Artificial intelligence (AI) over here, artificial intelligence over there…today we can’t go anywhere without stumbling across the term. AI sales enablement is one of the trendiest “buzzwords” around thanks to the increasingly connected world we live in. Whenever we type a query into Google, use a conversational assistant such as Siri or Alexa, when we park our car and even upload data into a CRM, one way or another we are using AI technology.
However, as it is with all things new there’s an implication of change which inevitability, seems accompanied by a sense of fear.
What does this mean for me? Will field rep androids start wandering the planet and steal my job?
To put to bed any of those fears we spoke to AI specialist and Product Manager at ForceManager, Miquel Segarra, who kindly took us on a tour through the world of AI sales enablement.
Segarra leads all AI sales enablement projects here at ForceManager, primarily focused on improving the feel and user experience of our application. If you have a question about the latest technological improvements in sales, Segarra is your man.
So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into the Q&A.
Miquel, can you give us a brief introduction to AI technology in general?
First and foremost, I want to say that artificial intelligence has existed for well over 30 years now. The latest fad or boom we are seeing is because companies now have the technology to exploit it.
In fact, the technology existed in some capacity as well as a few of the algorithms, it just didn’t make any sense to implement it at the time as the processes were too slow.
The algorithms that make this software have existed for a while but the machines required to execute them would have been enormous, considering the technology that was available at the time. Now you can use it from the home screen of your iPhone…
So, how is this technology being applied to AI sales enablement?
At ForceManager, what we are doing with AI sales enablement technology is to create a fast, easy user experience for frontline sales reps.
One of the biggest user-adoption issues to surface from our research was the difficulty navigating the sales application. Many salespeople simply want to enter sales call data, locate accounts, review their pipeline or check their daily agenda. If they can’t complete these simple tasks, the system is eventually abandoned which is why so many CRM implementations fail before they’ve even gotten off the ground!
So, we looked at how we could make our application as easy to navigate as possible.
Smartphones have, on one side, a virtual keyboard used to type but on the other a visual interface with natural language processing (NLP) which allows users to communicate with their devices. Talking to an application is much faster than typing and correcting predictive text, don’t you think?
My point is if we are to truly unlock AI sales enablement we must drastically improve the user experience by eliminating access barriers to information. Firstly through the device-user interface and secondly by making useful information readily available to sales reps when they need it.
This increases usability and saves on time by allowing field sales reps to communicate with their devices while on the move between sales visits. In a matter of seconds, the AI sales enablement technology provides a quick overview of a salesperson’s daily calendar, who the next sales visit is with and at what time.
It’s also possible to readjust routes between sales visits depending on the latest traffic conditions with the option to alert the client they’re running late. All this possible simply by speaking with the application while driving. No need to interact with the smartphone screen at all.
Only by looking through the eyes of the frontline sales rep who uses it daily are you going to drastically increase its ROI.
Understood! But how does this AI sales enablement tech work?
When someone believes they are interacting with “artificial intelligence”, in reality, what they are doing is interacting with a set of machine learning algorithms trained to be precise at a single task. These algorithms, correctly combined, offer the feeling of interaction with a seemingly self-intelligible system.
For example, let’s take a look at artificial intelligence and sales, specifically how we provide salespeople with contextual information based on their location.
By using the device’s built-in GPS technology, ForceManager detects exactly where the field sales rep when they access the application. This automatically triggers a sequence of algorithms that detect:
A salesperson’s location
Cross-check it with accounts in the immediate area
Analyze KW’s associated with those accounts
Scan daily agenda
Extract a history of interactions based on upcoming visit, location and accounts
This series of algorithmic triggers then “intuitively” presents this information on the sales force automation technology (SFA) or customer relationship management (CRM) dashboard in an easy to read, accessible format.
The field sales rep then can then use this information to better prepare for their upcoming visit or simply better manage their face-to-time with clients.
As I mentioned previously, the capabilities of this technology have been present for some time now. However, it’s only with recent improvements in areas such as cloud processing and the technological advancements in the mobile devices we use which allows us to offer solutions that were previously unthinkable at the time.
Can you shed some light on conversation intelligence platforms for sales?
Sure! I believe that conversation intelligence platforms for sales, such as NLP and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) are the most viable options for AI sales enablement as they give life to voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and ForceManager’s Dana.
The personal sales assistant working while you drive is probably the clearest example I can give.
Imagine you are a field sales rep and have an upcoming sales visit that in all honesty, you haven’t prepared for. You don’t know what was discussed during the previous visit, if there were any orders signed off or if any problems have arisen between now and then.
So you simply ask Dana (conversation intelligence platform for sales reps) to pull up the relevant information without so much as touching the device:
AI sales enablement technology:
Eliminated the barrier for information gathering
Helped the field rep better prepare for their visit
Optimized otherwise lost time while driving
Having access to this data via a smartphone is already a breakthrough in itself, but the fact you can almost eliminate that barrier for information extraction, that’s the usability that truly makes a difference.
What are some of the other common AI sales enablement trends right now?
Like I mentioned before, everything has suddenly become “AI”: the light on my iPhone automatically adjusted its brightness… amazing, just wow! I love AI…Ladies and gentlemen, mobile phones have been able to do this for more than 10 years now, it’s not AI!
In ForceManager’s case, we are focusing on getting our current solutions under development 100% right before looking further afield. These are the AI sales enablement features that help frontline salespeople the most, as we constantly use their feedback to tweak and adjust the system.
But some providers focus heavily on data analytics.
Salesforce’s Einstein and Oracle’s Business Intelligence Suite are two examples of deep-dive analytical software. Although not strictly AI sales enablement, if set-up correctly, they can identify trends and patterns between data streams and eventually serve these up into smart insights for frontline salespeople.
However, one of the biggest drawbacks of these deep-dive analytical systems is that they require real-time, accurate data to work. But as we’ve seen that’s not always so easy to come by.
With such a heavy focus on analytics, they often forget about the frontline sales reps and the complicated data entry process they have to go through, leading to general frustration before the abandonment of the system.
That’s not what you want if you’ve paid thousands of dollars on an expensive AI-powered sales analytics system!
Where do you see the future of artificial intelligence and sales?
Without doubt, the biggest area to be exploited is data analysis (but only once companies fix usability issues with their software for sales reps!) There will be a lot of available data we can generate extra value from.
I think one area to look for signs of what’s to come is the medical data industry.
Companies like Google are buying entire medical records from countries, gathering that data and throwing it to a computer processor for a couple of months until they manage to crush those numbers and uncover certain correlations. In a way, that is where we are heading in sales.
Within a few years, the processing capacity of the sales software will enable us to analyze equally large data reams and uncover buying patterns that may help salespeople out in the field.
Right now it is an extremely expensive and time-consuming process to analyze data and just isn’t feasible for the majority of sales teams out there.
What advice would you give companies looking to implement AI sales enablement within their business?
From what I’ve seen there’s too much ambiguity and fear around the term “artificial intelligence and sales” that I think its role needs defining and addressing among salespeople.
Artificial intelligence and sales do not mean androids will be walking the streets, stealing sales jobs and suddenly selling to your clients. We are so far from that you can’t even begin to imagine!
What AI sales enablement software providers seek is to use the technology to make life as easy as possible for salespeople. Once they begin to understand its purpose and see the advantages it brings, the primary barrier to adoption and acceptance will have been removed.
To be completely frank, I’m not a great fan of the term artificial intelligence and sales as it implies some form of self-intelligible, even extraterrestrial being that galvanizes resistance against what we are trying to achieve.
What people don’t realize is that it’s simply a string of algorithms and triggers we already see in everyday life without even noticing.
For example, the ads we receive are processed on our browsing history, our preferences and help reduce spam. Or the car that warns you a pedestrian is crossing behind you or that you’re about to reverse into a wall!