Among many industries that have dramatically changed thanks to the rapid technological development over the last few decades, the retail industry is one of those that have benefited the most.
The emergence of online shopping has provided both sellers and buyers with numerous conveniences never seen before.
Further developments were – and still are – mainly focused on making the process of buying more intuitive and straightforward. Retailers have realized that less complexity in user and customer experience means better sales.
However, it turned out that making the selling process simple and intuitive is at least as important as making life easier for the buyers. Essentially, these are the two sides of the same coin and both can be substantially enhanced with the use of the right technology. And lately, we’re finding out that there’s no better technology for this purpose than artificial intelligence (AI).
How does AI benefit sales professionals?
AI is definitely far from being a new concept, and its meaning has significantly changed over time. Today, we’re using it routinely in numerous everyday devices and appliances, often without being aware of it, even though the general public may still be imagining evil robots taking over the world whenever AI is mentioned.
Naturally, this doesn’t mean that there are no possible dangers from the misuse of AI, especially given that it’s difficult to predict how exactly this technology will further evolve. But its benefits are so widespread and so valuable for so many industries that we can without any doubt say that AI is here to stay. And obviously, its effectiveness goes beyond the scope of business to help us with matters we all find crucial, from healthcare and education to weather forecast, disaster response and many more.
In principle, AI’s capability to process and interpret colossal amounts of disparate data in a way no human could ever do manually is the root of most of its power. Additionally, its potential to automatically update its algorithms according to feedback, without outside human involvement is what makes its results so impressive. It processes data, constantly learns from it, adapts and then acts upon what it has learned, which results in a high level of automation of previously very difficult or impossible tasks.
So, finally, how does this affect sales professionals? This whole article will deal with that question, but let’s make a quick preview of why AI will be so critical for the future of sales.
Very often, we hear that this is an era in which data is “the most valuable asset”. This goes for retailers and salespeople as well – obtaining reliable customer data is absolutely vital for their success. But given the amount of data uploaded every day (in 2018, this amount was 2.5 quintillion bytes per day and it’s expected to grow to 463 exabytes in 2025), the mere possession of billions of divergent data points is of virtually no use for any business.
This is where the processing power of artificial intelligence comes in. AI for sales forecasting can sift through this data, sort it, organize it and put it to action. This way vendors can get to know their customers, their prospects and their market in general by looking at the data they generate. This can do wonders for lead generation, pipeline monitoring, sales forecasting, real-time marketing or communication with customers, just to name a few benefits.
AI’s capability to act upon interpreted data also helps automate tasks and workflows, thus enhancing productivity. Furthermore, it speeds up communication inside the organization and makes it smoother. Finally, it can do numerous repetitive and tiresome tasks that used to be done by human reps, in a reliable and error-free way.
How is AI taking over sales?
When we say that AI is “taking over” sales it doesn’t mean that it’s here to take our jobs or that sales reps will soon become obsolete. The fact that it’s taking over means that it will become an absolute must for retailers if they want to keep their heads above the water.
Simply, salespeople that use the help of AI will gain an advantage over their competitors that will be very difficult to compensate for. Using AI methods is the best way to get to know your customers through carefully collected and well-analyzed data.
Also, it’s becoming increasingly important that businesses are available to their customers at all times, via multiple channels. Immediacy is crucial here – not being present at the exact time the customer is considering buying something may mean losing money. As much as 64% of consumers expect brands to respond and interact with them in real-time. This is why chatbots are so useful – they can jump in at any moment in time and provide help.
All in all, AI won’t be “taking over” in the sense that the process of sales will be fully automatized, with no human involvement at all. At least not any time soon. But it will definitely become a necessary aid to sales departments and human sales reps. Those who fail to realize this fact will undoubtedly be falling behind.
AI sales assistants
Sales reps know what they don’t know and they can easily recognize which type of info would help them boost their sales. For instance, only 51% of them think that they have sufficient market intelligence on customers and prospects, although more than 80% of those who have this market intelligence reckon that it helps them do their job more effectively. Stats are even more indicative when it comes to customers’ propensity to buy, suggested next steps and other valuable customer intent data.
In short, most salespeople aren’t really happy with the amount of info they have on people they’re trying to sell to and they definitely think that this type of info would be very valuable. And this is exactly the type of info AI can provide. Of course, these data first need to be collected through various tools, but without proper analysis by powerful AI software they’re almost worthless.
Nobody claims that AI can fully imitate human contact and human touch provided by an actual salesperson, at least for now. But with valuable data and feedback at their disposal, sales reps do a much better job – in fact, the highest performing sales teams are 2.3 times more likely to use AI-guided selling.
4 use cases of AI in sales
AI assistants are exactly that – assistants, but ones that are hugely beneficial and will become indispensable in the future. Let’s see why that is in a bit more detail.
1. Lead generation and scoring
Normally, sales reps tend to spend a lot of time trying to sell to leads that are simply not interested enough and won’t even think about buying no matter how talented or skillful the rep is. For instance, when it comes to B2B sales, as much as 61% of marketing teams send leads directly to salespeople, but only 27% of these leads are actually qualified.
This means that more or less, three-quarters of those are just a waste of time. This would be a huge blow for any organization. Without enough relevant data on these leads, sales reps have no way of knowing if there’s the slightest chance that their efforts will pay off. They simply reach out, try their best and hope it’s not for nothing.
Most salespeople claim that solid market and customer intelligence makes a world of difference in this respect. For instance, tracking customers’ and prospects’ online behavior and having their basic personal info, such as location or demographics can be very helpful when deciding who you should try to sell to.
Of course, these collected data are not delivered raw and unprocessed to the sales reps to make their own conclusions. AI software does this job for them and automatically recognizes and scores leads based on obtained data. This data-driven scoring makes sales teams much more efficient and helps them focus on actual potential buyers instead of accidental browsers.
Additionally, AI can compare the obtained insights with your biggest accounts and report to your sales team when there’s a high level of compatibility between these accounts and promising new prospects. Moreover, the algorithm that AI uses is automatically updated when you acquire new customers or when your existing accounts grow, leaving less and less room for errors.
In other words, the longer the AI algorithm is at work, it will provide more accurate results and your sales team will lose less time. It can even automatically engage these leads in real-time and then hand them over to sales reps to do what they do best.
2. Communication with customers and prospects
Naturally, it’s not enough to just recognize promising leads. It’s very important how and when you reach out to your customers and prospects. There are multiple ways in which AI helps sales teams in communication with their customers.
First of all, it enables chatbots to do their job with the help of powerful natural language processing. As it was said, it’s crucial for companies to be available to consumers at all times and chatbots can obviously do this job around the clock. However, a lot of them are not yet proficient enough to carry out complex exchanges, and 86% of consumers still prefer to interact with a human.
But chatbots can be very useful when a customer needs a quick and simple response, and in some cases, it can buy some time until a human sales rep is present. Moreover, they will get more advanced and more helpful in the times to come.
In any event, AI-assisted communication goes beyond chatbots. AI can provide salespeople with important info about potential customers that can lead to substantial improvements in communication. AI algorithms can recognize the right time to reach out, for instance. In this respect, the trigger-based choice of timing can be very effective. For example, when a website visitor starts looking at a certain line of products, AI can immediately recognize this visitor’s interest, initiate the conversation and leave the rest to the human rep.
Well-interpreted data can also help human reps choose their approach, language or tone when addressing customers and prospects. Finally, AI can distinguish between desktop and mobile phone users or identify channels that consumers use to communicate, therefore ensuring they’ll see your message once you reach out.
3. Personalized recommendations
The overall effect that new technologies have on customer experience is immense. And as it was emphasized, good customer experience (CX) in combination with accurate targeting makes selling much easier. In other words, advanced technology-driven selling methods improve CX, and improved CX means better sales. There’s hardly a better example of this than personalized recommendations.
When it comes to sales, the most important consequence of successfully obtaining and processing customer data is the ability to personalize the content and the experience so that they suit any particular user. More than 50% of consumers are ready to offer their personal data to companies if that means they’ll start seeing content, offers, and ads that fit their specific interests.
Therefore, having the right leads solves the problem of who to sell to, improved communication solves the problem of ‘’how’’, and personalized recommendations solve the equally vital problem of ‘’what’’. And it’s hugely important that this ‘’what’’ is different for every single customer.
An efficient AI-based algorithm that generates personalized recommendations can do real wonders for any business’ sales. We all know how many recommendations are basically thrown at us at every online step we make – via email, social networks or while we simply browse the internet.
Evidently, this is no accident. This strategy opens huge opportunities for cross-selling and upselling as well, and at the same time, it actually helps consumers buy exactly what they want, even if they were not actively looking for it. This approach is sometimes so efficient that, for instance, as much as 35% of what consumers purchase on Amazon comes exactly from product recommendations.
Given the wide range of customer data available to retailers, this is no wonder. An algorithm that has access to the user’s browsing history, purchase history, demographics, interests, preferences, and present-time online behavior can easily identify what they might need and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
With new feedback and new data fed into the algorithm, there’s no doubt that AI will only become better at recommending products and special offers to specific customers. They will be making fewer and fewer mistakes and having a decent product recommendation algorithm is becoming an absolute must for any online retailer.
4. Enhancing productivity and performance of reps
Apart from improving how sales teams interact with customers and the rest of the outside world, AI also influences the way sales teams work on the inside.
First, AI can help with workflow automation and streamlining processes in the entire organization. This includes automating task delegation and prioritizing the tasks based on various objective parameters.
For instance, it can recognize a very promising lead and automatically assign it to the best sales rep with a demand to reach out to it as soon as possible. Similarly, it can delegate tasks or set up meetings based on the geographical location of leads and sales reps. In other words, it can take care of some aspects of the manager’s job more quickly and more efficiently than a human manager.
Obviously, this saves the company a lot of time that would’ve otherwise be spent on organizational issues and eliminates some of the annoying noise in communication that can create confusion and chaos.
At last, AI is capable of analyzing the strategies of each rep or team and figure out what works and what doesn’t, given the end result. This can help the decision-makers recognize the best practices and apply them across the whole organization for maximum efficiency.
In sum, AI is an extremely effective and promising technology that is yet to reach its peak. It’s heavily used in sales at the convenience of both those who buy and those who sell and its greatest advantage is that it provides businesses with remarkably valuable insights about their customers.
As a result, it could be said that the current generation of retailers knows more about their customers than any generation before them. Now that they know what their customers are about, they have the opportunity to actually put “customer first” philosophy into work. And by doing that, they will help themselves and grow their business, too.
Such a powerful technology can, of course, be misused and exploited, but we have a chance to put it to good use and let it benefit all of us. Now it’s up to companies to decide.
Find the right AI sales assistant to help you start using artificial intelligence for your sales needs today.
Daniel started his career in digital marketing by working for a few local companies. After a year or two of learning different aspects of the job, he worked at DesignRush as a content advisor. Now, he works for ReallySimpleSystems as an assistant editor and marketing consultant. He also enjoys good coffee and Otis Redding.