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More than just buzzwords – Why machine learning and AI are the future for sales

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Machine learning may be a buzzword now, but what could it actually mean for business and sales down the line? Will salespeople be replaced by Rosie from The Jetsons, or a more frightening HAL? Doubtful. But the ability to automate sales tasks could mean big changes on the horizon. It’s all about how you could leverage it. With the right, high-quality data, machine learning could have an undeniable impact on how business is done.

We accept that data is the key to designing successful, personalized engagements with our customers. SAP recently commissioned a research report by Aberdeen, which discusses the importance of a “data-driven understanding” of our customers on a granular level. Many of us have already spent time and set up systems to collect and track customer data that we know will be useful. And with machine learning, we may finally be able to easily and effectively make use of that information we’ve collected in ways humans alone cannot.

Being able to sift through and analyze years of customer data to pinpoint trends and tailor your actions is something we’ve been building towards for a long time. And now, it’s a task that tends to fall to our sales staff. But with machine learning, your advanced cloud CRM solution can learn over time to forecast and score deals with greater accuracy, freeing up those sales team members to focus on building and nurturing relationships that add value to the business. Sales reps will more easily reach their numbers, managers will see teams meeting and exceeding revenue goals. Machine learning offers the ability to simplify your organization by leveraging all this data you’ve collected.

Deal scoring, for example. Imagine if you could look at data behind a prospect – the company size, the number of stakeholders, the types of solutions they’re looking at – and compare it to historical data you’ve collected from hundreds of past deals (both won and lost) to determine just how likely it is to close. Machine learning could open the door definitive deal scores, letting you more accurately predict how the deal will go, how long it will take, and the likelihood of it closing. You could tailor how you approach the deal to prime it for the win. Or, if it’s not looking so hot anymore, you could then realign your team to focus them on deals more likely to close. All without the need to rely on the intuitive gut decisions.

What about sales training? What if you could pair your new sales reps with a guided coach or assistant that could walk them through tasks one by one – reminding them when to reach out to a client or nurture a customer based on timelines that have worked in the past? And what if you could do this without having to have a second sales person there, when they could be off working on their own deals?

With this technology, sales leaders will be able to provide accurate forecast predictions at a macro level, to understand trends segmented by sales organizations, sales reps and sales stages. As more deals close, the system will re-learn and evolve to improve its future forecasts. Since the machine has no vested interests other than improving its own accuracy, it is largely independent of management pressures, and removes sandbagging and gut feels from forecasts. Managers will have a clearer, more objective picture quarter-to-quarter of the health of the pipeline, and will be able to adjust in real time when needed.

Now, all this automation doesn’t happen automatically. It requires a lot of setup, a lot of thought into how you’re going to use it, and it absolutely requires accurate data. While machine learning may still be a ways away, you can start preparing yourself now so you’re ready when the time comes. The research provided by Aberdeen shows us that Best-in-Class organizations “invest in data accuracy around their prospects’ and customers’ behavior.” Right now it’s about thinking big-picture: How can you transform your organization now to be ready for the changes when they happen? To be able to react faster and have the systems in place?

And then, it’s about changing how you think about what you’re doing – changing the business mindset. Business is no longer about the company – it hasn’t been for a while now. It’s about the customers, and helping each customer live better and easier. When we can be proactive, and anticipate their issues, addressing them before they escalate, before they ever have to wait on a hold line, imagine how much better that relationship would be.

When we go down this line of thinking – of automation and AI and machine learning – it’s easy to jump back anxiously at the thought of robots taking over business. But worry not, sales folks. People are not going away – human relationships are not going away. If anything, if machines start crunching numbers on these scales for us, it will be more important than ever to engage personally with our customers and prospects. Sales reps will become relationship managers. Marketers will become industry experts, forecasting customer needs before they come up. Automating processes is a means to an end.

After all, there’s a personal side to selling that no technology can ever replace.

For more ideas on how your company can transform, read the full Aberdeen white paper, “Marketing/Sales Alignment 2016: Who is Agile Enough to Win?

Or, learn how SAP Hybris can help you streamline and automate your sales force now.

Shalini Mitha
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22 shares
May 23, 2017
Shalini Mitha

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