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The Role of AI in Sales

Corinne Thomas

Corinne Thomas

Founder & Managing Director

AI is transforming many industries and the sales profession is no exception. To explore AI and the implications for those of us working in sales on a daily basis, we teamed up with the Institute of Sales Professionals to host a panel discussion. This blog is an executive summary of the questions and answers from three industry leaders who are exploring the role of AI in sales. 

In her position as a leader member of the Institute of Sales Professionals, our MD Corinne Thomas facilitated a thought-provoking panel discussion about the role of AI in sales. Our esteemed panellists were:

Sue Turner OBE, the CEO of AI Governance; Guy Littlejohn, the founder of revenue growth agency FacetsDave Corlett, Business Director of B2B creative marketing agency Shaped By.

The session explored four key questions around the issues of AI in sales:

  • What’s a clear definition of AI and some possible use cases?
  • How can AI help us as salespeople to get more efficient, shorten sales cycles and remove unwanted administration?
  • How will the introduction of AI in sales impact buyer and organisational behaviour?
  • What are the risks and challenges of integrating AI into your sales processes?

We’ve unpacked each of the questions below to create an executive summary of our experts’ insight and knowledge. Make sure you read on to explore the role of AI in sales and the impact it may have on your organisation.

What’s a clear definition of AI and some possible use cases?

As the CEO of AI Governance, which inspires organisations to use AI with wisdom and integrity, Sue Turner was the perfect person to address this question.

Her helpful and clear definition of AI (artificial intelligence) is that it’s about finding patterns hidden in large amounts of data and then using this to predict, personalise or automate. So while a standard computer programme is deterministic — it just does what it’s programmed to do — AI works on probabilities. These models can see patterns that just aren’t visible to our human brains, and they don’t ever get distracted. 

AI is predicted to get a lot more prevalent in the next few years. This is because we’re consuming more data (statistics show that in 2025 we’ll consume as much data in real-time as we produced in all of 2021), storage and processing are better and cheaper, and algorithms are getting more accurate all the time.

As a business owner, Sue believes there are two questions to ask: 

“Where can you find patterns and data in business development? And what do you want to predict, personalise or automate?”

She cited the example of Harley Davidson, which achieved a 2,930% increase in sales after analysing the data of their highest-spending customers and predicting when they’d be likely to buy products. 

Sue also shared some sobering statistics: 58% of organisations have no one on the board with any knowledge of AI and 91% of organisations feel they have no way of controlling AI. This shows why it’s crucial to start considering how AI might be used in your sales processes – and all the implications that it comes with.

How can AI help us as salespeople to get more efficient, shorten sales cycles and remove unwanted administration?

Guy Littlejohn is an early adopter of AI and believes it has a lot to offer sales businesses in the whole commercial process. 

Facets have implemented three AI tools that have helped this process. Hints. so is an AI assistant that does a range of admin tasks, from setting reminders to updating the team with your notes from a meeting. Hints can link to existing programmes such as Slack, your email, your CRM and Teams. 

“So after a meeting, I can make a coffee and I’m following up on all the stages on my phone through Hints!” says Guy. 

He also uses Getcargo.io, which helps create personalised, individual copy for prospects. 

“This integrates with prospecting tools and lets me add personalised data for communications. Once I give it commands, it takes that strategy and ideas and makes them unique to each prospect I want to reach out to.” 

And Guy’s favourite AI tool is Fireflies, a meeting note-taker that Corinne has also adopted! This listens to meetings and then summarises them into short notes. The removal of the need to write notes during a meeting means Guy can fully focus and listen intently, as well as cutting down the amount of time spent summarising and sharing information with colleagues.

An area many people struggle with is sales team training, so Sue highlighted how AI can be used for this. It’s now possible to analyse the words people use when on a sales call and look at the sentiment behind them to see if the customer is engaged. You can also get tools that suggest live responses to give the sales rep some leads. 

The other area Sue feels AI is helpful for is staff scheduling.

 “You may have a hunch that some combinations of team members give you the best sales results. So you can use AI to look at this and give you ideas on the best team combinations for different times of the day or week.” 

As someone who’s earlier in their AI journey, Dave Corlett believes it’s important to take your time and do the research about what could work for your sales business. 

“This is much more than just a trend or a set of new tools – this is a seismic and permanent shift in the way we do everything. I’m currently mapping out all the stages of my process and exploring how AI can find efficiencies there.” 

Sue’s advice is to start small – find one pain point in your organisation and focus on that, rather than trying to solve everything in one go.

How will the introduction of AI in sales impact buyer and organisational behaviour?

Sue believes that AI will lead to the difference between online and offline sales shrinking, as online sales start influencing offline and vice versa. An example of this is computer vision in stores being used to track eye movement when shopping, and a follow-up email offer on the product the customer was looking at.

This does, however, lead to issues around ethics, with Sue citing Starbucks as recently being criticised for using an algorithm that inadvertently pushed higher sugar products onto young people. 

“You need to be aware of your personalisation and what are the unintended consequences of these tools. Do these tools match the value of your organisation? Your values are coming to the fore of the technology you’re using. I say start with your values when you’re building the tech, rather than the other way around.” 

Once AI is the standard, Dave queries what clients will come to expect.  In terms of onboarding, he feels customers will insist on a flawless experience and want every stage to be seamless and swift. And when the personalisation of comms is the norm, what happens next?

 “Will this lead to rates eventually dipping? Will AI filters mean messages go to spam? Will our phone get better at rejecting any sales calls?” 

All very interesting points that are worth considering as you start to navigate the use of AI in your sales process.

What are the risks and challenges of integrating AI into your sales processes?

According to Sue, the three things to consider when integrating AI into your sales process are ethics, energy and regulation. 

In using AI to promote specific products to segments of your audience, you can end up unintentionally discriminating against people from a certain demographic. Sue also used the example of how customers can be hostile to people with accents they perceive as not their own, so there’s now an AI tool that changes the accent of the call handler to match the customer in real-time. 

“But that’s papering over the cracks of the problem, so while these tools exist, do you want to use them?” 

The ethics of any AI tool need to be considered before you start implementing it with your customers.

A definite consideration around AI is the environment. Some of these AI models consume a huge amount of energy, so if you’re a business that’s aiming to reduce your carbon consumption with net zero targets then you need to be fully aware of this. On the flip side, you can use AI tools to reduce sales processes such as catalogue posting, which can cut costs and waste. 

And there’s also the question of regulation, which will become more important as AI becomes more prevalent. The EU’s AI act is coming into force soon, which Sue believes will be the gold standard for businesses to conform to no matter where in the world they operate. 

Guy believes there’s a short-term pain in having to learn AI tools but the pay-off is worthwhile.

“Expectations are always being raised by clients and what was good enough last year isn’t good enough now.” 

AI can help you raise your game and ensure you have all the information you need about a prospect to close the deal and get them onboard. And with the huge growth in AI and its possibilities, it’s important to keep on top of developments or you risk your sales business being left behind.

Our panellists all agreed that ultimately, however, AI is just a tool. 

“AI won’t make you a better salesperson,” says Dave. “Maybe a more efficient one, but fundamentally there’s a skills level to a salesperson that won’t ever be replaced by AI – or at least I hope so.”

Are you looking for some support with AI and sales? Contact us to explore how we can help you to navigate this challenge:

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