Early Adopters of AI for Sales See Tangible Results

Billions are being poured into developing AI-based solutions to try to optimize sales performance, but to what end? That is the question we decided to try to start to answer as part of Sales Mastery’s “AI for Sales Study.”

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Whenever technological innovations come to the marketplace, one has to always try to navigate between the sometimes-irrational exuberance regarding how “life-altering” this could be on one end of the spectrum and the cynicism that this is all hype on the other end. Such is the case now with the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) for sales in the CRM space.

Billions are being poured into developing AI-based solutions to try to optimize sales performance, but to what end? That is the question we decided to try to start to answer as part of Sales Mastery’s “AI for Sales Study.” The survey of 450 firms focused on three audiences: (1) organizations that have already implemented AI for sales; (2) those that are evaluating these solutions; and (3) those that currently have no plans to do so.

We asked early adopters to share what, if any, specific improvements they were seeing as a result of implementing the various types of AI for sales solutions. A summary of their responses is seen in the chart above.

Three items got my attention when I reviewed the findings. The first was the low number, 12.9 percent, that said it was too soon to tell. With new technologies it can often take some time for organizations to figure out how to successfully leverage new capabilities to help achieve gains or remove pain. We are not seeing a lot of that in the case of AI.

The second was how different this chart looked from the charts we saw years ago when we asked similar audiences about the top benefits they saw from their usage of CRM. At that time, topping the list were items related to increasing the efficiency of sales teams.

We do see some of those kinds of results, such as improving communications and increasing selling time, but they are further down the list. The top improvements achieved by early AI for sales users are related to sales effectiveness: increasing revenue, increasing win rates, and improving coaching. Those were rarely the most often cited benefits for firms implementing CRM solutions.

The third thing was that benefits are emerging that many CRM users have not seen before. This takes the form of AI acting as a virtual assistant for salespeople, creating and updating CRM records and providing sales teams insights into buyer intent.

In the 20-plus years I have been writing for CRM, I have developed a bit of a wait-and-see attitude toward new technologies. AI for sales is clearly still in its embryonic stage in terms of implementation; I would estimate only 1 percent of sales organizations are using it today. But the results early adopters are achieving are more dramatic than any I’ve seen before.

One last observation from the study: When we asked study participants at firms that have no interest in AI for sales to share their sales performance objectives for the next 12 months, optimizing lead generation, increasing revenue per rep, and improving win rates were the top three things mentioned. To that audience, which is clearly the vast majority of the market, you may want to take a closer look at what your early-adopter peers are doing. The solution to achieving your objectives may already be here. 

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Jim Dickie

Jim Dickie

Jim Dickie is a Research Fellow for Sales Mastery; an independent research firm that focuses on profiling case study examples of how firms in the B2B marketplace are leveraging sales process, CRM, AI and knowledge to optimize revenue performance. Jim has over 30 years of sales and marketing management experience. Jim began his career with IBM and Sterling Software and then went on to launch two successful software companies. Jim then went on to co-found CSO Insights, which was acquired by Miller Heiman Group (now a part of Korn Ferry). Jim is also a contributing editor for CRM Magazine, CustomerThink, Top Sales World, and a contributing author for the Harvard Business Review. He has served as an advisor to Baylor Center for Professional Selling, William Patterson University’s Russ Berry Institute for Professional Selling, and is a lecturer at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Over the past twenty years, Jim’s teams have surveyed over a thousand sales transformation initiatives. Their research has become the benchmark for understanding how the role of sales is evolving, the challenges that are impacting sales performance, and most importantly what companies are doing to address those issues.

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