Artificial intelligence is everywhere.
- By 2020, the AI market will be $70 billion, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
- AI software generated $1.4 billion in 2016, according to market intelligence firm Tractica, which estimates revenues will grow to $59.8 billion by 2025.
- The Telegraph reports that AI could double annual economic growth rates by 2035 and boost productivity by nearly 40%.
In a study highlighted in a recent Expert Systems with Applications paper, data-based prediction models were better than humans at certain business tasks. The researchers highlighted business-to-business (B2B) sales forecasting and making sales strategy recommendations as two examples of tasks where artificial intelligence can already beat human intelligence.
According to Sarah White in a recent article for CIO, “Experts agree that AI has the potential to eliminate mundane, administrative work,” freeing up time for salespeople to focus on the tasks that require skills robots have yet to learn, including empathy, compassion, and creativity.
Below, we’ll learn how companies are harnessing artificial intelligence to make their sales teams more efficient and effective, and what you need to do now to take advantage of this AI revolution.
AI is helping salespeople succeed by taking over the CRM
There are things salespeople like doing, and things salespeople hate doing. They usually like talking to people. They usually like having a drink with friends. They usually like making sales. They almost never like inputting data into customer relationship management (CRM) software.
Salesforce—already a leader in the CRM space—is also leading the charge in bringing AI to CRM. Its AI-infused offering, Salesforce Einstein uses email, calendar, and social data to predict when your prospect is statistically most likely to open an email from you and respond positively, and recommends a 20-minute time slot for sending your prospect that follow-up email.
But with all top dogs, eventually you’re going to have competition. Startups will dominate Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft in the market for artificial intelligence software, according to Gartner.
Here are a few startups that are right on Salesforce’s heels in the AI charge:
In August, TechCrunch reported that People.ai was out of stealth. The Y Combinator-backed company uses machine learning algorithms to advise salespeople on how to behave to win sales, based on what’s worked in the past. It tracks data such as emails sent per week and average response time to find out what works and what doesn’t.
While Salesforce also does these types of calculations, it still requires a lot of manual data entry. People.ai scrapes sales reps’ email, calendar, phone, WebEx, etc. to import the data it needs to run the calculations automatically.
Chorus.ai identifies and analyzes key moments in a sales call
Chorus.ai is sales software that transcribes recordings of sales calls and scans the transcripts. It uses machine learning to identify which factors in sales calls contribute to, or derail, success. It also creates highlight reels of successful moments that companies can play to train new sales reps.
AI company Qurious uses natural language processing (NLP) to identify both failures and successes and offer reps guidance on strategies to maximize the latter.
Qurious offers suggestions in the form of “battlecards” that pop up as a sales rep is talking to a customer. For example, if the the rep is rambling, Qurious will present a card saying, essentially, “wrap it up.” If the prospect makes a buying signal, a card will show up telling the rep not to miss their chance. Battle cards present potential responses to prospects’ objections as well.
AI is selling—without salespeople
AI can help facilitate sales even without a sales rep. Decision Support Systems recently published a paper describing a machine learning algorithm that analyzed the unstructured data in customer reviews. The purpose was to disambiguate the data in order to know, for example, how many one-star reviews are for customer service versus product quality without having to read every review.
The result? Buyers are more informed and more confident. And as Amazon has proved, this results in more sales. Buyers click “purchase” when they have enough information to make a decision.
Amazon is also selling without sales reps with its “Just Ask” feature on the Echo. Alexa, the AI that powers the Echo, upsells customers based on the data they’ve provided. Alexa tells users about promotions and special deals that are tailored to the them based on their buying history, delivery address, and shipping and payment preferences. Customer service expert Richard Shapiro calls it “a game changer.”
AI going forward
Businesses that embrace machine learning, NLP, and other technologies under the artificial intelligence umbrella are poised for unprecedented productivity. Those who “shun opportunity are most at risk,” Estes says.
Andrew Ng, who drives global AI strategy at Chinese search giant Baidu, wrote for Harvard Business Review that businesses should plan to hire a chief AI officer to attract AI and machine learning talent to the organization. “We’re in that early phase of AI where it’s so complicated, and recruiting talent is so difficult, that having a centralized AI function will be the best way for many enterprises to bring in the talent,” said Ng.
When it comes to buying CRM software, consider what AI capabilities it includes. And when hiring, consider whether candidates have the interest and capacity to clean data.
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