What Machine Learning and AI Mean for the Sales Profession

By Shalini Mitha

Machine learning is a hot buzzword now, but what could it actually mean for business and sales down the line? Will salespeople be replaced by Rosie from The Jetsons – or a more frightening HAL? Doubtful. But the ability to automate sales tasks could mean big changes on the horizon. It’s all about how you leverage it. With the right, high-quality data, machine learning could have an undeniable impact on how business is done.

Data is the key to designing successful, personalized engagements with customers. SAP recently commissioned a research report by Aberdeen, which discusses the importance of a “data-driven understanding” of our customers on a granular level. Many of us have already spent time and set up systems to collect and track customer data. And, with machine learning, we may finally be able to easily and effectively use that information in ways humans alone cannot.

Being able to sift through and analyze years of customer data to pinpoint trends and tailor actions is something we’ve been building toward for a long time. And now, it’s a task that tends to fall to our sales staff. But, with machine learning, your advanced cloud CRM solution can learn over time to forecast and score deals with greater accuracy – freeing up sales team members to focus on building and nurturing relationships that add value to the business. Sales reps will more easily reach their numbers, and managers will see teams meeting and exceeding revenue goals. Machine learning offers the ability to simplify your organization by leveraging all this data you’ve collected.

For example, imagine you could look at data behind a prospect – the company size, the number of stakeholders, the types of solutions they’re looking at – and compare it to data you’ve collected from hundreds of past deals (both won and lost) to determine just how likely it is to close. You could tailor how you approach the deal to prime it for the win. Or, if it’s not looking so hot anymore, you could then realign your team to focus them on deals more likely to close.

What if you could pair your new sales reps with a guided coach or assistant that could walk them through tasks one by one – reminding them when to reach out to a client or nurture a customer based on timelines that have worked in the past – without leaning on a second sales person, when they could be off working on their own deals?

And, as more deals close, the system will re-learn and evolve. Since the machine has no vested interests other than improving its own accuracy, it’s independent of management pressures, and removes sandbagging and gut feels from forecasts. Managers will have a more objective picture of the health of the pipeline, and will be able to adjust when needed.

All this automation requires a lot of setup, a lot of thought into how you’re going to use it, and absolutely accurate data. While machine learning may still be a ways away, you can start preparing now so you’re ready when the time comes. The research provided by Aberdeen shows us that best-in-class organizations “invest in data accuracy around their prospects’ and customers’ behavior.”

It’s about changing the business mindset – how you think about what you’re doing. Business is no longer about the company; it hasn’t been for a while now. It’s all about the customers. When we can be proactive and anticipate their issues, addressing them before they escalate, imagine how much better that relationship would be.

When thinking of automation, AI, and machine learning, it’s easy to get anxious at the thought of robots taking over business. But worry not, sales folks. People aren’t going anywhere. If anything, as machines start crunching numbers on these scales, it will be more important than ever to engage personally with our customers and prospects. Automating processes is a means to an end.

After all, there’s a personal side to selling that no technology can replace.

For more ideas on how your company can transform, read the full Aberdeen white paper, “Marketing/Sales Alignment 2016: Who is Agile Enough to Win?

Or, learn how SAP Hybris can help you streamline and automate your sales force now.

Shalini Mitha is global head of audience and solutions marketing at SAP Hybris. Connect with her on Twitter @shalinimitha or on LinkedIn. A version of this post appeared originally on The Future of Commerce blog.

About Lisa

Editorial Director at SellingPower.com.
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