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Q&A: Sales Cloud GM Ketan Karkhanis on the Rapidly Transforming Sales Arena

Ketan Karkhanis

Today Salesforce launched the inaugural Sales Transformation Survey, uncovering dozens of insights on the evolution of sales. We caught up with Salesforce’s GM of Sales Cloud, Ketan Karkhanis, to learn more about how he interprets the data and how his teams use AI and automation to increase productivity and be trusted advisors for their customers. 

Q. The state of sales has undergone so much transformation over the last two years. One of the things we are hearing is that sales is becoming more consultative. Are you hearing that from your teams and customers?

You use the right word–consultative. The events of the past 2 years have changed the way we live, learn and work and some things are not going back. The Digital Imperative is upon us. In this world every sales organization will transform from transaction oriented to relationship centered. From selling to guiding. From pitching products to deep listening. From deal value to business outcomes. From intuition based to data driven. The list goes on. Every sales leader has to reimagine their organization to stay ahead in this digital-only buyer centric world.

For example, nearly 90 percent of business buyers expect sales reps to act as trusted advisors. What that means is that the salesperson’s job is now less about selling the product but more about guiding the buyer’s decision making as a concierge, like a trusted advisor. In fact, 89 percent of sales reps agree and say sales today is more about listening to the customer than talking to them.

I feel this is very exciting for the selling profession because now you can engage at a deeper level with your customer and focus more on value creation. As I tell people, this is a great time to be a salesperson because the entire dynamic is changing towards that value creation and increased trust.

Q. Do you think that AI is being used today to full potential for sales teams. How is Salesforce changing this?

The topic of AI is talked about so much but understood so little. I think the answer to the question is no. You see a lot of noise around AI, but it’s often more about the tech and less about the people. I don’t subscribe to that. AI is not the protagonist. The role of AI is to one: eliminate the mundane by doing it for you, and two: serve you actionable insights for better decision making.

Let’s talk about Einstein Forecasting that is driven by AI. It’s not AI “on the side.” It’s embedded in the context of what you’re doing. And this is where Salesforce has differentiated itself. This is why you see billions of predictions being run in Sales Cloud every day.

Our approach to AI is not about AI. Our approach is about ‘how does AI help you?’ ‘How does it help you make better decisions at every point?’ ‘How does it help you connect with your customers even more?’ In fact, ninety-one percent of sales reps say having intelligent insights helps cut closing times significantly.

I will give you another concrete example: Einstein Conversation Insights is a coaching tool that analyzes video call transcripts to guide a salesperson, perhaps suggesting that he or she should be using certain words or offering competitive analysis. Again, it is about helping sales reps improve their performance, be more productive and crush their numbers. 

Q. How is Salesforce leveraging AI in its own operations?

The best thing about Salesforce is that we use our own products. We know from our own operations that the job of AI is to evaluate millions and millions of data points and arrive at influential insights. AI can help a sales person with relationship development, deal planning, enablement and everything in between. And most importantly it can help eliminate data entry…I know every sales person would want that.

I run a global business and forecast calls are a weekly thing. Every Monday morning I get on the phone ready for the weekly sales forecast, and in that meeting, use Sales Cloud to help me determine which deals have a high probability of closing, what territory I should focus on and which customers I need to spend more time listening to their needs.

Q. So many organizations have already transitioned to either hybrid or fully virtual sales models. Can you share any insights about the types of businesses that have made this change and are seeing success?

Well, the pandemic has been hard on all of us, and my heart goes out to so many people during this time. It has certainly forced many people to embrace the new ways of selling–across the board. All of our customers have very quickly been able to transform themselves to digital first operations, and I think that’s a profound change. 

Now, does this change mean that sales teams are never going to get together with their  customers? No, absolutely not. But a majority of the sales cycle is now done digitally.

We’re seeing customers embracing the idea of this digital imperative, and the transformation of their processes and their technology is broad based. 

And to be honest, I don’t think we have figured out everything. There is a lot of new learning still left to do. That’s why I always like to keep the word agility front and center. The world is changing fast, and organizations need to be adjusted from within to embrace that change.

It is very clear that the persona of a sales rep is going to undergo even bigger transformation. More than 70 percent of sales reps say their roles have become more consultative and less transactional since before the pandemic and I feel that customers are going to continue to want sales reps as trusted advisors. Our job as technology providers for sales professionals worldwide is to help them excel in that job. Is to eliminate the time they have to spend on “non selling” activities so that they can spend more time with their customers. I think the digital only approach is going to be the norm in several industries and those businesses that embrace that will succeed.

Explore the Sales Transformation research here.

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