While ChatGPT has stolen recent headlines, companies have been quietly using artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline operations, boost productivity, and cut costs for almost a decade. Chatbots have become a mainstay of online customer service while machine learning drives the personalization of many of our daily digital experiences.
Now AI is starting to gain a foothold in sales operations. Salesforce research ranks AI as the second most valuable sales tool next to video conferencing. However, the same research shows that only 37% of all sales organizations report using AI – and while this is a 76% increase over 2018 figures, AI is still underutilized. According to Salesforce, 57% of high-performing sales teams are using AI to automate repetitive tasks and improve internal processes and customer experiences – making them almost three times more likely to use AI vs. underperformers. Using AI empowers sales reps with better lead prioritization, a deeper understanding of their prospects’ needs, more accurate forecasts, competitive intelligence, and the ability to better personalize their efforts to connect with prospects.
To gain a competitive advantage, it would be wise to start using AI tools sooner rather than later because they become more accurate over time as they gather and analyze more data. This article suggests five ways that sales departments can leverage the power of AI in sales to become a top-performer with the same (or less) effort than today.
What is AI in sales?
It’s important to understand that AI isn’t meant to replace sales reps – Salesforce reports that AI-enabled sales teams are expanding faster than teams that don’t use AI. AI is meant to extend the team’s capabilities by simplifying and optimizing sales processes using software with trainable algorithms that can process large datasets to give insights into buying habits and customer behavior based on things like email and social media engagement, web analytics, and market trends. Using AI in sales saves time and helps teams to sell more efficiently by automating repetitive data-driven tasks, enabling reps to focus on the work that requires their expertise.
5 Ways to Use AI in Sales
HubSpot reports that inside sales reps spend an estimated 33% of their time actively selling – a minuscule amount compared to the time spent on tasks that could be AI-enabled. Here are five ways that companies are using AI in sales to help them sell more efficiently.
1. Use conversational AI to keep leads engaged
Conversational AI uses natural language processing (NLP) to understand and respond to written and verbal communication with a human-like touch. This application of the technology allows customers to interact with a company in a humanized way while software is handling the communication behind the scenes. This empowers companies to engage with leads 24/7, which can be particularly helpful with high-maintenance prospects. Many sales departments use a combination of process automation, chatbots and voice assistants, like Siri and Alexa, to:
- Schedule meetings
- Send follow-up emails
- Suggest relevant products
- Answer FAQs
- Onboard new customers
- Provide status and delivery updates
Automating these repetitive tasks helps to keep leads warm and moving through the funnel while reducing hands-on time so that sales reps can focus on tasks that require their expertise. In addition, AI can provide deeper insights into each prospect's needs and pain points to help sales reps personalize their approach so that they can pitch effectively, provide targeted sales material, and deliver a better overall experience.
2. Use AI-powered lead generation
Prospecting is one of the most time-consuming and least enjoyable tasks for most sales reps – but it could soon be (mostly) a thing of the past! AI-powered lead generation tools filter potential leads based on the company’s ideal customer profiles and then score them to produce a list of leads that are most likely to convert. These tools use trainable algorithms, becoming more accurate over time in how they analyze each prospect’s likelihood of buying based on attributes like their industry, job title, network, and demographics while also accounting for market trends.
3. Use predictive AI for better forecasting
Forecasting has traditionally been plagued by inaccurate or incomplete information while relying heavily on reps’ gut feelings. Recent data shows that 57% of reps do not accurately forecast their pipelines. AI in sales aims to address this by using algorithms to analyze historical sales data and identify trends and patterns that predict future sales more accurately than any manual process. This not only takes a boring task off everyone’s to-do list, but it also paints a more accurate picture of future performance – and with more flexibility. Automated forecasting gives companies better control of the forecasting period along with the ability to drill down into more granular aspects to produce forecasts by region, team, product line, and more. Advanced versions of these tools can be used to produce personalized dashboards for each sales rep while identifying trends, opportunities, churn potential, and potential obstacles while dynamic versions of these tools are being used to produce forecasts based on “what if” scenarios.
4. Use conversational AI to identify trends and patterns in sales calls
Conversational AI technology can produce real-time transcripts of sales calls and mine those transcripts for important details that might otherwise be overlooked. For example, AI can identify conversational trends and objections to help sales reps come to their sales calls almost as prepared as if they’d had a crystal ball. These systems also make it possible to define keywords related to these trends, which can trigger the system to recognize the topic and store those bits of the conversation as highlights that the sales team can review and analyze for deeper insight – without having to take arduous notes or sift through hours of recordings or pages-upon-pages of transcripts.
5. Use AI to power social selling
Social media platforms have become important hunting grounds for leads but it can be time-consuming, and algorithms can make it difficult to engage with potential leads. Social engagement platforms, such as Seismic LiveSocial use AI engines to identify content deemed potentially relevant for salespeople to share with their networks. Once the salesperson has shared the article, the platforms continue to work in the background, tracking interactions and providing insights into the prospects’ interests. This helps with lead generation while building the salesperson’s credibility and positioning them as a subject matter expert with a finger on the pulse of their industry.
How to Get Started with Using AI in Sales
In addition to large high-quality datasets and the necessary software, there are other important considerations when getting started with AI in sales. For example, there should be an AI strategy that states what the department is trying to achieve. Implementing an AI strategy usually requires changes to existing processes, so it’s usually best to start slow and focus on short-term wins while securing buy-in and ensuring that the necessary resources are in place to support a broader implementation. Moving to AI-enabled sales is often an iterative process that gradually adds more tools over time. It’s important to understand that it takes time to train the algorithms, so the benefits of AI will probably not be apparent during the early days of its implementation – the sooner you get started the better.
Use Plecto to Visualize the Results of Your AI Efforts
Once you’ve put one or more AI elements into practice, you can further empower your sales reps by visualizing their sales performance and related KPIs on real-time dashboards. If you’re new to using dashboards, these 5 dashboards that every sales team needs are a great place to start.