When I first started my sales career back in the late 1990s, sales still controlled much of the buyer's journey. Reps would provide product demonstrations, sharing pricing, and arranging customer references.

All of that (perceived) power didn’t always benefit the customer, even though it may have provided a (false) sense of security for the seller. For example, take the “old” way of providing a customer reference. When a prospective customer asked to speak with a current, similar customer, an entire team was ready to field these requests and manage the process. Why? First, we didn’t want to inundate customers with too many requests. Second, we also wanted to assess the customer’s satisfaction with our performance prior to handing over a phone number to a potential customer. It was quite a  time-consuming process.

Over the years, sales has lost a lot of its control over the sales cycle, especially with the advent of internet, cloud, social, and mobile technologies — in both good and challenging ways. Now buyers are in far more control of their own “buying journey,” no longer hostage to a company’s sales processes. They are able to find pricing online. They can compare competitive products and services with ease. And they can see who else is using your product and read real-time reviews on sites like Gartner Peer Insights.

This, as we all know, makes sales jobs even more challenging. But those transformations pale in comparison to what we see happening around us today, resulting from advancements in artificial intelligence (AI).


Eliminate the fear


The simple initials “AI” often strike fear in the core of many sales reps. But AI isn’t here to rip out and replace sales rep jobs. Instead, it will make your life easier and your customer relationships more impactful — that is, if you let it.

Back in my selling days, I wish I’d had a sliver of what reps now have at their fingertips today. AI enables salespeople to completely change the paradigm. They can differentiate themselves and the brands they work for simply by having access to information that was previously unavailable to them without the help of very expensive analytics tools and, of course, lots of man hours to make sense of it all. You, the salesperson, can use AI to your advantage, creating value that customers can’t get elsewhere. But you have to use it.

Let me be clear, AI isn’t hype. It’s being adopted rapidly right here and now. According to the recent Salesforce State of Sales report, sales leaders foresee AI reaching a critical mass by 2020, when 54% expect to use the technology as part of their sales processes. So, which should you fear: the AI technology itself or the other companies and sales reps already using it? If you ask me, I’d say it’s the latter.


Find the value


Since customers can discover quite a bit about your company with just a few simple Google searches, sales must make a fundamental change away from being information gatekeepers and “price quoters.” Reps must provide undeniable, across-the-board value in the eyes of their customers — and not simply lead with the product they’re trying to sell. That doesn’t mean the particulars of a product, solution, or your company’s brand don’t matter; what matters more is the overall value that you bring to the table. This is where AI can help you shine.

The State of Sales report also found that sales reps currently spend 66% of their time on non-selling tasks, leaving a mere 34% of their time to actually sell. AI helps you take that time back to focus on value-based sales efforts that allow you to differentiate and win. And we’re just seeing the tip of the AI iceberg’s potential to make selling tasks more targeted, strategic, and successful.

In the near future, sales reps who will have more time to get closer to their customers using AI technologies like a voice assistant. They’ll be able to quickly and easily do things that would normally take hours, like: transcribe notes, store activities, and detect customer intent for the next step in the buying process. Being able to capture and make sense of all this unstructured data will ultimately lead to more accurate and actionable predictions helping sales reps better prioritize new leads and identify at-risk opportunities. In short, AI will unlock the full potential of the salesperson — and the entire sales team — to do what they do best: sell.


Focus on the customer relationship


With all this time freed up, salespeople will be able to focus on what really matters most: the customer relationship. This is where sales teams can use AI to showcase their value. They can rely on chatbots to handle initial requests or answer simple questions on the website at any time of day, allowing them to set aside their time for hard-hitting and in-depth conversations that actually deepen the customer relationship.

But let’s face it, customers are reaching information overload. There’s so much out there — and so much targeted at them — that it’s become hard for them to (even want to) consume it all. This is where AI comes to the rescue. It can determine what content may help a customer move along their buying journey or surface recent news and insights that might apply to them. It’s not your job as a sales rep to know everything that might be of interest or value — nor is it even physically possible. But AI can help.

It’s completely up to you how you use it. Ultimately, while there might have been a shift of power to customers, your strategy as a salesperson shouldn’t be to try and wrangle it back with a silver-tongue and elbow grease. In this new age, what you need is AI to help you build on top of that customer knowledge and desire for insight to develop a loyal, long-term relationship. Sales reps can become the new “hero” delivering the trust a customer wants and needs.  

Want to learn more about how you can drive sales with AI? Watch a five-minute demo video to see how Salesforce embeds Salesforce Sales Cloud Einstein into every part of the sales process.


Editor's Note: Check out our Q&A with Tiffani on how businesses can boost their growth IQ.