Recently, after doing a keynote on AI for Sales at a conference in Utah, I was approached by one of the attendees. Her first comment was that seeing the case study examples I had presented on what AI for Sales can already do blew her mind. But she then followed that up with the observation that it also scared the heck out of her! When I asked her to go deeper into her second comment, she observed that as she started to understand the depth of insights that AI could surface during the whole process of customer lifecycle management, a concern started to arise as to whether this would end up going too far in terms of dissecting (her word) the relationship between sellers and buyers.
On my flight back home, her observation got me thinking. What struck me was that over the past several months, during which I had drilled into looking at over 100 AI for Sales solutions, my focus had been on the technology aspects of what was possible using various AI algorithms. My excitement with finally seeing AI in action; solving real efficiency and effectiveness pain points experienced by sales organizations, had overshadowed considering the human side implications of AI. It became clear to me that this is worth exploring sooner versus later because once the AI genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to put back in.
AI Analysis of Sellers
AI’s key strength is analyzing data, both structured and unstructured. Sellers, as part of their daily work flow, generate data. During their external interactions with customers and prospects, they send and receive a steady stream of emails, have numerous meetings with clients on the phone, via web conferencing and face-to-face, share content in the form of presentations, sales collateral, proposals, etc. Add to that all the similar internal interactions with other functional areas within their company to get things done.
AI systems exist that are very effective at analyzing all that data, in many cases without the salesperson having to do anything other than what they are already doing daily. Here is how this changes the dynamics between salespeople and sales management. Today, as a sales manager I can ask my sales team member, “How is the opportunity going with Acme?” The response I get back may well be “It’s going great Jim.” At this point as a manager, I have nothing but a self-assessment of where the deal stands.
AI changes all of that. It can continuously look at the salesperson’s calendar and see what appointments are currently scheduled with Acme. It can access the salesperson’s email folder and analyze the messages of emails going out to clients and coming back from them. AI can determine that the salesperson has shared the contract terms and conditions with the legal department at the prospect firm and can then tell you if anyone on the customer side has yet accessed the file to review them.
Now as a manager I have additional insights into that opportunity. Those can easily validate that what the salesperson is telling me is backed up by actions; as in noting that meetings are on the calendar, the cadence of the email flow is bi-directional and regular, prospects are viewing sales material and proposals, etc. It can conversely also alert me as a manager to instances where this is not happening.
Having access to these insights sets the stage for managers to be better coaches and mentors to their sales team members. They can see who needs help on what opportunities, and better leverage their time. But when you put yourself in the position of a sales person, having AI monitor everything they are doing can appear to be a little too “big brotherish.”
AI Analysis of Buyers
AI solutions are also doing more analysis of the buyers that the sellers are engaging. I got a first-hand view of this from an AI firm doing buyer persona analysis. After I agreed to a briefing to learn about their solution, they sent me an 18-page report on me. They had never talked to me before, yet here in the report was a detailed analysis of me. It started with a comprehensive review of my social media presence; LinkedIn and Twitter posts and articles, links to YouTube videos of me presenting at conferences, a word map of concepts I research and write about, etc.
Next was an OCEAN Five analysis of my key personality traits that was eerily very accurate. It then ended with specific observations and recommendations of how to start to develop a relationship with me, providing observations on my personality, communications style, motivation, and work style. It noted, for example, that Jim is pragmatic, independent, and needs logical reasons for everything – but is able to take a calculated risk when necessary.
AI for Sales is Inevitable, But…
At a time when sales performance has been eroding over the past few years, I can understand the attractiveness of AI for Sales as a way to reverse that trend. But at the same time, I feel the need for companies to set policies for how AI can/will be used to monitor their sellers and buyers and educate both parties on what they are doing and why, because failure to do so may result in many unexpected consequences.