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Artificial intelligence (AI) has moved way past the buzz. Companies are adopting AI — and fast. The numbers don’t lie. According to the Accenture Technology Vision 2018 forecast, four out of five executives (81%) believe that within the next two years, AI will work next to humans in their organizations, as a co-worker, collaborator, and trusted advisor.

Sales organizations must start taking a closer look at AI to remain competitive over the next couple of years. Like any new technology, AI is disruptive; it can and will enable new discoveries and opportunities.

Here are three key AI trends that sales organizations should think seriously about right now.

 

1. Use AI to augment, not replace

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about AI and sales is probably this fear: “It’s going to take my job!” Honestly, AI will remove automated and routine tasks across industries — that’s just a reality. But Salesforce’s recent “State of Sales” report found that 76% of teams already using AI have increased their staff levels over the past three years.

Gartner also predicts that by 2020, AI will create 2.3 million jobs and eliminate 1.8 million. Then, it’s expected to create another 2 million net-new jobs in 2025. The most common application of AI for business will use machine or deep learning to automatically analyze big data — and this will soon be available to all.

That being said, AI can’t replace a salesperson in a room with a customer or make key decisions for structuring a deal. What AI can do, however, is help you know more about your customers and even suggest options for making your deals more successful based on data or similar past outcomes. At the same time, AI and machine learning together can gather and keep every bit of data related to your customers to not only make recommendations in the present but also in the future with predictive selling capabilities.

Here’s the biggest perk. In terms of rote sales work, AI will most certainly take away the monotony of manual data entry. (I’m sure most sales reps would consider that quite a relief.) So, get rid of the fear you have around AI and take advantage of how it can help — not hinder or replace — the strategic role that a sales rep plays.

 

2. AI will disrupt in a good way

 

Disruptive technology isn’t new to sales. Forty years ago, the advent of personal computing transformed how we approached selling. More than 20 years ago, the internet took us by storm. And in the past 10 years, the cloud has changed how we work all over again. At these junctures there was a lot of fear that everything would change — and that certainly happened. But none of us would want to go back to journals, Yellow Pages, or paper trails to do our jobs either.

One of the biggest benefits AI brings to sales is its ability to automate time-consuming processes, like manually trawling through sales leads to determine which are the most likely to convert as well as what the strongest next steps would be. This, in turn, frees up time, allowing sales reps to get to tasks they previously didn't have the bandwidth for.

We’re at the same point with AI right now. There’s no doubt that it is disrupting the industry, but it’s actually more of an evolution that’s allowing sales to keep up with the  21st-century mission of being more customer-centric. We’re doing everything we can to achieve that goal. Leveraging the massive amount of data that will allow us to be more predictive and personalized in our selling requires AI.

According to research from Salesforce and the Harvard Business Review, only 37% of businesses use customer data to predict or anticipate customer needs. Simply put: those who take advantage of AI will have better relationships with their customers and much better sales results. Don’t worry, though, AI won’t change absolutely everything; it’ll just be a positive extension of what you’re already doing.

 

3. Be transparent and build trust with AI

 

The power of AI is undeniable; it’s definitely the next frontier in digital intelligence. As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” When adopting AI, there must be a culture of trust built around it — both internally and externally. A sales team has to trust the data and the recommendations that AI provides. Trustworthy data leads to better relationship-building with customers and, in turn, builds customer trust within your sales team. How does it work?

In several industries, high-performing brands are winning by leveraging AI for sales, services, and marketing. The State of the Connected Customer survey found that 59% of customers are open to companies using AI to improve their experiences. Whether they directly realize that AI is powering the experience or not, customers have come to like — or even love — a variety of everyday processes that would otherwise be impossible without the help of AI.

Of course, none of these cutting-edge, tech-driven experiences are even possible unless there's a solid foundation of trust between customer and company. In the wake of high-profile data breaches, it's no wonder that 57% of customers are uncomfortable with how companies use their information.

According to Accenture, “72% of executives report that their organizations seek to gain customer trust and confidence by being transparent in their AI-based decisions and actions.” At Salesforce, we’re accomplishing this by staying close to our customers, listening to them and innovating based on their feedback. We have also built a Trust Center and openly share insight into our processes, technology, security, and performance.

AI is no different. Companies should always be upfront with how they use AI and transparent about the security measures they’ve put in place to safeguard customer data.

 Artificial Intelligence has arrived for sales, and companies that embrace it will be able to better personalize and prescribe what they’re selling.

Want to learn more about how you can drive sales with AI? Watch a five-minute demo video to see how Salesforce embeds Salesforce Sales Cloud Einstein into every part of the sales process.