Sales Management in times of Artificial Intelligence – Five tips to redefine B2B Sales
Sales processes, salespeople and sales management should adapt to the brave new world of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is taking over the administrative tasks that consume much of managers’ time. It is doing it faster, better, and at a lower cost. It has pros and contras. AI will redefine management.
In B2B Sales, artificial intelligence (AI) refers to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationships Management (CRM) Systems equipped with machine learning and automatized data mining features.
These intelligent systems analyse and understand the sales data collected, make informed decisions or recommend action (for instance: pricing strategies, next-best-offer or most successful customer visit) and learn from experience (including machine learning). Intelligent systems also suggest which sales KPI a company should consider first.
By the early 2030s, intelligent systems could replace 35 % of jobs in Germany, 30 % in the UK and 38 % in the United States. By 2020, companies will process north of 85 % customer interactions without human contact. For example, the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, managing $160bn, is already working to replace managers with artificial intelligence.To care for your salesforce does not mean isolating people from change. Click To Tweet
As AI redefines the sales management function, we would like to provide here five useful tips for managers in Business-to-Business (B2B) and to evaluate the pros and contras of this promising technology.
A sales manager, as here discussed, is anyone in a managerial or supervisory position at any level. Our definition includes C-suite executive/top managers, members of a company top management team, such as the CSO or CEO and middle managers – for instance, regional sales manager, divisional sales manager, channel manager or vice president.
Why are the best sales leaders getting on artificial intelligence now? Because AI redefines how they should view sales data, sales processes and even the salespeople they should hire.
Tip 1: Integrating artificial intelligence in your sales process? Take care of your people.
Sales executives and salespeople are a costly resource that should not be wasted. Companies have invested heavily in their hiring, training and development. They play a decisive role in building and maintaining the trust of the B2B customer. When they leave a company, valuable knowledge and experience are forever gone.
Soon half of all B2B sales transactions are to be done over e-commerce. Not later 85 % of customer contacts will be managed by a machine. What role do organisations will have for their salespeople? What skills will they need?
Sales executives and especially senior key account managers are entirely right to be concerned about AI replacing them. What they cannot do is to fight against technology.
To care for your salesforce does not mean isolating people from change. Nobody can do that. Automation was always coming after managers, as it did with blue-collar jobs, is just happening faster. Now is the time, where sales leaders need to demonstrate what Accenture calls “work judgment”. Managers should use their experience and organisational culture, together with empathy and ethical reflection.
Taking care of salespeople in an AI world means being transparent about the reach of technology. It means taking responsibility and offering timely coaching.
Hiring for the right attitude will become crucial. Sales leaders will not have time to develop that while teaching new skills. Where are they going to get the extra time to do all that? By leaving sales planning and administration to AI. Using AI ins this way represents a huge pro.
Tip 2: Big Data? Not necessarily. Just take care of the data that matters most to your sales team.
People, Profits, Products… Data. Soon, many companies might well skip the products, but without gathering and analysing data, any business model is nowadays dangerously flawed.
Artificial intelligence does not happen in a vacuum. AI in B2B sales arises from the application of machine learning and data mining techniques to increasing amounts of sales data. Therefore, sales leaders need to make their team highly data-driven, period. Being data-driven means collecting all economically feasible sales data points and using them.
Some sales organisations let ERP sales data sleep unused. Most base critical customer decisions in highly incomplete and unreliable CRM data. There are some who do not possess essential data of their business, and if they have it, they do not maintain it properly.
If a B2B company does not have useful quality sales data, it will not have a chance to succeed with artificial intelligence. Managers and sales leaders need to make sales teams aware of the benefits of using data and establish systems for collection and maintenance. Some organisations see this need for education as a contra.
Improving data quality is not a one-time off. Many companies delay getting started with data mining “because we still do not have the data”. This idea denotes a gross misconception. You will never get complete data. You just need good enough data to start and proper data maintenance processes in place to improve continuously.Sales leaders should make sure that investments in AI develop into useful business solutions. Click To Tweet
Tip 3: Ask like a data scientist and think like a designer.
Artificial intelligence in this B2B sales contexts is data science on steroids. For that reasons, sales leaders should understand its fundamentals. They should be able to discuss and explain data analysis methods and models. One way to start with data mining is to ask the right questions.
Managers in sales should grasp the basic principles well enough to envision and appreciate opportunities for artificial intelligence, to supply the resources and to be willing to invest in their people and their data. Furthermore, sales leaders should make sure that any investment in technology stays on track towards a useful business solution.
Since artificial intelligence in sales risks becoming a hype and a buzzword nowadays, managers must set clear business goals to IT and data science teams. Executives must make sure that every investment in technology pays off.
Similarly, sales leaders’ creative skills are vital. Managers should test, experiment and be open to change. They should think like designers and not stop there.
Sales executives should foster their teams’ creativity. In a world where artificial intelligence can find patterns in sales data, suggest next best actions and identify customers about to churn, sales leaders and their teams can think with their guts. They should use the freed-up resources to develop creative new ideas.
Tip 4: Always use your judgment and race with the machine (not against!).
AI brings tremendous benefits to decision-making and data mining. However, there are two cardinal mistakes to avoid in AI times: shutting down judgment and racing against the machine. Most of the decisions in sales still require insight beyond what artificial intelligence can discover from data alone.
Sales managers should use their experience and expertise in critical business decisions, assisted by AI. Indeed, Harvard Business Review recently reported that 86 % of managers said they would like AI support with controlling and reporting, including by the selection of sales KPIs. One obvious pro is that AI will redefine sales management.
AI is making sales managers and sales teams more efficient, not replacing them. That is because it is possible to outsource many routines and administrative tasks to AI, such as sales reporting, controlling and planning. Besides, machines become smarter over time, as self-learning algorithms gather new sales data. Similarly, managers become more experienced as they encounter and solve new situations with the help of AI.
Tip 5: Act.
Applying artificial intelligence to B2B sales have to be a complicated process neither an expensive endeavour. First, sales leaders should identify and define the most pressing sales challenges and critical sales process. They should also assess the sales data available and establish clear business goals.
Second, together with an expert, sales leaders should set a clear and achievable implementation roadmap for AI. This roadmap must target the sales challenges with the available data. In this step, the entire sales team should be involved. The roadmap should be kept realistic and straightforward and formulated as a series of small sprints.
Once with AI implemented, sales leaders should make sure that the sales team modify their behaviour based on predictive analytics or any other application of AI. This last point is essential.Managers should test, experiment and be open to change. Click To Tweet
If a B2B company applies an AI solution, but it is not ready to change behaviour and act on AI advice, it will achieve no tangible results. Furthermore, this is not a single step, but a reiterative process, in which the system and the team learn how to work together. Besides, companies should undoubtedly define new sales metrics for controlling. Since the machine takes over part of the effort, the sales KPI must also look different.
Sales Management in times of Artificial Intelligence – Summary:
There is no question that, in the coming years, the advances in AI, machine learning and sales automation will replace many of the time-consuming tasks of sales teams. Sales management will not escape this disruptive trend. AI will redefine management.
Artificial Intelligence is also redefining the role of sales leaders and their teams in Business-to-Business. It has pros and contras for sales. Managers have a robust technology at hand, and they should use it to improve performance.
In this article, we offered five specific tips for sales leaders concerning AI. AI allows sales managers to implement a “people first” strategy since AI can handle time-consuming tasks. Taking care of the people and the data are the first two steps. Working as a designer and a data scientist while using their judgment comes after. Doing and being agile completes our list.
What is fascinating about artificial intelligence in B2B sales, is the almost limitless fields of applications and the tremendous advantages it can offer in reducing costs and increasing revenues.
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