1. Where do you see the future of the sales industry? Do you think the role of data will continue to grow?
The future of the sales industry is undoubtedly in data and predictive analytics. Historical data can provide countless insights on potential sales opportunities right through to advising at what particular time to call a prospect. However, this is not to say that sales reps’ jobs will be taken over by machines. Rather, that the technology that exists at present has the power to amplify human potential. For example, time-consuming administrative tasks can be easily automated by machines, this means sales reps will regain valuable time to follow up with personalised responses to prospects, ultimately allowing them to close more opportunities.
In fact, some processes within sales will never be completely replaced by technology. Multi-million or even billion pound sales require a degree of confidence which you just can’t get from a machine, there will always need to be an element of human interaction. Although machine learning can employ data to help identify sales opportunities and aid throughout the process, that final stage of closing the sale will always need to have a human influence.
What we will see in the future however, is a growth in data being used in a more predictive way to close specific targeted accounts.
2. Has Artificial Intelligence already transformed the sales industry? Or is there still more to come?
We have already begun to see fundamental changes to the sales process as a result of AI. Gone are the days of cold calls and unsolicited outreach, and customers are expecting a more personalised experience than ever before. Account-based selling is considered to be the future of sales and already has wide-spread adoption. Using a blend of big data and predictive analytics to target specific accounts results in more efficient teams and ultimately, better results.
However, AI has had more of an impact in certain areas of the sales industry than others. For instance, B2C business saw an earlier transformation than B2B as a result of big data. The key difference is that B2C businesses usually have bigger customer databases which produce huge amounts of precise data they can analyse and use to generate new sales leads. In the past, B2B businesses have struggled to generate enough scale in their own data to gain the most value from it. However, with the growth of key CRM platforms like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics – this is all set to change.
Businesses also need the right applications to ensure that employees are able to take advantage of these insights. Often, data is stored in silos, which means that it cannot be accessed or analysed quickly or efficiently. Sales reps need real-time data to close deals, and without the right applications to pull these insights together even the greatest data sets and algorithms cannot be capitalised on. We’ll start to see a more substantial business impact in the sales industry when collaboration occurs and these elements are tied together.
3. What do you think is the difference between true AI and just ‘artificial’?
Artificial Intelligence has been the business buzzword of 2016 – but true AI is increasingly hard to find. The term ‘AI’ is used widely, and often interchanged with machine learning or analytics when there is actually a difference. A lot is being offered on the market which simply isn’t artificial intelligence. For me, the crucial difference is in the data. Many companies claim to offer AI services but simply don’t have the data sets to build AI platforms on in order to provide valuable insights. Without these data sets, the algorithms which power the analytics are useless for businesses purposes.
For example, InsideSales’ Neuralytics analyses over 100 billion sales interactions, 110 million buyer profiles and thousands of individual data points. This vast amount of data means that the platform can actually learn from past interactions and make recommendations based on this, and that’s where the real intelligence comes in.
4. Which companies do you believe are really doing it?
Amazon is a great example of how big data and AI can be applied to the sales industry. As early as 2005, Amazon had gathered data from as many as 84 million unique shopper profiles – and was making recommendations for people on what they should purchase next. It got to the point where Amazon had a better idea of what any customer wanted to buy than they did! Having such a huge data set readily available has given Amazon a considerable competitive advantage. It gives it insights into customer decision making that competitors simply don’t have, which in turn helps it predict future trends and buy products and services accordingly.
5. How do you think millennials can be engaged in sales? Does AI present the solution?
Millennials present a real challenge for employers, often requiring constant feedback and quickly losing engagement in their role. This is often seen as a nuisance, but could actually present another opportunity for sales professionals to capitalise on the data available to them. Gamification can use intelligent analysis to crunch sales reps’ performance and compare them. Data points can also be used to design further games and competitions, such as tackling the time with the lowest volume of calls with a “Power Hour”. These are all elements utilised by businesses at the moment to help grow employee engagement retention.
The key here is that gamification is not seen as a gimmick, but rather a means to efficiently provide real-time feedback which drives engagement. In fact, InsideSales.com’s research has found that when game elements are introduced into the workplace, sales activities increase by up to 38 per cent. The competitive environment creates an extra layer of challenge to motivate young employees and improve performace.
Jim Steele, chief revenue officer, InsideSales.com