As the buzz around Artificial Intelligence in sales increases, so too do questions on how it will impact sales teams. That’s because AI tools are often designed to mimic many of the job functions of an SDR and other sales team members: talking to prospects, helping write emails, sending follow-ups, and researching the best people to contact. But this impressive resume shouldn’t scare salespeople into believing they will be replaced. Instead, the future of AI in sales hinges upon learning to successfully integrate it to enhance outreach efforts, boost productivity, and allow other skills to develop, such as building customer relationships–a skill that machines will never be able to replicate fully. Here’s how AI will augment sales roles for better job performance without replacing the people it’s meant to serve.
The Role of AI in Sales Today
AI-powered sales solutions are still in the early stages of development, and much of the conversation centers upon AI technology that has yet to reach the market. That said, the industry is quickly adopting what’s currently available. Gartner predicts that in the next three years, 75% of B2B organizations will augment their playbooks with AI. Because this evolution will have a considerable impact on sales teams, LeadIQ brought Gartner researcher Dan Gottlieb into a recent webinar to gain insight into what the future holds.
Gottlieb kicked off the conversation with this key takeaway: “automation and AI will increase the capacity of a human, not replace it.” Automation is the driving force behind AI in sales as part of an ongoing trend. For years now, technology has been helping salespeople perform better at their jobs by completing highly repetitive processes and low-value activities for them. The difference is that AI can learn to “think” for itself, meaning that it can mimic a sales rep’s role on an unprecedented level.
Sales can expect a portion of the inbound SDR’s workload to be outsourced to AI over the next five to 10 years. Example tasks might include appointment scheduling, sending follow-ups, and other repetitive tasks that don’t require emotional intelligence or specialized skills. Meanwhile, the seller’s role will evolve to be more of a “creative specialist.” SDRs will be able to focus on building their creative skills, such as storytelling and forming a relationship with clients. The result is better performing SDRs, smoother sales operations, and more opportunities to increase sales. Because as Gottlieb points out, a human will always be much better at getting another human to buy things than a machine.
These insights beg two questions. What processes will AI perform, and how can sales teams adapt to these upcoming changes?
How AI Can Automate Processes to Change Sales Roles for the Better
When breaking down a sales role to the actions performed each day, it’s easy to see how much of the job relies on performing highly repetitive tasks with multiple steps. Take cold calling. This core responsibility entails running a search, researching a prospect, reaching out, reaching out again, sending follow-ups, moving a prospect down the pipeline or moving on, and then starting the whole process over. Every single one of these tasks can benefit from AI. Searches yield more exact results through Big Data. Research becomes easier when insights are born from statistics and not hunches. First touches yield better response rates when crafted with data-driven insights. Workloads lessen when follow-ups are automated, granting more time and energy to close deals.
Here are some further examples of AI use cases:
- Forecasting and research: AI can help find the right prospects more quickly and learn how to best engage with them based on their behavior.
- Content personalization and communication: conversational AI is one of the biggest players in sales right now, but it’s not just about chatbots. AI can convert a website visit into a conversation with a sales rep, help write emails, and provide insights on conversations with buyers to help sellers understand what action to take next.
- Task automation: Many top-of-funnel interactions can be automated, including sending follow-ups, answering questions, and helping onboard new clients.
An equally important consideration is the fact that AI can help with analytics and reporting. It can perform sales forecasting and lead scoring with greater accuracy. This is just another instance of how sales operations will benefit from AI technology.
How AI Can Help SDRs Can Become Selling Specialists
When reps have the opportunity to focus less on repetitive tasks, they can improve their job performance and maximize gains for their teams. Some example benefits include:
- Higher quality interactions: SDRs can focus their energy on responsibilities that require a human touch, such as storytelling and relationship building. Outreaches that engage a prospect on an emotional and personal level are way more effective–and easier to accomplish when an SDR has the time and energy for them.
- Less burnout: Less churn equals less burnout. When SDRs perform work that is less monotonous and more fulfilling, their resiliency and enjoyment of the job increases, leading to a lower turnover.
- More productivity: When AI performs lower-level tasks, it frees up sales teams to perform more high-quality ones. Better job performance leads to more opportunities for both the individual and team, as quotas are hit and even possibly exceeded.
So what can sales leaders do to prepare their teams for the integration of AI into sales workflows and enablement strategies? While AI best practices are still in the early stages of development, here are a few foolproof tips:
- Embrace a data-driven mindset: Get used to relying on data to inform actions and strategy, and organize your approach accordingly.
- Tailor your tech stack: A lot of different technologies already exist to help SDRs. Good sales managers will be discerning about which to bring on board depending on the industry, team size, maturity, etc.
- Have a game plan: Sales reps will need to learn how to work with technology, which includes refocusing from learning traditional methods and tasks to more forward-thinking ones. I.e. How can I improve my storytelling skills? Boost my creativity? Use data-driven insights to connect with prospects in a more meaningful manner.
Solving Old Problems and New Ones with Artificial Intelligence
If there’s one point this discussion is keen to make clear, it’s that AI in sales is more than just a buzzword. For many companies, it’s the future-forward solution to present-day dilemmas. For sales representatives, these (formidable) challenges are partially baked-in and partially brand new. Cold calling, for instance, has always involved extraordinary amounts of perseverance and a particular kind of moxy. AI won’t be able to replicate the drive required for successful prospecting, but it can supplement it while also honing its overall direction. Specifically, AI can automate low-level tasks and possibly even perform them better, due to the elimination of human error. As a result of a more sophisticated sales process, SDRs can reclaim the energy lost on those redundant responsibilities and redirect it towards pursuits that require a decidedly human touch, such as building client relationships and writing personalized emails and cold outreach.
Just keep in mind that sales teams shouldn’t fall for the trap of thinking that AI functions as a machine, repeating the same tasks over and over again. AI is built to “think” so that it can not only evolve as it works through tasks, the same way that a human would advance in a role, but also solve problems that humans would find challenging, such as feeding data into algorithms that pinpoint the best way to reach out to a prospect. Sales teams shouldn’t feel intimidated by AI as a competitor, but instead think of it as an ally in times of change.
That said, one of the more recent challenges facing sales teams today–besides complications created by the pandemic such as fewer people not only being in the office, but in the workforce–are leaner budgets in the face of economic uncertainty. As teams struggle to strike the right balance between the size of their workforce and their tech stack investment, AI can help teams do more with less. This strategy will empower sales teams to grow their operations–not shrink them–marking a win for sales teams and those seeking a career in the industry.
LeadIQ is dedicated to using technology that enables sales teams to focus on the work that matters. Our patented AI and machine learning help teams turn prospecting data into actionable insights and can generate complete, tailored outbound messages in your own voice.