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AI Gives Sales Teams a Boost: Enablement and engagement technologies are taking the tedium out of sales processes.

Over the past few years, advances in cloud technology, artificial intelligence (AI), analytics, and automation have dramatically altered every key sales function, from initial lead generation, through sales negotiation, all the way to contract execution and beyond. In this complex software environment, if a basic CRM system is your only sales tool, your competitors are likely to have a much bigger and better pipeline and their sales teams' performance metrics likely surpass your own.

Sales technology has absolutely advanced far beyond the basic sales force automation systems of just a few years ago, experts argue.

"There is [sales] enablement, optimization, acceleration, and effectiveness They are value-adds to basic sales force automation functions," says Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group. "They can range from sales onboarding programs that are content-driven to sales intelligence to journey mapping/tracking/orchestration to customer-facing analytics.

"There are dozens of other tools that sales have had historically that are getting more and more sophisticated, such as sales compensation or configure-price-quote (CPQ)," Greenberg adds.

Jim Dickie, cofounder of CSO Insights and a research fellow at Sales Mastery, agrees. "What companies have traditionally been doing with CRM is expanding, and the goal there is making salespeople more effective," he says.

With that goal in mind, perhaps no technological advance in the past few years has been more disruptive than AI. AI makes it possible for reps to offer personalized and automated responses to prospects' questions through guided selling. It can handle activity logging, create new contacts, and predict which products and discounts will resonate with individual customers based on previous successes and customer profiles that it creates. It can roll up sales forecasts, prospect leads, synchronize calendar entries and emails, and recommend cross-sells and upsells. It can construct sales models, serve up recommended content, and even help with sales hiring, onboarding, training, and coaching. It can be used to harness Big Data to gain incredible insights into account health.

Look for AI to continue to evolve in the coming years. And as AI becomes more proficient at gathering information from social media, websites, and other sources, salespeople will not have to spend hours every day seeking out new prospects, adding them to the sales funnel, and moving them along in their customer journey.

"AI systems take the grunt work out of manually mining for leads," says Ryan Moore, director of clients at Peak Sales Recruiting. "Using internet data and social media content, artificial intelligence can leverage existing connections between companies, products, and people. AI can also integrate with existing marketing automation software to find details from your inbox or CRM."

AI is also being used in virtual sales assistants, which Moore says are "useful for taking over the most monotonous, time-consuming tasks for salespeople," like pipeline management, meeting scheduling, and data entry. "They can also analyze data to assist with lead qualification, forecasting, and follow-up," he adds. "This frees up salespeople to spend more time on relationship-enriching activities that foster trust and boost sales."

AI like this is being infused into just about every sales platform available. In fact, IDC recently noted that interest in AI has definitely reached "a fever pitch."

Research from Salesforce.com supports this as well. In a recent "State of Sales" report, the company found that sales leaders expect AI to grow faster than any other technology: Only 21 percent of sales leaders in 2018 said their organizations were using AI, but AI adoption is set to skyrocket by 155 percent through 2020, when 54 percent of sales leaders expect to be using it.

The reasons are simple, according to Moore. "AI technologies are a boon for productivity," he says. "AI will continue to get more intelligent, faster, and more powerful as a means of taking over repetitive tasks and handling time-consuming analytics, creating more availability for people to focus on higher-level tasks that require a human touch."

Moore goes on to say that AI "augments the capabilities of a team's best salespeople, allowing them to work smarter, sell better, and utilize their time--a finite resource in high demand--more efficiently."

BECOME AN ENABLER

Many of the capabilities that are being automated with AI fall into a class of sales technologies called sales enablement, which research firm MarketsandMarkets currently values as a $1.1 billion market globally. The firm expects the worldwide sales enablement market to more than double to $2.6 billion by 2024, growing at a compound annual rate of 19.8 percent.

Sales enablement, basically defined, provides a centralized platform to manage and align sales processes, people, and technology behind a common goal of shortening sales cycles while also removing the traditional barriers between sales, marketing, customer service and support, and other departments. Some vendors also include communications tools like web conferencing, screen sharing, autodialers, and email tracking into their sales enablement suites.

By some accounts, more than 75 percent of companies using sales enablement tools have reported higher sales volumes year over year, so the technology is definitely worth a look.

Though there are possibly hundreds of vendors offering sales enablement solutions, the major ones include Accent Technologies, Bigtincan, Brainshark, Chorus.ai, ClearSlide, ClientPoint, CloudShare, DealHub, Highspot, InsideSales, LevelJump, Mediafly, Membrain, Mindmatrix, MindTickle, Modus, Qorus Software, Qstream, Rallyware, Salesforce.com, SAP, Seismic, Showpad, and Upland Software.

GETTING ENGAGED

While sales enablement aligns internal sales processes, people, and technology, it doesn't address a key element of the modern sales cycle--the actual contact with customers and prospects. For that, another technology stack, called sales engagement, emerged within the past two or three years.

"Sales enablement is about improving how sales reps spend their day," Dickie says. "It's about looking for ways to eliminate some of the tedium with automation ... to give salespeople more time to sell. Then, once they get the time, they need sales engagement to improve how they interact with customers."

As such, sales engagement is less about the number of people that sales reps are contacting and more about the quality of that outreach and how customers and prospects respond to it.

The right sales engagement solution will provide sales content management; integrated omnichannel communication features; guided selling tools such as dynamic call scripting, automatic lead routing, and sales cadence management; and tracking and analytics.

Sales engagement is currently a $1.6 billion market that is expected to reach $5.6 billion by 2023, growing at a compound annual rate of 23.5 percent, according to Aragon Research. Sales engagement platforms, the firm says, offer "a targeted digital work hub for sales teams that improves productivity and streamlines customer journeys."

"The [sales engagement platform] market is continuing to grow because sales professionals are demanding sophisticated sales tools to help them win over savvy customers," said Jim Lundy, founder and CEO of Aragon Research.

Some of the top vendors in sales engagement include ClearSlide, Engagio, Groove, Highspot, InsideSales, Lead411, Outreach, PersistIQ, SalesLoft, Salesforce.com, and VanillaSoft.

A GOOD COMBINATION

Although the two segments focus on different processes, sales enablement and sales engagement solutions actually complement one another, experts point out. They both play a role in enabling sales teams to engage more effectively with prospects and customers to meet revenue goals.

"Sales engagement and sales enablement are both equal steps in the sales process," Dickie states.

The distinction is made largely by vendors, who have fragmented the sales technology space based on the pieces that they provide. Time is running out on that scenario, though.

"Companies are looking for one suite that will enable them to do both enablement and engagement," Dickie says. "They might take point solutions now, but down the road they will reward the vendors that offer a single suite of the sales tools they need."

And it's not just about improving the lives of sales reps. Going forward, sales technology will need to improve sales leadership functions as well.

"While sales technology has traditionally focused on what reps need to do differently, now a lot if it needs to focus on how managers can work better, too," Dickie says. "Managers need to be able to see what is happening in real time and coach their reps proactively."

Greenberg also sees the need for real-time data as a guiding factor in where the sales technology market is headed. "Now, most of the trends in sales are focused around customer knowledge and bidirectional communication," he says. "Data capture and analysis in real time or near real time becomes important, as does the ability to provide an offer in real time or near real time, too. Real time is really what is new." So the bottom line is that if your sales reps haven't had any of this new technology added to their toolkits lately, your organization is long overdue for a software update.

But be warned: Much of this new technology isn't cheap. "Sales technology is expensive," Dickie says, "but it costs more to do nothing. The cost today of just letting sales [reps] do what they've always done is huge."

To help put the economics in perspective, Dickie recommends a change in thinking. "Don't think of [sales technology] as just an expense. You need to think of it in terms of the ROI it can generate."

Leonard Klie is the editor of CRM. He can be reached at lklie@infotoday.com.

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Title Annotation:The Top SALES Trends
Author:Klie, Leonard
Publication:CRM Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2019
Words:1745
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