For the buyer of sales technology, you can sometimes be overwhelmed by the term, Artificial Intelligence. Like any buzzword, it’s attached to all the latest platforms and products trying to entice buyers, into purchasing a new Sales Technology. The reality, however, is that there is just as much hype as there is confusion around exactly what Artificial Intelligence is. For those who purchased a few solutions, I’m sure you have largely ignored any sales person who touts an A.I. option, possibly placing it in a category where all the other buzzwords go. But it seems this time, maybe this isn’t a buzzword, and maybe we should be paying attention. From someone who’s been around the block and back in salestech, maybe it’s time to give A.I. a chance. Not one to keep you in the dark, I’ve made it my personal mission to educate buyers as much as I could about A.I., because like most people, (and you shouldn’t be afraid to admit it) you may know little about it and how it can help an organization. So, from a buyer’s perspective, we set out to learn more. Here’s what we concluded so far:
Artificial Intelligence isn’t one thing, its many different things.
The term Artificial Intelligence can be viewed as somewhat of an umbrella or blanket term, encompassing multiple aspects or facets of A.I. itself. There’s a variety of differences, and types, like Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Deep Learning, etc. You may not know the differences associated with each term, you might just be beginning to wrap my head around each, but they all can be, in some form, simplified (for the sake of this article) to a computer mimicking or doing tasks normally completed by a human.
It can be simple – For a lot of buyers, one of my primary drivers of tech purchases has always been to maximize production by offloading or automating repetitive but necessary tasks. Now, the debate of whether automation is A.I. may not agree, but at a simplistic level, this can be viewed as a form of artificial intelligence, and it is key. There’s a good chance any operations professional can list 5 processes or tasks that could be automated. Some tools can easily be bolted on to make simple decisions based on limited criteria or factors, or shuffle cases or accounts from one status to the next based on a trigger. Either way, removing these repetitive tasks can add some time back to your associate’s day and aid in preventing human error.
It may not seem all that impressive, but small task automation is a necessary improvement for any business of any size. Small menial tasks appear to take little time and make no impact, but they add up quickly. A task may take a few minutes to complete, but the time between the tasks, or any ancillary work around the task also adds to the total time. Now something that takes moments, can take 10-15 minutes. Add on a minute or two for distractions, and suddenly you have a very real idea of how limited your productivity could be. For a sales organization this is extremely important, because anytime dedicated to non-revenue generating efforts can be wasteful. Now imagine if you had all that time back. What could you get done? What would the increase in productivity or production be? Therefore simple A.I. is key. It allows you more time to do other, more impactful things. For anyone new to sales technology and A.I., I would suggest looking to start here.
It can be complex – But let’s say you have automation, maybe you have a pretty well-oiled machine for an operation and a sales floor. Excellent! A.I. offers the ability to take your organization even further. How about a platform that serves up sales content based on details around an opportunity, making it more likely to close? Or a platform that tells you how many times to call a lead before moving on? Or even what leads to call? At this stage in your operation you are probably looking to grow faster or produce more, and this is where A.I. can help. This is where you can truly leverage technology to scale your business!
In the early days of sales tech, A.I. played a large role in, amongst other things, predictive analytics. Making determinations on prospects most likely to convert, scoring leads for prioritization, etc. These days, depending on your organization’s complexity, there are plugins or A.I. based solutions that can serve up content or playbook materials based on deal progress, ensuring top of mind presence of your customers, track prospect engagement with content, and alerting you to it, and flagging these as “buying signals”. There’s A.I. backed platforms for communicating and scheduling meetings and demos with prospects and even understanding their personalities to help facilitate positive interactions.
Regardless of the level of complexity, the point is there appearing to be solutions across the board for whatever your business need is. When looking into A.I. solutions, careful attention should be made to uncovering the actual business need itself. Too often I’ve heard the buying or sourcing process for sales tech starts with a challenge in mind, only to come to realize the true issue or problem in the discovery process. In my experience with those who are buying tech, it’s important you clearly understand the impacts and what the business need is. Which brings me to another key conclusion:
You don’t need to know how it works, just that you could benefit from it.
An important part of sourcing any sales technology is understanding the challenges you need to address. As previously mentioned both simple automation and intuitive A.I. that can make impacts across your organization. Regardless of what you are buying, what matters most is the maturity of your operation and a comparable platform to support it. Regardless of the complexity of the A.I., whether its automation or making real-time decisions across your CRM, what we should look for is what challenges the platform can address, and what outcomes it can help deliver. What improvements can be made to production, productivity, and output? And because of that, because our end goals are to increase the effectiveness of our sellers and operation, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t understand how it functions.
As I further delve into the learning process for A.I. it’s becoming clear that some aspect is somewhat complex and frankly intimidating on the surface. Certainly, far removed from pulling bulk lists from the CRM and manually scouring them for a potential lead, today’s systems using a variety of algorithms to create digital footprints or even a “trails of breadcrumbs” around prospects to help us call who needs to be called. Instead of working support tickets from oldest to newest, we prioritize them based on keywords, domain names, and IP address. Furthermore, forget emailing a customer a document they need to print and hand sign, just send them the terms and condition, have them use digital initials and they are set. I can tell you from experience that these improvements are out there. They exist and from observing implementations, and even using some of them, they make a huge difference. You tend to not care how a platform works once it eliminates wasteful manual processes. Sometimes you don’t need to see the engine to know the car will get you from point A to point B.
It won’t replace your people
One of the biggest concerns I hear is that AI will replace people and jobs. That with time, technology and improvements, we will need fewer people to do the same amount of work. I can say with confidence (and experience) that this is false. Sales tech and A.I. powered platforms are simply tools used to execute tasks, simplify operations, and remove wasteful and burdensome work from associates. They aren’t made to reduce headcount within organizations, consolidate roles, or anything of the sorts.
The tools are force multipliers, acting as ways to free up time for associates, so they can do more. The true benefit comes from creating the ability for associates to do more of what they are paid to do; their jobs. Imagine what your team or organization could do with an extra hour a week or even a day! That’s a substantial amount of opportunity to increase call volumes, sign up customers, process services requests, you name it. The true benefit of these platforms is that it not only can help you get more out of your people, but the right output from them as well. Although A.I. is becoming increasingly smarter and more intuitive, it currently cannot replace a seasoned sales reps judgment, ability to listen and hone in on clues and empathize or develop a strong working relationship with a customer. As complicated and complex as a solution can be, it cannot replace the human element.
The bottom line: It’s just a tool.
Although you may be just beginning your education on A.I., you might have come to find significant amounts of information (along with noise) across the internet. My early impressions and findings have brought me to some interesting conclusions, which is certainly driving my interest in finding out more. The blanket term, A.I. covers many facets and forms of a complex series of algorithms and programs all designed to simulate human thought and action. Frankly, it can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be, replacing simple tasks and operations to complex, predictive analytics aimed at helping operations maximize already sound processes. Regardless of the complexity of the platform, what I’ve come to see if there is a solution for any level, size, and scale of operation. And despite the current paranoia, A.I. isn’t going to replace our workforce any time soon, rather those who invest in it and adopt it will be better positioned to maximize output from those already in roles. What I’ve come to learn in a short time is this: A.I is just a tool. It’s another tool in the toolbox of an organization to maximize production and minimize downtime. A.I. is a tool that is designed that can make you better, but it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be the best.
Your education and exploration into A.I. may have just begun. As a seasoned sales tech expert, I can tell you this an exciting time. For someone who loves tech and loves helping sellers be successful, this is an exciting venture. Stay tuned as I explore deeper into A.I., sales tech, and what that means for today’s businesses.
Dan and Nancy don’t just share a passion for SalesTech; they have the expertise and experience that very few can match. Nancy, who has been recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 30 Sales Influencers in the World, has provided sales leadership to premier analyst firms such as Gartner Group and IDC. Today she has her own successful firm, Smart Selling Tools, and is widely sought after for her sales insights.
Dan is a big believer in improving customer engagement without disruption and has been enabling enterprise-level organizations for more than 20 years through his company, Telemaximum. As a founding member and chapter president of the Sales Enablement Society, Leader of the Sales Enablement definition committee and the President of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals; Dan’s influence is second-to-none.
Together, Dan and Nancy are uniquely positioned to help organizations leverage modern technology and consulting resources to achieve their goals and objectives. http://www.vendorneutral.com