The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) has had a significant impact on several areas, including the sales process. However, sales is still an area where human interaction is extremely important. And, contrary to popular opinion, AI can aid the sales process rather than hinder it.
In 2014, the Eugene Goostman supercomputer achieved a major milestone in the development of AI when it fooled 33 per cent of its interrogators into thinking it was a 13-year-old boy.
Since then, AI has been making its presence felt in the business world. According to a study by Weber Shandwick, nearly seven in 10 CMOs report that their company is currently selling or using AI, and 55 per cent believe AI will have a greater impact on sales and marketing than social media.
Using AI to humanize the sales process
Many sales teams are already using AI in their day-to-day operations to help humanise the sales process by helping salespeople see leads as individuals, not KPIs.
For example, Conversica is a virtual sales assistant that is said to be capable of qualifying leads by asking them questions and interpreting their answers. This helps salespeople draw deeper insights into the individual pain points of each lead in order to create better solutions to their human problems.
Likewise, Clearbit Connect is a Gmail plug-in that uses hundreds of data sources to collect personal information about a prospect that can be used to understand their likes, dislikes and human tendencies. This, in turn, helps build a better connection with them during telephonic and face-to-face meetings.
Also, email assistants such as Crystal use AI to gain personality insights into the people in your network and help you craft personalized emails in a way that aligns with their personal preferences and individual communication style.
The limitations of AI in sales
While AI can be used to help you get to know your leads better as individuals, it is not about to replace human salespeople altogether.
Sales is based on trust, and AI continues to have a public image problem. For example, 57 percent of consumers don’t trust driver-less passenger vehicles, 59 percent are worried about the use of AI in the military and 80 percent don’t want AI looking after their children.
We also saw what can happen when AI goes wrong. Microsoft’s AI-powered Twitter chatbot “Tay”, designed to engage millennials on the social media platform, was disabled within hours of its launch after it began making racist comments.
These are significant problems when it comes to using AI in the sales process. Consumers are unlikely to purchase a product or service from someone, or something, they don’t trust.
The human face of sales
There are many human qualities that are vital to the sales process that AI can’t yet replicate.
For example, salespeople must empathize with their leads in order to discover their pain points. They can then employ creative thinking and problem-solving skills to articulate to the leads how their product or service can be used to solve those problems.
These are key relationship-building techniques that often rely on soft skills – such as deciphering body language and facial expressions – during face-to-face meetings, which adds depth and subtlety to human communications, and helps salespeople understand what’s not being said.
That’s why face-to-face meetings remain such a crucial part of the sales process. According to a report by Oxford Economics, executives estimate that 28 percent of current business would be lost without in-person meetings, and approximately 40 percent of prospective customers are converted to new customers with a face-to-face meeting, compared with 16 percent without a meeting.
Human interaction is also vital throughout the lead nurturing process. While customer relationship management (CRM) software has long been helping salespeople maximize their time, boost productivity and effectively nurture leads through the sales pipeline, lead nurturing is about more than the numbers on a screen.
Converting a prospect into a customer doesn’t happen overnight. Salespeople often need to add value for the customer in ways that are not directly related to the business but that has the effect of building trust – a human element – which can lead to future sales.
For example, they can offer informative content, such as how-to ebooks or invitations to free webinars. Showing a genuine desire to help the customer first and sell to them second is an effective way to guide leads through the sales pipeline.
Contrary to widespread fears, AI is not coming for our jobs. Rather, AI-powered tools can be used to enhance – not replace – human communication and help us build stronger relationships, which are vital to a successful sales process.
However, whether attending face-to-face meetings or committing to long-term lead nurturing, salespeople employ a range of important human qualities that AI can’t yet replicate.