FutureProof Your Small Business: AI in Sales

By: on June 18, 2018

You’ve probably heard the phrase “artificial intelligence” before, and not just in relation to that Haley Joel Osment movie.

A GIF from the movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

He’s not real … but his love is

While this phrase may sound scary—and expensive!—to a small or midsize business (SMB) owner or manager like you, it’s an important facet of business technology that you should already be making plans to implement.

According to a Gartner prediction (available to Gartner clients), “By 2020, 30 percent of all companies will employ artificial intelligence (AI) to augment at least one of their primary sales processes.”

If you want your business to maintain a competitive advantage in the years to come, you need to start utilizing AI in your sales/CRM process now by taking advantage of the AI functionality that is already an integral part of your CRM software.

In this article, we’ll explain what that looks like and show you how to “FutureProof” your SMB with AI in sales.

What Is AI in Sales?

Sales AI, in its most basic form, consists of algorithms within customer relationship management (CRM) software and sales force automation software that can make decisions related to the sales process.

This means that you can rely upon the AI to suggest next best steps, automatically take actions to move leads along the sales pipeline and perform necessary administrative tasks.

Gartner describes general AI technologies as systems that change their behavior based on data, analysis and other observations, without being explicitly programmed to do so. They learn to identify and classify input patterns, and then use those to create predictions.

Many AI systems are so complex that they are only useful to enterprise-level businesses, but AI can still be useful to SMBs like yours. AI in sales is mostly useful for two purposes: predictive analysis and customer personalization. We’ll look at these and other features in the next section.

Your CRM Is Already Packed With Sales AI Features

Now that you know how AI can provide your sales team with a competitive advantage, let’s dive into how exactly you can begin leveraging this technology at your SMB.

Fortunately, this is easier than you think. Most current CRM software utilizes an element of AI to perform any of the following functions:

Predictive analysis: AI tools are primarily useful to salespeople by creating predictions about future customer/prospect behavior based on analysis of the aggregated data of similar interactions in the past. Thus, sales AI can suggest the next best step to take with a particular contact to increase the likelihood of closing a sale.

For example, AI within your CRM may recommend the next date and method through which you should contact a customer immediately after you’ve finished a phone conversation with them. By always knowing the exact right next step, you’ll have a leg up on competitors without sales AI.

Customer personalization: Similar to suggesting next best steps based on past aggregate data, AI tools can also analyze and categorize the data of specific customers or prospects. This means that a salesperson can personalize their outreach to every single contact.

For example, if the system’s analytics recommend reaching out to a contact two weeks after the most recent interaction, the personalized data for that contact will suggest whether the best way to reach them is via the phone or through email.

Prioritization: Since the AI is able to predict which deals are most likely going to lead to sales success, it can then prioritize a sales teams’ queue based on that data. This means that the team will focus first and foremost on the deals with the highest potential ROI and waste less time chasing down prospects that don’t pan out.

For example, if you have one potential deal that may net you $10,000, but it’s one that is only 50 percent likely to close, and 10 potential deals that are 75 percent sure and that will net you $1,000 each, the system will tell your team to prioritize those 10 deals rather than the one.

Forecasting: Because AI tools are constantly collecting tons of data from sales teams, the system can utilize that data to create long-term sales forecasts, allowing for the team—and the entire business—to prepare for the future. These forecasts tie directly into other AI uses, by influencing which personalized next steps and priorities the system will suggest.

For example, the AI may recognize certain trends in your sales history that indicate you may be entering a slump within the next few months. Knowing this, you can prepare to weather the period of lower sales, and utilize past information to understand the best way to pull out of that slump.

A sales analysis page in SAP Cloud for Sales
These tools all provide sales teams with a competitive advantage in their given market by strategically using their company’s data to create opportunities for closing the most deals through a combination of prediction and personalization.

All of the above technologies are available as a part of many CRM systems right now.

In order to FutureProof your SMB and take advantage of the rising functionality of AI, you need to make sure you’re utilizing all of the tools your CRM already makes available to you.

If your current CRM doesn’t have any of these AI tools, you may want to consider looking for a new vendor that does provide AI capabilities.

Sales AI Tools to Use at Your SMB

We’ve spoken about AI sales features for SMBs, but how might those tools work in practice?

Sales AI functionality within a CRM system can look like the following examples:

  • Phone integration: Team members are able to make calls directly from the CRM system. By placing a call in this manner the AI can listen to that conversation and take notes based on natural-language cues in the call, which can then be used to propose the salesperson’s next step.
  • Next best action: The AI can take the content and context of any email or phone call made through the system and create a list of next best actions. The system will directly prompt sales team members to take one of these actions, ensuring that every point of contact is optimally followed up.
  • Call/email lists: AI runs off of algorithms that can take information from a contact’s history of phone calls and emails and suggest the likelihood of closing a deal. It can then create call/email lists for the sales team to follow up on based on the size and prospect of each deal.
  • Email assistant: Advanced sales AI can serve as a virtual assistant to both the sales team members and managers. Team members can ask the system for information on particular contacts, leads or opportunities simply by sending an email in natural language. Managers, meanwhile, can do the same thing to obtain information about team performance, so that they don’t need to interrupt or intrude upon the sales team in order to obtain their metrics.

Remember: Successful sales AI will simplify workflows for sales teams. These teams will be provided only with the tools that they need to close deals based on accumulated data. Managers will be the ones working with reports and analytics generated by that data.

Case Story: Spiro

One such system that a manager might implement is from “AI-powered CRM” company Spiro.

CEO and co-founder Adam Honig explains that the goal of Spiro’s system is “to make it so easy that salespeople might not even know that they’re using it.” The AI in the system evaluates sales data and generates recommendations for sales team members, ranging from next best actions to a prioritized list of potential deals.

Spiro‘s priority overview page

This type of AI-centered approach to CRM, with its focus on aiding the sales team, is a hint at what CRM software will look like in the future.

It also indicates the ways in which you should be updating your sales team’s processes to prepare for AI implementation: The more unobtrusive the AI feels to your sales team, the more likely they are to take full advantage of it.

 RECOMMENDATION:  As you implement AI tools, improve your sales process by slowly teaching your sales team to work in tandem with AI suggestions and assistance. Add pieces of AI one at a time rather than dumping them on your team all at once so that the AI serves as an aid instead of a hindrance.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Though “artificial intelligence” may sound intimidating and like something well beyond your SMB sales team’s needs, the truth is that AI is already a major part of contemporary sales and CRM.

If you want to be prepared for AI’s increasing role in that part of your business, and thus FutureProof yourself so that you don’t fall behind other businesses who have adopted AI more readily, you need to be taking several steps right now:

  1. Make sure that you’re using a CRM vendor that offers baseline AI capabilities, such as data analysis and predictive forecasting.
  2. Consciously utilize those capabilities as a part of your regular sales process, both on the level of individual salespeople and on the managerial level of long-term planning.
  3. If necessary, implement changes to your sales process so that your team will be ready to utilize the tools, suggestions and assistance of AI. Make sure they will work symbiotically with the AI, rather than feeling at odds with it.

If you want to start exploiting the possibilities for AI in sales that are already available to SMBs like yours, we recommend that you check out the following types of software to see which tools are the best fit for your business:

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