Sales and AI: a match made in heaven?

“turned on monitoring screen” by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a term we’ve see thrown around for years now. One day it’s the solution to all of society’s problem, the next it might be the cause of our upcoming downfall.

Merriam-Webster defines AI as:

“A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers“ and “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior”.

We all have mainstream examples in mind: Voice assistants, self driving cars, murdering robots taking over the world (those aren’t released yet)… but it can be hard to really pinpoint a practical use case of AI in our professional life.

At Fairwai, we believe sales to be one of the best field for AI experimentation in business.

Why sales?

For starters, because sales is what we do: We help salespeople and their prospects communicate within the proposals they share. But most importantly because we think it’s one of the most AI-friendly field, for several reasons:

Room for automation

A salesperson’s day is full of repetitive, menial tasks that can (and should) be automated. Think of browsing LinkedIn for leads, editing proposals, manually crafting and sending emails for follow-ups, entering data in your CRM (if you ever worked in sales, we know you feel this one)… A lot of these tasks don’t necessarily need creative human input, and many are already automated in many organisations.

Reliance on technology

Unless we’re talking door-to-door selling, most of today’s sales processes are relying heavily on technology: list building, data entry, recordings and more. Which means that while AI can’t sell for you (yet), it can help you do all the other things that don’t need require your human touch, and probably do it better than you.

Data-friendliness

Sales teams amass a huge amount of data from a lot of different sources and in a lot of different sizes and shapes: emails exchanges, chat conversations, phone calls, meetings, KPIs, prospects’ feedback… and if there’s on thing AI loves more than secretly plotting against humanity, it’s data.

Salespeople themselves

Last but not least, salespeople are generally a result-focused, goal-oriented species. If you tell a go-getting, hungry salesperson that a new service or product can automate part of their workflow and most importantly help them make more money, better believe that they’ll be willing to give it a try.

Gimme the use cases!

When it comes to specific use cases, what are some applications of AI in sales? To go over some examples in a clear manner, let’s look through the sales funnel, from getting the lead all the way to signing the contract:

1 — Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs)

The marketing / sales border is blurry here, as the responsibilities of some activities fall under different departments depending on the organisation: Outbound email cadences, lead generation, LinkedIn outreach, engaging website visitors in conversations… A lot of iteration and testing is going there, something that AI can thrive on.

2 — Sales accepted Leads (SALs)

The sales team has received the leads from Marketing or the business development reps. Now, it’s time to work through them and decide which are valuable enough to spend time on, based on knowledge acquired from previous customers. If that doesn’t sound like a textbook use case for artificial intelligence and machine learning then I don’t know what does.

Ideally MQLs should be qualified and reps ready to jump on a call with them with full confidence but unfortunately, this is not always the case (hence the never-ending marketing & sales wars in many companies). AI can step in and let sales team know, based on empirical data, which profiles are worth spending time on and most likely to turn to deals (predictive lead scoring).

3 — Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs):

Now it’s time to get down to business and see if you can work something out with those leads. Is there an alignment between your product/service and their pain points? A lot of salespeople will tell you that this is a frustrating stage, during which you engage with a lot of leads to find out some are too small/too big, irrelevant, don’t have the budget… Could finding this information be automated with AI? Probably. Chatbots are getting smarter and will soon be able to sort through leads intelligently with conversations, saving time and energy on both sides.

There is also a big opportunity for analysing and improving processes and qualification with AI and machine learning. We are seeing some very interesting products focusing on analysing your conversations, helping you get better every time. (*cough cough* our product *cough cough*)

4 — Opportunities in Demonstration phase:

Your money sense is tingling: you’re getting close.

The demo call is where the magic happens and you finally get the chance to demonstrate the full extent of your product/service’s value to your prospect. It’s fair to assume that most salespeople would rather not automate too much here since it’s particularly important to connect and be emotionally invested. However, much like in the previous stage, AI can jump in to help you improve, by analysing calls, collecting data and suggesting corrections, for example.

A great example in this space is Gong.io, which analyses sales calls and help teams get better.

5 — Opportunities in Negotiation phase:

Now it’s getting real. It’s time to exchange proposals, argue over the price, manipulate and possibly forge signatures… Hold on, it doesn’t really have to be that way.

At this stage finding a win/win deal is everybody’s focus: you’ve had several calls, you know your product is a good fit for them, and they know what you have to offer. It’s all about the details now. Thankfully, AI is here to help making the process as smooth as possible. Maximising your proposals’ impact, fostering conversations, getting more feedback reducing useless back and forths and helping you improve every single time.

*Shameless plug* That’s what we are working on with Fairwai. Sign up for our beta, we’d love to have you onboard *end of plug*

6 — Opportunity won:

Here we are. The deal is signed, your commission is about to be huge, you’re on top of the world. But hold on, even now AI can jump in and help. You might have contracts to handle, legal documents to exchange, a handover to customer success or account management to process…

A complete new ballgame even starts once the opportunity is won and the prospect becomes a customer: upselling, retention, renewal… and we didn’t really explore prospecting either, which is a huge pain in itself for a lot of sales departments and can largely be automated. But that will be for another time.

Conclusion

These are really just a few examples of how sales and AI can work together to change the way we work, and the tip of the iceberg of an enormous potential. Ultimately, the reason for our excitement can be summed up by a great, self-explanatory quote:

“A sales rep can only be as productive as the time spent selling.”
- Lynne Zaledonis, VP Salesforce*

Sources:

  • *“Why AI will be your next best friend in Sales”
    Salesforce — Link
  • “Why salespeople need to develop machine intelligence”
    Harvard Business Review — Link
  • What are some AI Application for sales?
    Quora — Link
  • The future of sales is artificial intelligence
    Salesforce — Link
  • “5 Ways AI can help Sales and Marketing alignment”
    Marketo — Link

Thierry Maout is Head of growth and co-founder at Fairwai. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn and sign-up to try Fairwai on the website.

Jack of all trades, master of some. Vancouver-based, I write about tech, business, MMA and education. Mostly in English, but sometimes in French too.