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AI for Sales: Friend, Not Foe

Artificial intelligence (AI) is fundamentally evolving the way business is done and could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030, projects PwC. In response to the disruptive and transformative potential of AI, business leaders are moving to capitalize on the productivity gains and economic impact. Across industries and business sectors — including sales — companies are investing in AI technology to increase operational efficiency and effectiveness, improve the quality of products and services, and to stay innovative and competitive in a crowded market. In fact, Gartner predicts 30% of all B2B companies will use AI to augment at least one of their primary sales processes by 2020.

Embracing AI

The fear that machines could replace human labor is not a new concept, but heightened ‘automation anxiety’ has become more acute in the past few years with the eruption of AI and machine learning technology. While some are concerned about job displacement, AI technology is going to positively transform and advance the future of business for many industries. By 2020, AI will produce more jobs than it displaces, says Gartner, and also help people do their jobs better.

Sales organizations are especially well-positioned to benefit from AI and machine learning augmentation.

The Business Case for AI in Sales

According to Salesforce’s 2018 State of Sales Report, over 80% of sales teams that use AI tools say these technologies help them do their jobs better and 76% of these companies have been growing their salesforces. Rather than costing people their jobs, sales technology may actually be doing the opposite — creating more jobs through better business results.

In today’s era of digital transformation, high-level sales performance requires a complementary combination of machine and human intelligence. Technology solves for the tasks that humans aren’t good at or can’t do, like synthesizing vast amounts of customer data rapidly — an analysis that can empower decision-makers with data-driven insights, accelerate learning, and build a comprehensive understanding of customer behaviors.

Machine learning can provide the needed insights and direction to empower the sales rep, while freeing up his or her time for more creative or relationship-based work. In this sense, smart technology is the ultimate productivity hack: a virtual army of assistants working 24/7 in the background while the sales rep leverages his or her emotional intelligence and communication skills to close deals.

The human element is a critical component of the sales process and is something that can never be programmed. For sales people, the parts of the job that require emotional intelligence and flex the creative muscles are the most engaging and rewarding. Solving business challenges for a customer is intrinsically far more fulfilling than inputting data into a CRM system. While greater efficiency and profitability are often highlighted as the benefits of technology, this last potential value prop is surprisingly human: greater job satisfaction.

Smart technology is a great enabler for sales organizations and businesses across the board to work smarter and more efficiently. By implementing AI and machine learning-powered solutions, sales organizations can augment human capabilities and unlock the full potential of their people. While others are worrying over how automation and AI will disrupt their industries, smart sales leaders are embracing the future and claiming the rewards.

About the Author

Haggai Levi is the co-founder and CEO of SetSail, provider of machine learning-powered incentives for sales teams. Along with co-founder Bert Lui, Haggai launched SetSail in 2018 after years of experimenting with revolutionary ideas at Google that combined machine learning and behavioral economics to produce significant improvements in sales productivity.

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