I have worked with hundreds of sales VPs over my career, and none endorsed the notion of peddling products or services. In fact, all of them wanted their salespeople to become trusted advisors to their customers, because sales executives have long known that long-term, sustainable business growth comes from this approach. However, the reality is that salespeople only have so much precious time to learn about customers’ unique business challenges and industry trends, or to provide consultative direction on how to improve their business standing. To bridge the gap, organizations will sometimes hire account partners to conduct research for salespeople, but quickly find it doesn’t scale. Today, new research finds that the answer to increasing sales knowledge without sidetracking salespeople from their precious selling time, or hiring an army of support resources, is artificial intelligence.

A new Salesforce Research report, its second annual “State of Sales,” reveals that savvy use of emerging artificial intelligence (AI) technologies holds great promise for sales teams that are moving toward smarter sales strategies instead of impersonal approaches that customers loathe. Here are some findings from the report that I find extremely important for the modern-day sales leader.

First, let’s take a step back and look at how sales strategies are shifting in our era. Today, building revenue and closing deals depend on the extent to which reps can demonstrate understanding — even anticipation — of a customer’s unique needs.

Salesforce Research data shows that sales teams are taking heed of this new mandate to move beyond a transactional mindset. For example, 74% of sales teams have shifted focus to being trusted advisors (for example, going beyond a sales rep role to be consultative to customers) over the past 12–18 months as a result of changing customer expectations.

Modern sales is about more than providing a personalized experience. Increasingly, it’s also about being proactive. Fifty-one percent of consumers and 75% of business buyers expect that by 2020, companies will anticipate consumer needs and make relevant suggestions before they contact them. As a result, 78%  of the sales teams Salesforce Research surveyed have increased their focus over the past 12–18 months to anticipating customer needs. In other words, these teams are moving to a new era of predictive selling in which opportunities are identified based on customer data.

While predictive selling may be a focus for the majority of sales teams, successful execution can be elusive. Only 46% of the sales teams surveyed by Salesforce Research claim to be outstanding or very good at predictive intelligence (that is, using data to recommend next steps, make insightful decisions, and be alerted to relevant insights).

I find it noteworthy to highlight that high-performing sales teams — those that have significantly increased year-over-year revenue — are 2.8x more likely than their underperforming peers to assess their predictive intelligence capabilities as outstanding or very good.

What allows top-tier teams to pull ahead on predictive selling? In large part, it’s due to their stance on emerging technologies. These teams are risk-takers. By experimenting with technologies like email sentiment analysis and deep learning, they are up-leveling their ability to meet the expectations of their customers for personalized, anticipatory experiences. Salesforce Research found that compared to underperforming sales teams, high-performing teams are at least twice as likely to already leverage many of these intelligent sales technologies.

While high-performing sales teams may be ahead now, they should watch their backs. Sales teams across the board are taking the necessary steps to master intelligent technologies. Based on projections, sales teams across the performance spectrum are making preparations for a major increase in their use of intelligent sales technologies. Salesforce Research found that over the next three years, sales teams forecast the following growth in the use of intelligent sales technologies:

Smart sales in today’s marketplace is all about being customer centric and innovative. Successful teams are courageous about technology adoption and are leading their business into the future with intelligent capabilities that will transform the customer relationship. If you’re interested in learning more about how top teams are doing this, I encourage you to download the full second annual “State of Sales” report.

...the answer to increasing sales knowledge without sidetracking salespeople from their precious selling time, or hiring an army of support resources, is artificial intelligence.”

Robert DeSisto | Chief Value Officer, Salesforce
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