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How to Use AI to Boost Sales Effectiveness and Grow Revenue

Illustration of Einstein with a notebook and a telescope

An easy way to implement artificial intelligence is to start with the sales organization. Here are five ways to see the most benefit today.

If you’re like most sales leaders, you constantly evaluate the best ways to improve team efficiency and bottom-line results. However, try as you might, the reality is that your future success will depend on the speed with which your organization adopts AI.

According to a McKinsey study, companies that use AI in the next five to seven years will increase their cash flow by more than 120% by 2030. Companies who don’t use AI will instead see cash flow drop by -23% in the same time frame. Compare those figures with what we learned in our most recent “State of Sales” research report: only 21% of sales leaders report that their organizations use AI today. Is your sales team one of them?

If so, you’re on the right path for a future of cash flow growth. If not, don’t lose heart. While sales AI may seem daunting, it’s actually easy to get started. And sales leaders that get started today can reap the benefits of immediate productivity improvements while setting themselves up for long term revenue growth.

How are the best sales teams using AI?

Leading sales teams use AI across the entire sales cycle — from lead to cash — and the specific use case depends on the role. For example, inside sales reps, account executives, and sales managers are accountable for different processes and metrics. As a result, each will benefit from AI in different ways. At a high level, some of the more popular sales AI use cases for sales include:

  • Prioritizing the best leads
  • Identifying opportunities that are on track — or at risk
  • Highlighting important emails
  • Finding colleagues connected to important contacts
  • Increasing forecast accuracy

To make it easier to understand the value of AI in each use case, let’s break them down.

1. Prioritize the best leads

Got more leads than time to contact them all? How do your sales reps prioritize which ones they call first? If that’s a scary thought — or if it takes a dedicated person to manage a system (and rules) to help prioritize those leads — there’s a better way.

Today, it’s pretty common for many inside sales or business development representatives (SDR or BDR) to prioritize leads based on simple criteria, such as whether a company is a known brand or a large organization. Meanwhile, leads that are more likely to convert quickly sit and wait for a follow-up, or worse, get the attention of your competitors before your team can get to them.

High-performing sales teams are 1.6x more likely than underperformers to prioritize leads based on data analysis — and half as likely to prioritize based on intuition.” State of Sales Report, Third Edition | Salesforce Research

With AI, you can put your historical data to work to reveal patterns that show what the best leads look like for your business. Since AI continually analyzes your customer data and understands the attributes that really make a great lead, sales reps can focus their efforts on the leads that are mathematically most likely to convert. The result? More lead conversion in less time; sales productivity at its finest.

How to determine if you need AI to prioritize the best leads:

  • Find out if your sales team(s) are able to connect with every lead they receive regularly
  • If they can’t, discuss the criteria they use to prioritize which leads they call first
  • Determine your sales team’s current lead conversion rate
  • Run an A/B test using predictive lead scoring to determine the potential impact of AI on your lead conversion rate

2. Identify opportunities that are on track or at risk

Just like AI can prioritize leads, it can also prioritize opportunities. As most sales reps manage many opportunities concurrently, it’s not always easy to give each one the attention needed or recognize hidden signals of when an opportunity is falling off track.

For example, AI can determine all the attributes of an opportunity that are most common with those that have actually closed. Suppose a few of those criteria are:

  • The account engages with the sales team more than seven times in a two week period
  • The purchasing department is part of the account’s contacts profile
  • The opportunity amount has not decreased

Now imagine Serena — a sales rep who is managing more than 30 opportunities and has forecasted 15 to close this month — doesn’t realize that she didn’t add the purchasing manager to the account record yet, and worse, that the engagement frequency has slowed down. With AI, subtle changes are identified and flagged. Not only does AI act as a personal assistant to Serena, but Serena’s manager also has visibility into the potential issue. Now, both Serena and her manager can work proactively to avert a potential loss or no decision earlier. Plus, they can use their limited one-on-one time to focus on the opportunities that require the most attention.

How to determine if you need AI to identify opportunity health:

  • Find out how your sales reps determine if an opportunity is on track or not
  • Understand how many opportunities they manage and what the ratio of forecasted opportunities is to total opportunities
  • Determine the ratio of forecasted opportunities to closed opportunities
  • Pilot predictive opportunity scoring to see impact on sales rep behavior and close rates

3. Highlight important emails

Sales reps spend a lot of time in email, so why not use AI in your email system? AI can help identify and prioritize the most important emails, saving reps time and helping them increase responsiveness to their customers. In fact, AI can find topics such as when pricing is discussed, or a new executive is involved in a thread, or a customer requests a meeting. Using AI, sales reps never miss critical communication and are able to build stronger relationships with their customers.

And for those lucky reps that have automatic capture for email, meetings, and contacts enabled, they get the added benefit of less time spent on data entry and more time selling!

How to determine if you need AI to highlight important email:

  • Find out how many emails your sales reps get on a daily basis
  • Ask your reps how much time they spend entering email, meeting, and contact data into your CRM daily or weekly
  • Survey the sales team on the most critical topics that deserve to be flagged as important
  • Ask open-ended questions about how email overload is impacting their time spent selling

Up Next: How to Make a Good Sales Pitch: 8 Tips to Give You an Edge

4. Find colleagues connected to important contacts

Sales reps don’t have a second to spare if they are going to meet their monthly quota. Sometimes they just need a warm introduction to a key contact within an account, but those introductions can be hard to come by — and take time.

AI can help find colleagues that have the most active engagement with key contacts. Not only is it easy for sales reps to find colleagues to help them, but it also provides an opportunity to learn more about the needs of the contact, and ultimately get a warm introduction.

Companies that use AI to find colleagues connected to important contacts have a productivity advantage over those that don’t.

How to determine if you need AI to find colleagues connected to important contacts:

  • Find out how your sales reps work their way through an organization to find the right contacts
  • Ask your team how easy or difficult it is to determine which of their colleagues have relationships within target accounts
  • Try to determine how long it takes to successfully engage those contacts

5. Increase forecast accuracy

One of the most challenging aspects of every sales leaders’ job is calling the forecast. It’s a task that’s wrought with challenges. Are sales reps over-committing? Are they sandbagging? Are managers applying the right judgment on their teams’ forecasts? This is a perfect job for AI to help decode the tendencies that exist in your sales cycle, right down to each and every salesperson.

AI can predict where the forecast will land and surface the factors that play into the prediction — including the personal forecasting tendencies across each sales rep. Forecasting has never been easier or more accurate than with AI.

How to determine if you need AI to increase forecast accuracy:

  • Determine your sales team’s ratio of forecasted to closed opportunities
  • Talk to your sales leadership team about the challenges they face in delivering an accurate forecast
  • Learn how sales managers work with their sales reps to create their rolled up forecast, and how management adjustments are made

Be more productive with Sales AI for sales

There are many more use cases, but those are some of our customers’ favorites. Every sales user can benefit from AI’s ability to provide insights, recommendations, predictions, and focus. The end result is increased sales productivity at every level — and more productivity means more revenue growth.

To get started on your AI journey for sales, check out this free learning module on Trailhead. We’d love to answer any questions you might have, so please reach out on Twitter or sign up for the Salesforce Blog newsletter to receive the next installment of our “Ask Salesforce” series.

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