Technology has enabled significant innovations within the sales industry. Sales automation is a ringleader in those developments, ranging from cloud-based platforms that cue you into new leads, to plugins that can take care of the nitty-gritty for SDRs. But the pro-technology conversation on sales processes hits a speed bump when it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI). What if it starts to replace humans instead of serving them? We’re not talking about a full-scale robot takeover that kicks off the apocalypse–although people can act like this is the case at the suggestion that they’ll get the boot. We all agree that technology is great when helping us do our job. When it’s replacing us, we’re less keen on it.
Recent advances in AI-powered technology have made this question less of a hypothetical debate and more of an unfolding reality. The truth is that there are some things that AI is better at doing than humans–and conversely, there are some functions that AI will never be able to replace. As Jamison Pence, Director of Sales Development at LeadIQ, points out when he quotes Max Altschuler, “Until robots are buying from robots, salespeople have a job.” Here’s how AI will help SDRs, as well as change the job role, and what leadership can do to support the transition.
What We’re Talking About When We Talk About AI in Sales
Historically, technology has enabled sales teams to take giant steps forward. Algorithms allow SDRs to find the right prospects and lead them to the best research. Analytics provide data-driven insights that help sales teams create winning strategies. It only makes sense that AI–the next big thing in tech–is the next step. It can help sales teams improve their outreach by doing two types of jobs:
- Those that humans aren’t naturally as good at: i.e., advanced algorithm calculations that include sales forecasting, relationship intelligence, lead discovery, and more.
- Those that make humans act more like robots than humans: i.e., highly repetitive tasks that require little creativity or ingenuity such as data cleansing and scheduling meetings.
AI accomplishes both of these jobs by automating key tasks, giving SDRs more time to focus on other high-value activities. Here are a few examples of specific areas where AI can be of service:
- Making cold calls: AI can provide the necessary intelligence for more accurate targeting and automated first touches (with SDRs stepping to the helm once a prospect expresses interest). It can even write personalized messages (more on that later).
- Providing valuable insights and information: AI can gather information and organize it into a cohesive outreach strategy. In real-time, this process translates into knowing who to contact, when to contact them, and what to say.
- Offering training and onboarding support: AI can guide training and onboarding in order to increase efficiency and provide support based on data-driven insights.
The payoff for these use cases is real. A McKinsey study found that companies that use AI in sales have seen an increase in leads and appointments of over 50 percent, cost reductions of 40-60 percent, and call time reductions of 60-70 percent. To add icing to the cake, McKinsey also found that current technologies can automate 40% of sales work activities. With results like that, it’s no wonder more companies want to get in on the action. While AI will impact the entire sales team, SDRs will experience the biggest changes–at least at first. So what does that mean for them?
How AI in Sales Changes Sales Roles
AI will definitely change the job role of SDRs. But that’s not a bad thing–change is not just the only constant, it’s the engine of reinvention. We can start to say goodbye to training SDRs in low-level tasks that result in high levels of burnout and quick turnovers and hello to SDRs that invest their energy in doing what humans are programmed to do: connect to other humans.
Here’s a before and after comparison of how that change might look. It takes at least one month to onboard SDRs, with some industry experts arguing that it takes 90 days for proficiency in the role. Most SDRs hit targets after 3-6 months and move on after just 18 months. Sometimes they’re promoted or move to a new company; other times, they decide to retire from sales altogether due to the challenging nature of the role. Either way, the short-lived cycle means that companies are scouting, training, and hiring new recruits on a near-constant basis.
With AI in the mix assisting sales teams, two changes occur. Teams are expending less energy on the onboarding and training cycle, and SDRs can refocus their efforts on selling. A recent Salesforce study found that only 34% of a sales professional's time is spent selling. Given back time in their day, SDRs can hone their skill sets towards building relationships, having quality conversations, getting creative, and other activities that are the backbone of a good sales outreach and are inimitable by AI. The benefits of these changes are plentiful, impactful, and include:
- The onboarding process will improve: As a recent Forbes article points out, AI training solutions can create “progressive learning journeys” that are customized to each sales rep. When sales leaders allow algorithms to help guide new hires, it’s like having a very handy assistant with data-driven insights that can overcome blind spots.
- Building a pipeline becomes easier: SDRs will have the support of AI tools that can build better customer profiles and buyer personas, leading to more high-value prospects.
- Content becomes more effective: Sales leaders can use AI to achieve a better understanding of the ROI of content assets, helping SDRs utilize existing content more efficiently.
- Better collaboration between team members: AEs and SDRs spend more time working together, creating better opportunities + business plans.
The result of these benefits is lower turnover rates, higher productivity and on-the-job satisfaction, and a position that is less about the grind and more about returning SDRs to the job’s original purpose: humans selling to humans.
How Sales Can Prepare for AI Adoption
Leadership can support this transition with a strong change management strategy that is based on the following tenets:
- Transparency with team members: Team members are likely to be scared when you talk about incorporating AI. Leaders can help them overcome these fears through transparency around the changes that will occur and an all-hands-on-deck approach. Change management is never easy, and in this case, leaders will want to choose a good strategy to overcome any resistance that team members have. The same logic applies to convincing upper management to onboard with the new technology. Building out use cases that prove the value of AI.
- Training: A good change management strategy will help sales teams understand how to adapt a data-driven, AI-enabled process through constant support and feedback. Make sure that the solution you choose offers support for how you can train your team members in its use.
- The right tech stack: The right products will integrate easily and align with your chosen use cases, as well as pre-existing tools. Keep in mind that you’re going to need the right data in order to power AI. Sales leaders will want to conduct research that ensures they have access to the right data for choosing the right tools.
- Transparency throughout your organization: You’ll need to make sure that siloes between customer-facing departments are broken down in order to get access to the data necessary for building a 360-degree view of the customer. This will empower AI solutions to work effectively.
Another important fact to keep in mind with AI is that it’s a gradual process of integration. Sales teams don’t need to have all the answers on how it will impact them; they can start small–one tool, one use case at a time–and grow from there. LeadIQ, for example, has just introduced a new patented AI technology that allows reps to send tailored, personalized sales messages at scale.
Our new Compose capability allows sales reps to stand out with truly personalized cold outreach. Our AI connects eye-catching intros to the pain point you solve – all unique and personalized to each prospect. These capabilities allow for personalization at scale, faster onboarding, and more responses. With more response rates–and more energy to handle them–SDRs can hone their sales acumen and evolve with the challenges of the times we’re in.