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If technology companies deliver on the promise of Artificial Intelligence over the next 3-5 years, sales and sales operations teams, from savvy mid-size cos. to frumpy enterprises, will cross the gates of next gen transformation.
Where is AI is playing a role today in sales ?
AI is changing lead generation and qualification. Reliance on intuition, manual data crunching and building manual models is going down. Instead, AI does the work for you. Customer profiles, interactions and media are all intelligently analyzed to provide an uber prospective customer list. Not only that, AI can tell you what products and services fit which customer.
Moving prospective customers down the sales funnel is also changing. Automatic lead scoring is moving to intelligent lead scoring based on customer’s engagement with various assets. Customers are already doing nearly 60-70% of their research before engaging with the seller. Now, thanks to AI, you can know exactly when the customer has reached that stage. Trigger events can be tough to nail down, and vary across customer types. Now AI can tell you clearly what opportunities are there and how they should be approached to move sales along. Then of course, there are the machines doing all the lead warming (ex: Conversica).
Customer’s buying patterns, and their experience with support and services is another area where AI is a game-changer. Again, letting machines do the work for post sales conversations is one thing. Taking all those interactions, mashing it with other data and passing it thorough an intelligent platform, lets salespeople predict buying/service/resell/upsell patterns and anticipate needs and wants of customers in advance. AI also means more real time feedback and support, not waiting days for some analysis to be completed.
Then of course there is the CRM platform. We are moving past using CRM as a data entry and recording tool to enable business forecast and sales management. You have smart assistants (ex: Tact) that automates admin work. Then there is intelligence being built into the platform (Einstein anyone?) to enable salespeople take the right decisions at the right time.
What does this mean for sales roles?
Recent McKinsey research posited that 40% of sales jobs will be automated by 2020. However, this does not mean that sales is dying. What you have instead is a data and smart assistant armed, emotionally astute, sales rep who can focus on doing what he is best at – driving a deep and intense engagement/relationship with the customer. Sales managers have an even bigger role to play in understanding and then using available technology to coach and scale their reps’ capabilities.
What does this mean for sales operations?
Aha, here is where we are going see evolution very quickly.
Sales Operations is already moving from tactical to strategic, and now must quickly move to adapting and embracing technology to enable sales scale. This means change in the way sales operations invests, operates and staffs.
Roles: Roles in sales operations will absolutely get more strategic and more technical. Today’s sales operations teams have a mix of tactical and strategic folks. The tactical roles (reporting, tool administration etc.) will go away with automation and rise of the smart sales assistant. Successful sales operations teams will be as much about asking the right questions, understanding technology, building the quickest path to business goals using intelligent data, and driving seamless execution.
This will lead to new roles in sales operations teams around data management for smart systems, business development (for working with AI technology cos), and “AI sales support roles” that support sales and sales managers with the right planning and execution strategy.
Perhaps all of sales operations itself will move into a centralized AI based operations team, to align go to market strategy and operations from marketing to sales to customer success.
Talent: Traditional tactical and planning skills are just not going to cut it for a job in sales operations in an AI world. The team will have to focus on being strategic to deliver value to sales. Across the spectrum, folks will have to become technology savvy. From architecting the platform, to interpreting results and patterns for sales enablement, you must understand the data, and context, parameters and boundaries of technology to ensure its usefulness.
Sales Planning and Forecasting: This is an area already seeing significant improvement. There are companies already incorporating AI so forecast can be predicted more accurately based on multitudes of data, patterns and machine intelligence. Forecasts can be segmented accurately by product and customer. Accurate forecasting is a huge strategic advantage.
AI based forecasting will also drive other benefits – reduction of enormous time sucked in a manual forecasting approach, and better alignment among teams using a “more science than manager gut” approach. Sales managers will be armed with accurate data to drive meaningful conversations. Forecasting and planning process and tools will continue to get more sophisticated.
Tools: AI based tools for sales is seeing an explosion. More than $400 million venture money has gone into companies building better sales tech products, in 2015/16. Conversica, Tact, Takt, Aviso, Chorus, Gong to name a few. Companies will need to deploy these tools to be competitive. It will fall to Sales Operations to evaluate and deploy the predictive tools that align with sales goals. Tool basics like data sources, useful patterns and predictions, integration with existing workflows and tools, personalized models, and ability to scale will need to be evaluated, before the tool can be successfully commissioned.
Sales Enablement: Aspects of sales enablement including sales compensation will become simpler to implement, with fewer sales roles and reliable data applied. On the other hand, driving adoption in sales for new AI based technologies will come with its own challenges and renewed emphasis on formal change management programs. Enablement programs will also need to be more technical/product driven and focused on superior selling competencies/skills and negotiation in a data driven environment, as sales looks to build deep relationships with customers.
The near future holds a lot of promise, and I am really excited to see sales operations at the intersection of the intelligent and traditional. Sales Opns is at the cusp of a transformation that puts the function on an even more influential path to scaling the business. The teams that succeed will be the ones that plan for this challenge..intelligently (no pun intended)
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