ai future of sales

What AI Means For The Future of Sales

It’s no secret that we’re currently on the brink of an unprecedented AI revolution. Over the past few decades, technology has quickly taken over the way we live. Many of us today use our computers to make a living and it’s now simply the cultural norm to rely on technology as your primary source of entertainment among many other things.  

With the vast efficiencies and capabilities that technology brings, it’s easy to understand why technology has become so omnipresent in our lives. What would have taken our ancestors weeks to write on a manuscript can now be drafted in a matter of days on any word processor. In the past the speed at which this process could be completed was limited by the speed at which you could type but now we can draft as quickly as we speak thanks to modern voice to text technology, granted edits will be necessary. However, in the near future there will come a time when our computers can not only transcribe our words but also revise it to a final draft for us. In fact, it will actually be capable of accomplishing a great deal more than that.

The driving force that will deliver us these amazing new capabilities is called natural language understanding which is a subtopic in the broader field of artificial intelligence. We’re not there yet but it’s only a matter of time before a computer is built that will have the ability to code changes into itself. Soon thereafter we’ll be dealing with what is called artificial-superintelligence which is AI that achieves a level of intelligence greater than all of humankind. It would be too lengthy to discuss this idea in its entirety as well as its ramifications for society but if you’re curious to learn more about it, this is actually a really good article that does an amazing job of providing a comprehensive overview of the current state of AI and where its headed.

Instead this article will focus on the impact that AI will have on the professional world of sales. Like many other sectors, salespeople will see their jobs being impacted in some way or another by artificial intelligence with many of them possibly even losing their jobs to it. NPR put out an interesting interactive that provides predictions of how likely your job is to be taken over by a machine if you’re curious to check that out. AI will indeed have an impact on blue-collar jobs but interestingly enough data shows that in fact there are many more use cases that threaten the security of white-collar jobs than blue-collar ones. We’ll touch more on what this means for the modern sales professional a little later in this article.

For the most part though we can expect that in most instances AI will augment rather than replace the work that we perform. We’re seeing the the start of this already with a myriad of AI business solutions like Einstein from Salesforce. Einstein currently offers things like predictive lead scoring,  lead insights, as well as predictions and alerts for high priority opportunities with a strong likelihood to close. That’s not to say though that Salesforce is the only player or the best vendor in the space.

There are a tremendous number of other businesses as well that are trying to leverage the benefits that AI offers for commercial success. These include companies like x.ai, Spiro, Clearbit Connect, LeadCrunch and Crystal, each of which provide some very interesting value propositions. X.ai is a virtual assistant who schedules meetings on your behalf by proposing free times and automatically sending calendar invites for agreed appointments. Spiro is another type of virtual assistant but one that’s focused on helping sales professionals stay focused on top prospects by sending reminders and notifications based on previous activity within a deal cycle. Clearbit Connect is a gmail plugin that’s leveraging AI to streamline the arduous process of prospecting by taking care of the search for emails and LinkedIn profiles for you. LeadCrunch is another notable business assisting in the prospecting realm and one that helps identify new potential customers based on your existing customer profiles. The final business on our list, Crystal is a service that’s looking to coach sales professionals on how best to reach out to their prospects by considering their personality and communication styles.

Understandably to some of you these products may seem gimmicky and to others it may simply be more money than you’re willing to pay for the benefits. However the underlying message here is not that these are all businesses or services we need to be taking advantage of right now. Rather, what should excite us is the fact that we’re seeing seedlings of what will soon be a technological revolution that will bring tremendous convenience to the everyday sales professional that has never been available before.

For the average salesperson this would mean they no longer have to deal with manual data entry and will instead have a future CRM that can automatically track and log all of their activities for them. Companies like Sudo are making the early inroads towards making this ethereal vision a reality through a virtual assistant chatbot. Though a chatbot isn’t the minimal user interface CRM that you may be imagining it’s again important to recognize that these are the initial steps towards a more convenient future.

Thanks to Moore’s law what is a chatbot today can quickly evolve into an intelligent personal assistant that’s possibly even more advanced than the ones we carry around in our smartphones today. Additionally, this same CRM could possibly even prospect and conduct outreach on our behalf while leveraging the benefits of increased insights better than any human ever could.

And as time continues, mergers and acquisitions as well as more efficient development cycles will lead to the merging of the many capabilities we’ve discussed so far which should be even more exciting news to the modern sales executive.

A future with artificial intelligence will likely mean a future where professional data is so abundant, connected and available that records can be updated in real time eliminating the whole notion of “dirty data” or outdated information.  Reports and summaries could be built in a matter of minutes upon verbal request to a computer and the costly process of finding and building target lists can be as easy as asking, “Computer, what is my addressable market?”.

What this means for the modern sales professional is that you’re life is going to get a lot easier over the next few decades but only if you have a sales job that isn’t likely to be automated by a machine. This technological revolution won’t take place tomorrow or next week but it’s important to understand that it is indeed a serious and imminent trend and one that needs to be taken into consideration when planning for your career. The best way to understand whether or not your job has a high likelihood of being automated is to look at your job description. The more your work is repetitive in nature and requires little to no cognitive judgement to complete the more likely your job is to be replaced by a machine because the financial and productivity incentives for businesses will be too strong to ignore. These would likely be roles in an administrative, business development or otherwise entry level function in a sales organization.

The next most likely group to feel pressure on their job security are those that are charged with maintaining a sales process or system. Reason being, at the moment these duties do require some level of human oversight but there will be a time when AI evolves from artificial narrow intelligence to artificial general intelligence and because a machine has no need for food, sleep, insurance or a raise, it’s inevitable for businesses to start replacing some of their workforce with these machines. This would probably apply to many folks working in a sales operation capacity.

The jobs least likely to be impacted and taken over the pending AI revolution are those that inherently requires some human element of thought or trust. Because humans are social creatures, no matter how efficient machines can become and how closely they can resemble our intelligence, there is a level of human trust that can’t be built up with a machine. As such there will always be some need for “human” reassurance in business. These roles will likely revolve around things like sales strategy, contract negotiations, training or coaching and the like.

If you want to learn more on how to slowly develop a career path towards these kinds of roles, check out the Rainmaker platform for sales professionals. There you can check out new opportunities are there for your in the next step of your sales career and also see how you stack up against your peers. It’s a great resource to get a better understanding of your professional competency and to make sure you’re not leaving any untapped opportunities on the table.

-Dean Park

Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.

Get approached by tech companies offering tech sales jobs.

SPIN Selling

Sales Lead Database Reviews

The world of sales today is dramatically different from what it was a generation ago. Today there are more technologies and tools at the disposal of sales professionals to help make their jobs a little easier. Some might even say that there are far too many tools out there, making it difficult to identify which ones are the best to use. Of course, what’s best for one organization may not be the best for everyone else. As is with all tools and services, each one has its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore understanding how well these match the needs of your business is key to finding that best fit.

Now when it comes to choosing a tool to help your sales team, there are a lot of options. You can choose to invest in tracking systems, masked dialers, email automation, or a plethora of other technologies out there to help improve sales efficiency. To dig deeper and compare the various players in each of these spaces would result in an overly extensive report that most people probably would not want to read through in its entirety. As such the focus of this article will be on lead database solutions that can help the very early, and possibly most crucial, stages of the sales process, prospecting and engaging. Also, do note that this is not a fully comprehensive list.  However, this list is a great way to kickstart your search. The vendors we’ll be looking at today are InsideView, ZoomInfo, DiscoverOrg, and Elucify.

 

InsideView

Other than Elucify, which is a free tool, InsideView is the least expensive of all the providers on this list. As of December of 2016, their pricing was at $99/month per user, with a 15% discount if you go with a full year subscription instead of going month-to-month. With that subscription you’ll have access to their database which provides names, titles, emails and phone numbers for prospects at your target accounts. They also have links to some of your prospects social media profiles if they’re able to find them. The only downside is that of the phone numbers, only around 5% of them will be a direct dial. This might not be a huge concern for some, but for others it can definitely be a deal breaker since direct dials can definitely help speed up the sales process by allowing reps to bypass some gatekeepers. The other thing to note about this service is that they do have a 5 seat minimum, so if your team happens to be smaller than that, you may have to consider buying more than you need to start off.

 

ZoomInfo

Founded in 2000, ZoomInfo is the oldest vendor on this list. Having been in the space for quite a long time, their database is actually very well fleshed out. From personal experience in using the service, I can attest that they do have plenty of workable contacts across various functions and industries. The way ZoomInfo goes about populating their database by using a proprietary web crawler called NextGenSearchBot to analyze, extract and store information. They also have a free version of the tool available which requires users to download an extension that also provides them with even more data. Though ZoomInfo is a little more expensive than InsideView, being priced at $4,900/year for 2 seats, it has a strong advantage in that their database contains a large amount of direct dials. The accuracy of their direct dials has some room for improvement but overall they do work and is well worth the price difference for those willing to cough up the extra cash to gain access to them. Though they don’t particularly help you find all the social media profiles for your prospects, they do have a button you can click to quickly find your prospects on LinkedIn which is actually a pretty helpful feature that can save reps a bit of time. There is also an integration with Salesforce, so if your company is using Salesforce for its CRM, you can take advantage of that integration to more quickly import contacts and save your reps even more time.

 

DiscoverOrg

DiscoverOrg is probably the most expensive of the vendors on this list with a price tag of $2,000/month for 3 users. However with that high price tag also comes a lot more data accuracy. They claim to have 95% accuracy as a result of their 90 day refresh cycle wherein their dedicated researchers call to re-verify all of their information in the systems. They also provide you with a report on the technologies that some of these companies have as well, which can be particularly helpful for certain businesses. DiscoverOrg also provides their best guess at an organization chart to help reps more easily navigate an organization and more quickly find decision makers, though they can’t contractually promise for these charts to be as accurate. Their database is also skewed more towards data around the Information Technology and Services sector, so if that happens to be your target market it could be even more reason to give DiscoverOrg some serious consideration.

 

Elucify

Elucify is actually a tool that anyone can use. Their product is currently in beta and completely free for users. All you need to do is register with a valid business email and you can gain access to their database of leads. They do have a paid version of their product coming up in the near future but for now it’s still a resource that any sales or marketing professional can lean on if they want an additional source of data, especially one that’s free of charge. The contingency is that like ZoomInfo by signing up, you’re agreeing to sharing the business contacts you interact with from that account. This is actually how they’re building out their database and because the company is still in its early stages the database is not as fleshed out as it could be. There is definitely some data accuracy issues here as well. Additionally, unlike some of the other lead database providers we looked at earlier, Elucify only provides you with names, titles and emails. Direct dials aren’t something the company seems to be focusing on, at least for now, but overall the company is getting some serious groundswell and definitely seems to be headed in the right direction. If you don’t plan on leveraging them immediately, it’s definitely worth just keeping tabs to see how the product might evolve in the years to come.

 

Final Takeaway
Just to reiterate, though this list is not comprehensive of all the tools available today it should serve as a great starting point for your research journey in finding the best tool for your team and organization. If you’d like to check out some other providers you can also take a look at Book Your Data, Unomy, Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers, DataFox, Datanyze, ProfileHopper, LeadGenius, Ripple, Cliently, or the many other companies working to empower sales and marketing that weren’t included here. Again there is no shortage of help out there so take the time to dig through the pros and cons of each company to see which could make the greatest impact on the success of your own business. You can also reference business software review websites like G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Gartner, Capterra, Crozdesk and even communities like Reddit for further insights to aid in your search.

-Dean Park

 

Dean Park is a seasoned tech sales professional that’s been involved with a wide range of organizations from startups to enterprise businesses. Dean is also a sales mentor at GrowthX Academy in San Francisco.

Get approached by tech companies offering tech sales jobs.