring patterns; and make automated or predictive decisions based on that information.

This definition from Ashwin Ramasamy summarises the concept nicely:

“AI-ification of sales means that we should be building programs that not only analyze large data sets to detect historical patterns, but are also intelligent enough to quickly adapt to new data and emerging patterns and evaluate their impact using a set of predictive frameworks. In essence, these are programs that “build” predictive models on their own.”

Given this definition, what’s the landscape of tools available to salespeople then?

AI tools for sales

The landscape of AI and automation tools available to salespeople is huge and growing.

Here is just some of the areas you can use tools to automate your sales day:

  • Writing and scaling your emails
  • Setting appointments
  • Reviewing your pipeline
  • Taking notes
  • Creating connected meetings
  • Managing and tracking documents
  • Crawling social media to find contextual information for conversations
  • Hunting for email addresses
  • Predicting phone numbers
  • Customising quotes
  • Scoring leads
  • Creating to-do lists
  • Analysing your data
  • Etc. etc.

Have these tools helped salespeople? Of course they have. They are a huge advantage to those that can master the technology.

But there have also be a number of failures that mean there is room to refine this technology. For example, with the rise of outbound email automation tools, many people make the mistake of thinking that this type of template-driven system can allow them to personalise at scale. When in reality, it’s not the type of personalisation that prospects are after. So there are hundreds of thousands of emails going out, but we’re just sort of “scaling failure” in many ways. This is training your customers to simply ignore these emails.

The other failure is automatic appointment setting services, such as X.ai, or Amy as the assistant is called. This style of appointment setting is great for the salesperson, but it’s not so good for the customer on the other end. It doesn’t replace the back and forth over email, and it puts the onus on the customer to fit into YOUR schedule.

Some other interesting AI sales tools you may like to check out are Spiro, the sales assistant for Salesforce. And Crystal, which continually learns about your prospects and how they are engaging and contributing content on the web, so that you can write better emails to them.

Even though sales automation and AI have come a long way in recent years, there is still a way to go yet. But there is no doubt we are getting closer to our customer in the buying process and improving day-to-day efficiency because of these technological developments.

Where do you start?

With all of these different automation tools and alternatives, where do you possibly start?

Step 1: Be selective.

The wrong answer is that you need to try all of the tools to figure out what’s going to work for you.

What you really need to do is focus on where you’re having the biggest challenge with your sales funnel, and where you can have the biggest impact.

Pinpoint where you’re not converting prospects through the sales process as effectively as you would like, and find a piece of technology that is going to help meet that need. Don’t get distracted by the next new shiny toy. (Read this post to identify your area of greatest impact in the sales process)

Then you need to continue to focus. The challenge with AI is that it takes time to learn and apply the best practices to your organisation. So don’t lose sight of why you are doing it, and be patient.

Step 2: Nail the process before you scale.

Because you are automating a process, you need to make sure you have the process itself right. If it’s not actually working for you, then automating it could have detrimental impacts on your business.

A great example of this is the automation of outbound emails. If you’re sending out so many bad emails, you’re torching a whole bunch of opportunities to engage with customers.

Ultimately you need to hold the hand of the technology and educate it on the right path forward. You need to coach and educate the algorithms so that they are right for your business, and your sales process, before you unleash it to all of your reps.

Because if your reps lose trust in the technology after one bad experience, it’s going to be really hard to encourage them to embrace automation in the future.

Only once you have nailed the process and have a strong understanding of the impact it is going to have on your organisation, should you consider scaling the automation throughout the business.

Will AI replace your sales job?

So I guess the question on your lips is whether or not AI will actually replace your sales job?

In reality, I can’t see this happening for a long time.

Until we have a “buyer bot” who is interacting with a “seller bot”, talking algorithmic language to each other, there is still a need for a person in the equation. Because until then, salespeople are going to be required to help their prospects through the emotional problem-solving journey that they need to go through to rationalise their decision.

Until technology reaches that point, your job is safe.

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