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Putting the ‘I’ Into ‘AI’

It’s a confusing and frightening time for many sales people right now.

It’s a confusing and frightening time for many sales people right now. They’re grappling with the competing forces of automation and commoditisation in the industry, combined with the rapid disruption of the markets they serve, not to mention artificially intelligent technology that they need to grasp to succeed in this new world. Added to this mix are increasingly well-informed customers, with higher expectations of their vendors and more choice than they’ve ever had before.

Fortunately there’s some good news for sales professionals and leaders in among all of this confusion and uncertainty, as highlighted in the State of Sales Report for 2018. The higher standards which customers now expect in their sales interactions have the potential to have a positive impact on the perception of the sales industry as a whole. The report found that 78% of respondents ‘seek salespeople who acted as trusted advisors’ while almost three quarters of all respondents expect ‘vendors to personalise engagement to my needs’.

Blurred Lines

Perhaps the most interesting statistic to be uncovered in the State of Sales Report I believe was the fact that 82% of respondents claimed that as a business buyer “I want the same experience as when I’m buying for myself”. On the surface, this may not seem like a particularly surprising finding, but it speaks volumes about the changing nature of the B2B sales industry. It also reflects much of my own research into the buying behaviours of senior executives, when making strategic purchasing decisions.

Increasingly the lines between our B2C (retail) buying experiences and our B2B (business) buying experiences are blurring. Customers are demanding simplicity, personalisation, ease of purchasing, access to knowledgeable people to help them move beyond their own research and reach an informed decision. The coming together of these two previously separate buying paradigms makes perfect sense and also provides ample opportunity for sales professionals to lift their game, by tapping into new technology and artificial intelligence, elevating the value they bring to their customers.

Let’s unpack this a little, by comparing the Old World to the New World, across a couple of key elements of the sales process. There’s no doubt that the balance of power has shifted towards the buyer’s side of the sales equation and that’s a great thing for the industry. As information disparity disappears and peer-to-peer feedback is only a click away, the small number of unprofessional sales organisations and individuals are quickly found out, forcing them to adapt or die. To fill this vacuum we need sales professionals and sales leaders who are prepared to embrace technology to free themselves from monotonous and repetitive tasks which consume so much of their days and replacing them with customer centric, value adding activities.

The report delivered some confronting statistics on this topic, including the fact that only 34% of a sales reps time is actually spent on selling activities. The report went on to explain that 57% of the sales reps surveyed expected to miss their quota target this year.

Striking the right balance between human and machine

When you look at those stark industry statistics, the question isn’t whether sales professionals should leverage technology and AI to deliver more value to their customers, it’s how quickly these individuals and businesses will become extinct if they don’t embrace these new technologies. The complexity with this issue lies in understanding which tasks and activities should be outsourced to technology and which more value-adding human behaviours are critical to ensuring successful customer outcomes.

The best strategy I’ve come across here is to pause and take stock of the tasks you perform in any given day/week/month. Take the time to note down the different daily activities you undertake e.g how much time you spend on email, and priortise them. The key to maintaining your relevance and hitting your sales targets is to outsource these non-core tasks as quickly and effectively as you can, before someone else decides to outsource them for you.

By intelligently leveraging technology and artificial intelligence, you free up your time to focus on higher value tasks, striking the right balance between human and machine, enabling you to deliver the level of insight and attention to detail that your customers deserve.

I’d like to leave you with one last statistic which jumped off the page, when I read through the report, which is 79% of customer respondents claimed that “It’s easier than ever to take my business elsewhere”. What this number so clearly demonstrates is that customer experience is the new battleground for continued success in the world of B2B sales. Those businesses, and sales professionals, who can strike the right balance between responsiveness and relevance, personalisation and purpose, value-add and value for money are the ones that will not only survive but thrive, in the brave new world of B2B sales.

If these stats piqued your interest, there is a lot more where that came from. Download the full State of Sales report here for a deeper dive into the future of the sales profession.

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Cian Mcloughlin

Cian McLoughlin hails from Dublin, Ireland originally, but spent much of the past 20 years in Sydney, Australia. With a sales career spanning almost 20 years, including senior management roles in a number of the world’s largest software companies, Cian’s expertise spans all aspects of the sales lifecycle from strategic sales execution, sales training and enablement, channel and alliances management, to Win Loss Analysis programs. Cian is the founder and CEO of Trinity Perspectives, a sales training and consulting company specialising in Win Loss Analysis and Sales Transformation. Cian has worked with and advised sales professionals from Brisbane to Bangkok, Christchurch to Cape Town and everywhere in between. Author of the book Rebirth of the Salesman, voted one of the Top 50 Sales Books by Top Sales World for the past three years, and co-author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Secrets for Business Success, Cian is a regular sales and marketing commentator in the mainstream media. His monthly sales blog was recently voted one of the Top 50 Sales Blogs in the world for the fourth year running, by Top Sales World Magazine. Cian and his team are passionate about changing the perception of the sales industry and helping their clients to prosecute opportunities effectively and with integrity and authenticity.

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