Last month, Microsoft fired a powerful salvo by launching Viva Sales, an application with embedded generative AI technology designed to help salespeople and sales managers draft tailored customer emails, gain insights about customers and prospects, and generate recommendations and reminders. A few weeks later, Salesforce (the company) followed suit. launching Einstein GPT.
Marketing, with its unstructured, highly flexible, people-driven approach, lags behind functions such as finance, logistics, and marketing when it comes to using digital technologies. But now, the market is poised to quickly become a leading adopter of generative AI – the form of artificial intelligence used by OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT) and its competitors. AI-powered systems are on the way to becoming every salesperson’s (and every sales manager’s) indispensable digital assistant.
Marketing is well suited to the capabilities of generative AI models. Selling is an interactive and intensive transaction, which generates large amounts of data, including text from email chains, audio of phone conversations, and video of in-person interactions. These are exactly the types of unstructured data that models are designed to handle. The creative and organic nature of sales creates many opportunities for generative AI to interpret, learn, link, and adapt.
But to realize the true potential, there are obstacles and challenges to overcome. Generative AI should be non-intrusively embedded into sales processes and operations so that sales teams can naturally integrate the capabilities into their workflow. Generative AI can sometimes make wrong, biased, or inconsistent conclusions. Although publicly available models are valuable (hundreds of millions of users like us already use ChatGPT to query the knowledge base on almost every topic), the real power for sales teams comes when the models adapted and adapted to the specific data of the company. and contexts. This can be expensive and requires scarce expertise, including people with significant AI knowledge and sale. So how can marketing organizations reap value without wasting energy down unproductive paths?
What is Possible
Before answering the howTHINK WHAT generative AI can do for sales organizations.
Changing the administrative flow. Almost every sales organization we touch is cursed with a gradual increase in administrative work over time. As the complexity of sales increases, so does the need for documentation, approval, and compliance reporting. Regardless, the increasing use of technology in sales is also a major factor. New technologies often lead to more training, more data entry, and more reports to read. Generative AI can reverse administrative creep, for example, by helping salespeople write emails, respond to proposal requests, organize notes, and automatically update CRM data.
Improve customer interactions with salespeople. The use of AI in sales has been growing of late. We’ve helped many companies deploy AI-powered systems that recommend personalized content and product offers, along with the best channels for salespeople to connect with customers. Recommendations are based on data about the preferences and behaviors of the customer and similar customers, as well as past customer interactions. Sellers accept or reject recommendations and can rate their quality to improve algorithms.
By layering generative AI, the models can make better recommendations. An example is considering customer sentiments derived from language nuances and subtle signals of customer interest or distrust – in emails, conversations with salespeople, posts on social media sites , and so on. Additionally, the seller can collaborate with the system to improve recommendations in real time. For example, after receiving a suggestion to approach a customer with a new offer, the salesperson can dig deeper — both vertically into the customer’s own needs and horizontally to find other customers who can benefit from the same offer. An interactive, conversational user interface makes the application easy to use. In a truly collaborative seller-buyer environment, even the buyer can be part of the dialog.
Assisting sales managers. Sales managers spend a lot of time studying reports and analyzing sales performance. Recently, most sales reports have evolved from passive, backward-looking documents to more interactive, diagnostic tools with drill-down capabilities. With generative AI, reporting systems can become more powerful and forward-looking. Managers can ask questions to gain insights for helping salespeople improve and for delivering more immediate and motivating coaching feedback. Marketing planning tasks that took weeks can be done in an hour, as managers interact with the system to find opportunities, develop key account strategies, and determine how allocating efforts across geographies, customers, products, and activities.
The Value Journey
Generative AI is relatively new and developing rapidly. There is a lack of talent for defining its role, training and refining models, and developing and implementing applications. One must find ways to guard against falsehood challenges, realize value quickly, and deliver results while controlling costs.
Dealing with inaccuracy and inconsistency. ChatGPT and its competitors sometimes provide inaccurate answers or draw incorrect inferences. You asked the same question twice and got a different answer. Users need to know when and how to use such technologies. One should start with high but realistic expectations. There is an art to asking a question and giving a series of prompts to improve the answer. Marketing organizations must learn this through training, apprenticeships, and sharing best practice.
The risk is minimal if these models are adapted to knowledge from the company’s context. Through additional data, training, and feedback, accuracy and consistency will improve. (Just like humans!) The responses made by AI in dangerous contexts must be evaluated by a human. Fortunately, human review is a natural part of the workflow of salespeople and sales managers.
Realized the value quickly. As the power of this disruptive technology rapidly advances, it’s possible to start realizing value in weeks, not months. One strategy for quick results is to integrate capabilities into existing sales systems. For example, generative AI can improve the tools salespeople use to write emails or create sales presentations and proposals. It can also improve the quality of AI-generated suggestions by incorporating insights about customer sentiments. Such improvements can take place in the background, so that users can benefit without having to re-learn parts of the application. When it comes to speed of execution, “buy” is more “build.” Although building a custom AI-powered system offers greater flexibility, doing so is time and resource intensive. Buying an existing application reduces the need for specialized in-house talent and makes it easier to keep up with rapid technological change.
Deliver results while controlling costs. It often makes sense to outsource capabilities while developing a small core of internal AI experts, who support marketing as well as other functions. The odds of success are greater when efforts to bring AI into sales are led by a “boundary spanner” – an individual who understands and is respected by technical experts as well as members of the sales force. By speaking two languages, a boundary spanner helps to tailor solutions wisely, so that they are functional and useful for sales, but also implementable and sustainable over time. Additionally, an agile, iterative implementation approach keeps efforts on the path to value while encouraging continuous improvement. Key steps include rapid prototyping, testing, and iteration based on feedback from an early experience team — a group of lead users who provide insights about the system’s usability, value, and implementation plans.
Is AI a Productivity Aid or a Replacement for Salespeople?
We expect AI-powered technologies to rapidly become the digital assistant of every salesperson and every sales manager. Generative AI already helps copywriters draft content and computer programmers write code, boosting their productivity by 50% or more. The same goes for salespeople.
AI is already making customer self-service more powerful, and inbound sales more powerful. Consumers are increasingly using digital technology to research products and services on their own. Ecommerce has also taken over the B2B world. Even in complex sales, digital plays a growing role, taking on tasks such as lead generation and prioritization, sharing and configuring product information, and placing orders. Inexorably, digital and content sales continue to take over many of the tasks performed by salespeople in the field, especially familiar purchases.
However, new and complex offerings still require salespeople to identify known and hidden needs, customize solutions, and navigate complex buying organizations. Yes, AI will take the tasks away from the salespeople and better find their role in complex situations. At the same time, companies that sell AI technologies will create massive sales forces to capture the looming large and complex opportunities.