How to Use Artificial Intelligence for Sales

Written by Yael Darom

May 21, 2019

By Mike Kaput, Director of Marketing AI Institute

You’ve likely heard a lot about artificial intelligence, but, frankly, a lot of it is hype.

This distracts from the fact that AI—real AI—is being used today by salespeople like you.

And they’re using it to crush quotas, and build competitive advantages for themselves.

In fact, high-performing sales teams are 4.9X more likely to use AI, says Salesforce’s State of Sales report. And the sales pros surveyed said AI adoption would grow faster than any other technology.

This technology is real.

It’s having a real impact.

And the time to get started with it is now.

If you don’t explore AI now, you’ll find yourself at a critical disadvantage in the next 3-5 years as your competitors use it to increase revenue and decrease costs at scale.

But how do you get started with AI?

At Marketing AI Institute, we’re tracking AI’s impact on sales and marketing. Over 2+ years, we’ve profiled 45 AI-powered vendors with $1 billion in total funding. And we’re tracking more than 1,100 sales and marketing AI companies with funding north of $5 billion.

In that time, we’ve learned how to make AI approachable and actionable for our industry peers.

And here’s what you need to know to make AI your competitive advantage in sales.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

You don’t need a Ph.D to understand artificial intelligence. And you don’t need to know everything about the technology to move forward.

At its core, AI helps machines perform specific cognitive tasks better than humans.

“Artificial intelligence” is an umbrella term. It covers many different technologies that perform these cognitive tasks. Some include: machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), and deep learning.

Even if you don’t know it, you use AI dozens or hundreds of times a day.

Machine learning powers Amazon and Netflix recommendations. Computer vision makes self-driving cars possible. And Siri or Alexa use NLP to “understand” your voice commands.

So why does this matter for salespeople?

Because these core AI technologies are now used to do cognitive tasks that sales reps used to do. In the process, the best AI systems learn over time how to do these tasks better.

The result?

AI technologies can do tasks that increase revenue and decrease costs at speed and scale. This includes everything from predicting which prospects will close to recommending sales actions.

There are some core AI use cases you should know to better understand the opportunity here.

Use Cases for AI in Sales

AI systems use math to make predictions based on data. In sales, these include machine-driven predictions like:

  • What chat response to a prospect makes the most sense.
  • How often to follow-up with a lead.
  • Which leads are ready for sales.
  • Who else wants to buy your product.
  • What to offer a prospect next.
  • And more.

Artificial intelligence can’t do everything. But it can do a lot in sales.

In fact, there are several top use cases in sales that you’ll want to investigate. The list below will show you what’s possible. But it’s no substitute for in-depth research on specific vendors.

You need to ask hard questions of AI vendors. Not everyone who says they’re using AI is actually using it.

1. Lead generation.

Some AI platforms can surface new leads from existing databases. Others can look at your current leads and find new lookalike ones. And AI-powered chatbots dynamically capture new leads from website conversations.

Plenty of tools exist that will use the power of AI and machine learning to find you more (and better) leads.

2. Predictive forecasting.

AI tools exist that predict or forecast outcomes, too. These include which deals are most likely to close and which to target next. A rep can take AI forecasts, then focus their time on the activities most likely to succeed.

That boosts revenue and efficiency, as long  as the system’s predictions are accurate.

(Yet another reason you need to do your homework.)

3. Lead Scoring

AI can look at large datasets about your lead database, then score leads better than humans. That’s because humans bring gut instinct and bias to the table when it comes to lead scoring.

AI, however, can analyze dispassionately many different data sources. These include historical data, sales rep interactions, and past lead behavior. AI then makes consistent conclusions about lead quality in ways that humans can’t.

4. Expert Recommendations

Some AI systems may even recommend sales actions based on data.

This actually augments salespeople. They don’t have to decide what to do next or weigh options. The system simply tells them what to focus on.

The result is that salespeople free up bandwidth to spend more time on closing.

How to Get Started with AI in Sales

You might be starting to realize that AI can give salespeople superpowers.

But how do you actually get started?

First, pick a single use case to start exploring. The use cases above are the tip of the iceberg.

The biggest danger at this stage for you is that you get overwhelmed with possibilities.

Instead, start simple. List out the activities you perform each week or month. In a spreadsheet, rank how much time it takes to do each one. Then, pick the most time-intensive tasks.

That’s your starting point. From there, start researching if AI exists to do those things.

It takes time, patience, and trial and error. But, at this stage, you just want to determine what’s possible.

In this scenario, Google is your best friend. We’ve also created an AI Buyer’s Guide that can help you generate some vendor ideas.

Once you have a possible use case for AI, it’s time for a pilot project.

Ideally, you want to pick a use case that is somewhat low-cost and has a good chance of success.

That’s because the pilot is critical to securing future buy-in.

You don’t need to fix all your problems with AI today. You need to prove the business case for a single AI tool or solution to start.

AI expert Andrew Ng has an AI Transformation Playbook to help with getting buy-in for AI. You may find it useful to use and adapt as needed.

Don’t Get Left Behind

We’ve talked about how AI can actually give salespeople superpowers.

The question then becomes:

Do you want to manually compete with an AI-enabled sales team?

Good luck.

The sales teams piloting AI now are building huge competitive advantages. Beating them may be impossible without the same technological advantage.

Nobody wants to get left behind.

The good news is: Nobody has to.

Teams are already building AI-powered sales organizations. But it’s still early days for AI in sales.

You still have time to experiment with and pilot AI—if you take action now.

To do that, you should attend our Marketing Artificial Intelligence Conference (MAICON).

The event helps sales and marketing leads understand AI, educate teams, secure executive support, pilot priority use cases, and develop a near-term strategy for successfully scaling AI.

MAICON has 40+ sessions and 60+ speakers from firms like IBM, Amazon, and Softbank Robotics. There is also a dedicated workshop for AI-powered sales enablement.

MAICON is largely for non-technical professionals. You don’t need a background in programming or data science to apply what you learn.

Learn more here.

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If you’re ever at a really boring cocktail party, use this one question to liven it up: “How long will it be until artificial intelligence takes everyone’s jobs?” Every person within earshot will suddenly be pouring out their visceral reactions. “In thirty years we’ll all be replaced!” or “Never! There are some jobs robots will never be able to do!” There. You’ve done your job. Smile and sip your cocktail.