More than two thirds of companies in 2017 are likely to invest in predictive analytics to better score their leads. Does this spell the end of salespeople in favor of robots?

According to Amit Bendov, the CEO and co-founder of Gong.io, it might, unless you can add value to what the technology can do for your customers.

“Artificial intelligence (and technology in general) has made it so [that] access to information is not a problem for buyers (and therefore not a valid role salespeople can continue to play),” says Bendov.

Zach Cusimano, head of Growth and Operations at People.ai, however, believes that artificial intelligence will be used to enhance the sales team, not replace it.

“It will have an immense amount of benefits but as long as people are the ones controlling the budget (hopefully a little bit longer), we will still make purchasing decisions based on a fellow living breathing human,” he explains. “Building a relationship and trust with a prospect will always require a human touch. That proverbial handshake is the hallmark of a closed deal, cementing a partnership rooted in mutual agreement.”

In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of artificial intelligence in sales, and examples of technology that can enable these improvements.

Benefits of artificial intelligence in sales

When used well, machine learning, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence in sales can improve the selling process and automate manual tasks, saving time and better serving customers’ needs by working hand in hand with the human side of sales.

Automate manual tasks

Much of a salesperson’s time is spent on manual tasks, whether that be updating spreadsheets and their CRM, or creating reports and looking through this data to find meaningful insights to help them sell. AI can automate some of these manual tasks.

Bendov explains: “AI can free up sales reps’ time to spend more time actually selling rather than doing this menial work. When it is applied in a meaningful way, sales agents free up time for the high-leverage, non-linear aspects of their job: selling and communicating with potential customers, negotiating, and strategizing how they will close key deals. Some companies are embracing automated data capture to dramatically slash time slogging away the CRM, while chatbots are revolutionizing how sales agents interface with customers.”

Software that can help:

Datahug predictive analytics tool for salespeople automatically inputs deal activity into a CRM. This information can then be analyzed using machine learning algorithms. Datahug both removes the need for manual data entry and provides insights into sales activity.

Forecast more accurately

Predictive analytics helps you better plan for the future by being aware of seasonal and monthly sales fluctuations based on past data.

Dolly Jade Draze, product marketer at Zoho CRM, says: “If a storm’s coming, you’d like to be warned so that you can cancel all your outdoor appointments and make adequate preparations. The same holds true for sales. If you have a period of low or high sales on the way, knowing about it can help you prepare for the situation.

“Those who invest in predictive analytics tend to start campaigns and employ other tactics to make sure they lose out on fewer leads. If they know that a season of high sales is coming up, they could direct their marketing towards grabbing a lead’s attention before others do. Sales is a rat race and it’s easier to win when you know what obstacles the maze has to offer.”

Software that can help:

Zoho CRM comes with AI-powered predictive analytics for accurate trends that change with everyday activities. It provides a realistic idea of what future sales might look like.

Improve sales skills

AI can be used to carry out training and enhance the salespeople’s skills by analyzing meetings and calls to find out how well they are conducted and what improvements can be made.

According to Bendov, this can help salespeople shift from communicating value, to creating it during the buying process.

He says: “This includes helping buyers think about their problem from new angles, educate them about unrecognized (but impactful) problems and opportunities, helping them avoid decision-making land mines, and pushing them to redefine their buying criteria in new and different ways. If all a salesperson is good for is doing a product demo, they can be replaced by a well-produced product video on the website. But if they can create value during the sales process, they’ll come to be heavily relied on by the customer.”

Software that can help:

Chorus.ai records, transcribes and analyzes meetings in real time, allowing you to build custom training programs off the back of the insight it provides.

Gong.io is another solution that uses AI to analyze conversations that sales teams have with their clients to help them improve both their skills and the buyer experience. The platform allows companies to coach their sales team and tweak the pitch of the company in order to improve quality and sales performance.

Provide personalized recommendations

This is one situation where predictive analytics and AI go hand in hand with the human side of selling. The technology helps salespeople understand who they should be targeting so that the salesperson can tailor and personalize content according to this persona.

“Predictive analytics data can help identify the buyer personas and helps a sales rep know about the lead better based on past actions performed,” says Aroop Menon, product marketing manager for Freshsales. “This will help a marketer get better context and tailor the content and messages based on these insights.”

Software that can help:

SalesPredict combines sales data with other demographic and behavioral data from your marketing and CRM systems, as well as external data sets. The solution then scores and ranks leads and accounts to help salespeople understand the value of leads, and who is more likely to buy.

Access easy-to-understand data

AI and predictive analytics can provide salespeople and managers with instant access to easy-to-understand, reliable, and comprehensive data on sales behavior and pipeline data.

“Salespeople won’t need a whole team of data scientists or complex SQL queries to report on sales activity in a timely fashion,” says Cusimano. “Sales managers will no longer wonder about what they should coach their reps on, how the new rep is ramping, or whether all the MQLs were properly followed up on. Also, time-to-productivity, coaching effectiveness, and the ability to replicate top performers will be measurable KPIs and workflows, not marketing buzzwords.”

Software that can help:

SalesChoice allows sales teams to build customizable dashboards and data visualizations, as well as creating bespoke KPIs to target certain performance metrics and tools. Its statistical patterns also enable companies to work out future outcomes by adjusting certain company datasets.

Speed up decision making

Using predictive analytics and artificial intelligence in sales will allow teams to improve their decision making abilities in complex situations through digesting massive amounts of data and providing clear and actionable recommendations.

Cusimano explains: “One example is how our client, Gainsight, was able to quickly uncover trends in their deal cycle, changing the way they approached their sales process. After our system ran all their historical opportunities and human activities through our algorithms, People.ai was able to recognize that 94 percent of their top business deals closed in 2016 had a meeting scheduled within the last two weeks of the projected close date.”

Software that can help:

People.ai uses AI to give sales managers a complete picture of team activity using data from emails, calls, meetings, and CRM systems. It then helps explore trends and recognizes the metrics that will enable company success, allowing for better and faster decision making.

Improve lead scoring

According to Colleen Francis, sales expert and president of Engage Selling Solutions, predictive analytics can help with lead generation by providing a triaged list of leads from highest to lowest quality.

“Based on the scoring, the seller will have a good idea who to call, when to call, and what the messaging should be,” she says. “This will help to improve close ratios, speed closing times, and increase average order size.”

Software that can help:

Fliptop is a predictive lead scoring solution that uses an algorithm to score leads based on data pulled from marketing and CRM software. It also determines which factors make a lead successful for each individual company, and helps identify the next best action.

EverString uses predictive analytics models to not only score leads that are within your company’s pipeline, but also identifies potential external leads.

What is the future of artificial intelligence in sales?

Many attention-grabbing headlines as of late focus on how artificial intelligence will take all our jobs and ruin the economy. If you look at the points above, however, you’ll see that AI will enable salespeople to gain time through automated processes, allowing them to sell smarter and more efficiently through access to better data and insights. With AI, salespeople can focus on what’s important: providing the right solution to their customers at the right time, and truly provide a useful, a necessary, and most importantly, a personal service.

We’ll leave the last word to Cusimano: “The future of sales will be a marriage of human experience with predictions and insights, surfaced by AI,” he says, “allowing artificial intelligence to worry about the science of sales so they can focus on the art.”

If you’re looking for more information on predictive analytics and artificial intelligence in sales, check out the resources below: