Picture the scene. A ‘smart’ fridge so technologically advanced that it tracks precisely what food is going in and out. When stocks run low it contacts Amazon, places an order and then a drone drops the replacement food direct to your front door without you having to lift a finger. Convenience shopping gone crazy and this is just one example of the use of Artificial Intelligence in consumer sales. And even crazier to think this concept is already being piloted successfully in the US.
While AI may be turning the tide in consumer sales, could this futuristic trend really have the same impact in the complex world of B2B sales? For sales leaders, what role could AI actually play in this space? Admittedly there may not be a need for restocking a fridge, however in the B2B marketplace there are other key areas where the behavioural economics and predictive analytics could dramatically improve sellers’ performance.
Buyers not asking for the robot just yet
It is not hard to see why AI applications have previously been discounted by many B2B sales organisations. Customers in the sector appreciate the value of speaking to real people, as referenced in the CSO Insights 2018 buyer preference study which showed that only 3% of complex B2B customers were waiting for an AI type machine to help them buy their products, solutions or services. The robots will have to wait in the wings for far longer, as human interactions are still considered essential in the B2B world.
AI and Selling Time
What we have to bear in mind though is that business buyers are consumers first. All buyers are changing substantially faster and to a greater degree than sales organisations. We are operating in an era where there is level of expectation surrounding personalisation and preferences. AI engines collect reams of information about customer digital activity and people are used to being met with tailored and accurate recommendations for products. This preconception naturally crosses over into B2B sales where buyers will presume that sellers already know them. So there is a huge disconnect when a sales person shows up to a meeting with a blank piece of paper and says, “Tell me about your business.”
That is a major challenge for sales people, who tend to be so busy they may not be able to do the required level of research and basic data gathering. This is one of the key areas where AI has the potential to support the B2B space, by helping sales people maximise their selling time. AI could provide the insight that sales leaders need to assist their teams with critical information about their customers’ businesses, helping to prioritise deals most likely to convert and when a deal is likely to close. AI data is a form of instant intelligence. Sellers can focus on top leads and opportunities and ensure they have the right conversations, with the right people, at the right time.
AI & Perspective
While automated information tools will enable those behaviours and make them easier, machines cannot replace the thought process behind it. The sales people themselves will still have to translate and match the data, retain the information and put it into context. Only people, not algorithms, can provide the required inside perspective. AI can offer insights and provide recommendations on what to do next or differently. However, AI does not understand the customer’s business, nor can it make client-related decisions.
A Dynamic Sales Process
Post sale may be another area where AI applications would support B2B sales leaders. AI can be introduced to provide the best customer experience and help them with implementing or trying solutions. The challenge here is to try and automate what the best customer experience is and subsequently ensure the processes put in place can replicate that over and over again. AI technology that focuses on the natural language processing, text and sentiment analysis is capable of understanding and analysing the context of customers’ questions and their behaviour. It can alert sales leaders if signs of dissatisfaction are discovered and help to replicate what the best sellers are doing so those habits can be shared with the rest of the sales team.
AI in B2B sales may be in its infancy, but as new trends and technologies emerge sales leaders need to realise the many benefits it could bring to their organisations. When it is deployed in the right way, AI can automate the bulk of repetitive administrative work, freeing up teams to concentrate on the most lucrative deals, deepen their customer relationships and improve the customer experience. In complex B2B sales, AI provides a real-time information source and augments sales tasks – but it does not replace people. It may fill up consumer’ fridges without them lifting a finger, however it won’t offer them an alternative choice for dinner or make sure they are having the best evening.