In middle school, my fourth-grade teacher insisted learning long division was crucial to my future. “You won’t always have a calculator in your pocket, you know!”
Things have changed, clearly.
Today, most people carry around a computer more powerful than those used to send the first humans to the moon.
Technology has surpassed even our wildest science-fiction dreams — smart fridges can tell when we’re almost out of milk and add it to a digital shopping list. Your phone can tell when you leave work and remind you to stop at the store to pick up milk.
This brave new world is thanks to artificial intelligence — and it’s impacting every aspect of our lives, including education, healthcare, marketing, and sales. Before diving into the impact AI has on sales, let’s talk about what AI is — and what it isn’t.
What, Exactly, is Artificial Intelligence?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science focused on developing machines capable of simulating the human brain’s decision-making processes. Rather than making decisions based on simple algorithmic programs, AI machines exhibit traits usually associated with humans, such as problem-solving and learning.
There is likely AI in your home right now. Voice assistants like Siri and Alexa use AI to understand complex voice commands like “Call Mum” or “Order my favourite pizza.”
Image source: Self-made on Canva
You don’t have to tell them what your favourite pizza is or give your mum’s phone number — they can use problem-solving to look in your contacts or access your pizza delivery history to determine what action to take.
Despite what our favourite television shows might have us believe, artificial intelligence does not refer to robots, automation, or even deep learning. It can be part of those things, but AI takes it a step further.
Automation is a program that says, “If A happens, do B.” (Obviously, it can be a lot more complicated than that, but let’s keep it simple!) Deep learning allows machines to solve more complicated problems — but is still based on programmed algorithms.
On the other hand, AI mimics the human thought process and comes to conclusions on its own.
Despite the increase in chatter about AI in recent years, it is not new; the first working AI programs were developed in the 1940s.
Those first AI computers played games like checkers and chess against humans — and often won!
Today, AI can do much more in marketing, sales, transportation, healthcare, and accounting. Need help connecting purchase orders with invoices? AI can do it — automatically.
In sales, AI is taking over a range of tasks that used to be the domain of humans, including data analytics, data entry, lead generation, and customer engagement.
How will AI impact sales in 2021 — and what can your company do to adapt to these changes?
How Will AI Impact Sales in 2021?
Companies worldwide are finding that AI can take care of a range of sales-related tasks, allowing sales teams to focus on building relationships rather than entering data or crunching numbers.
Is your company ready for the future of sales? Here are seven ways AI is already changing the sales process in 2021 and what AI could do in the future.
Make Lead Generation Easier Than Ever Lead generation is one of the biggest challenges companies face.
And it’s easy to see why — brands are continually vying for consumers’ attention in email, social media, streaming services, and search engines.
But sales teams don’t just struggle to close deals — they struggle to find the right leads to begin with.
AI is already making it easier for sales and marketing teams to find leads.
How? For starters, AI can help provide customer support, nurture leads, and provide educational information to prospects. But AI can also help sales teams find new leads by analysing who visits their website, tracking leads as they interact with content, and exploring which leads are most valuable. Using AI-powered automation tools like CRMs and chatbots, leads can be gathered and even automatically assigned to salespeople.
In addition to saving sales and marketing teams time, AI produces higher quality leads. A Demandbase report found that businesses using AI saw 59% better close rates for sales and increased revenue, more traffic, and higher conversion.
In the future, AI may be able to find leads, nurture them, and even set up a phone call with a salesperson — all without any human interaction at all.
2. Improve Lead Qualifying
ncreasing the number of leads your business gets is not always a good thing. If your sales team now earns ten times the leads and spends ten times as long searching for quality leads, your business is unlikely to see a revenue increase.
You’ll have more work, but not more customers.
AI, however, can already make it easier to qualify leads.
For example, chatbots can ask leads qualifying questions, allowing sales teams to focus on leads in their brand’s ideal audience. Customer service bots can send resources that educate prospects and overcome objections so the sales team can focus on the close.
Marketing teams can use AI to qualify a lead before sending them on to sales by using AI-powered triggers that move prospects through the funnel.
For example, an email marketing tool business can use AI to send prospects an email marketing guide and set a trigger to remind customers to sign up for a webinar if they visit the brand’s website. AI can determine which content is most likely to keep that lead engaged and even answer questions.
Less time finding and sorting leads and more time actually closing deals? Sounds like a dream, right?
3. Tracking (and Interpreting) Lead Behaviour
Tracking lead behaviour provides crucial data on which leads are likely to convert and where a prospect is in the sales funnel. AI already allows sales teams to see incredibly detailed information about lead behaviour, such as what pages they visit on a website or how long they read a blog post.
For example, Leadfeeder uses AI technology to track which companies visit a website — even if they don’t leave their contact information. Those leads can then be sorted using customised feeds so that sales teams can see exactly which leads meet their criteria.
That information can then be sent to a CRM to inform a sales call or used to launch triggers for email marketing or remarketing ads. The data can automatically generate a sales report so sales managers can see what leads perform best and which salespeople are meeting — or even exceeding — their quotas.
A salesperson in Canada, for example, can sort leads based on location and size of the company, then see which lead visited their services page, which might indicate the prospect is nearly ready to convert. Their sales manager can view an AI report that tells them exactly what each team member has sold for that month — and where the remaining leads are in the sales funnel.
When sales managers and salespeople spend less time crunching numbers, they have more time to focus on the people and companies they are selling to.
4. Improve Lead Nurturing Without Losing the Personal Touch
When chatbots first launched, they were more of a novelty than a business tool. Like most tech, chatbots have evolved. Today, they are more conversational and better at understanding natural language.
For example, RingCentral uses a chatbot on its homepage that asks users what type of information they are looking for or who they’d like to speak with.
This ensures prospects don’t get stuck in a frustrating loop of pre-programmed responses and get the information or assistance they need.
But AI chatbots can do far more. For example, they can tell stories, explain complex problems, even answer questions that aren’t necessarily part of their program.
For example, an AI bot might provide a quote, ask questions to begin building a contract, or connect leads to the right department — and then input all that information into the CRM.
AI can also listen to sales calls, and help drive conversion rates by finding information sales teams need to close more deals. For example, AI might notice that a prospect mentioned in chat that they are struggling with a specific challenge — one they never mentioned to their salesperson.
Armed with that additional information, the salesperson has a more holistic view of the customer, allowing them to provide relevant information and offers.
5. Prepare Sales Contracts
How long does your team spend preparing contracts? It is one of the most time-consuming parts of the sales process that requires close attention to detail.
Rather than spending hours pulling information, adding clauses, and hammering out the details, an AI program could peruse email, chat conversations, even phone calls to create a contract based on agreements the customer and the sales rep already made.
This reduces back and forth and helps streamline the contract workflow, allowing sales and legal teams to focus on larger issues rather than getting caught up in contract negotiations.
In addition to developing contracts, AI-powered contract management software can pull renewal dates, highlight areas that need to be renegotiated, and better organise information to prevent contract disputes before they occur.
AI software can also extract data from contracts for analysis, ensure contracts are consistent, send contracts for approval — and then follow up if customers don’t respond in a specified time.
With the assistance of AI tools, the contract process can become faster and more accurate. As a result, teams focus on selling and negotiating — and spend less time analysing clauses and managing contract renewal dates.
6. Improve Digital Workflows
I’ve already mentioned that sales managers can use AI dashboards to streamline — and even automate — reporting. For example, they can see which team members are likely to hit their goals for the month or which leads are most likely to convert.
But AI can also improve the digital workflow in other ways. For example, an SDR AI bot can keep the CRM up-to-date, assign leads, and even send out follow-ups. These are critical sales tasks — but they keep salespeople from having time to focus on actually selling.
When AI takes over data entry, appointment setting, and reporting, sellers can focus more on preparing for meetings and getting to know their prospects.
When salespeople spend less time doing tasks at the top of the funnel, they have more time to devote to bottom-of-the-funnel tasks such as negotiating, closing deals, and building better relationships.
7. Ensure Compliance in Sales and Beyond
Ensuring your sales team is compliant with government and industry regulations is critical to overall success — but it can also be a significant challenge, particularly in industries with strict regulations, such as financial institutions or health care.
AI can help compliance teams review communications, look for gaps in security measures, and improve document organisation so that sales teams can focus more on selling and spend less time worrying about compliance.
But the compliance benefits extend beyond the sales teams — with AI ensuring basic compliance, the compliance team can focus on broader issues, such as guaranteeing data storage laws are met.
AI technology can automate many sales-related activities, from gathering customer information to qualifying leads, processing sales, taking orders, generating reports, and even preparing contracts.
So what does the sales world of 2021 look like? It’s hard to know what the future will bring — particularly since AI has begun to evolve on its own. In the future, AI may automate a majority of the sales process — from that first touch to taking the order and getting the contract signed. This will allow sales teams to work more efficiently and focus on building relationships and increasing conversions.
What is clear is that AI is already making the sales process more efficient and more effective. Businesses looking to stay at the forefront of their industry should be paying attention to AI.
Originally published Jan 21, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023