By Ken Lambert President, North American Association of Sales Engineers
Article featured in USA Today
A trend that has been building for a few years seems to be accelerating due to the COVID-19 disruption to the economy in 2020. As face-to-face business meetings and prospecting has dwindled to essentially nothing for months, marketing and business development cannot take time off. Artificial and augmented intelligence (AI) is making quick inroads within sales across many sectors.
We are past the proof of concept stage and there are many niche firms and software that are taking advantage of the market disruption. A quick Google search for “sales artificial intelligence” turned up 149 million results.
As a simple example, auto-responders are a type of AI.
Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple have created computers that can essentially “think” for us given certain inputs and parameters. Who wouldn’t want to have a qualified virtual assistant at our side?
Mining “big data” is another offshoot of AI. We often hear about big data, and the computers, algorithms, and programmers analyzing said data. Just think of the simple filter tools which leads-focused companies employ on their “opportunities” pages. With some forethought, the user or subscriber can change some criteria and allow the program to sift through hundreds or thousands of prospects or projects and come back with the best ones for the user to chase and spend costly time upon. With a little thought, “big” data can be used productively within the prospecting community.
Artificial intelligence, and its cousin automation, is everywhere within the sales cycle if you are looking for it. As another example, consider the B2B world of LinkedIn. There is an entire cottage industry associated with automated business development exclusively within LinkedIn accounts.
There are dozens of tech companies out there now who are essentially providing a download or plug-in service where they are providing one or more of the following services: Sending invitations to connect with typically second level connections; following second and third level connections; sending canned private messages to new connections; forwarding incoming messages to email; endorsing first connections for one to three skills listed on their profile.
These LinkedIn plug-ins are not the end-all, be-all. But they are an option and can prove very effective in growing your network and increasing one-to-one conversations.
Many of the available programs guide, in real time, proper responses in a sales conversation with a prospect. The AI software looks for patterns and specific word choices, and possibly even voice recognition and pauses or other verbal cues to better predict the sales outcome. The software then shares this with the salesperson. This helps with the potential sale that very minute, but also over time. It is a means of integrated sales training whereby the employee will rely less upon the software as the days continue. In essence, the person will become a better salesperson. That will increase revenues, but also should increase compensation for the employee.
Tools and software are constantly being tweaked and improved based on real-time responses and business improvements. Artificial intelligence is all about working smarter, not harder.