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How AI will boost your sales

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Every morning, I see a self-driving car cruising around my neighborhood. The only thing that’s remarkable about it is how unremarkable it is. There aren’t scientists running alongside it, or press taking photos. When I see it, I’m reminded that artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t some future dream; it’s here, now, in our everyday lives.

And it’s changing the world in fascinating ways, from transportation to medicine to (ahem) dating. Beyond the buzzwords, AI is a way of augmenting us — of making us better humans. It’s like having a second brain (or a third, or a fourth). All of these “little brains” around us are taking the guesswork out of so many processes. Take for example the Nest thermostat, which learns our household patterns in order to figure out how to make us more comfortable (while saving energy); that’s one more brain, working away so we can focus on other things.

I look at that car and think about how my daughter may never need to drive. I also think about how she will never need to go through an exchange of emails to schedule a simple meeting. AI is out in the streets, but it’s also deeply embedded in the business space. Sales teams are already benefitting from the little brains in their systems, and they will continue to change their practices and processes as technology advances and becomes more integrated in the way businesses are run. AI will take over tedious tasks, make better use of the data flowing in and out of a company, and help sales teams see what’s coming so they can make better decisions, and close more deals, in the future.

AI will handle the busy work

We already have AI that can manage calendars so that when salespeople want to schedule a meeting, the system figures out when everyone has free time and pencils it in. More complex AI will listen in to the meeting, take notes, and produce a post-meeting briefing. AI can also help us be better salespeople by listening for patterns when we’re on a call — Are you talking over the customer? Is the customer engaged? — and extrapolate useful sentiments that we might not have otherwise heard. And we’re probably not far from the day when we won’t even need to read our emails; AI will read it for us and give us the highlights — just the important stuff. (It’s already transcribing our voicemails.)

In short, AI will change the way you interact with systems by helping you prioritize your life and work. Instead of getting to the office and confronting a mountain of tasks, you’ll have a tidy list of things to do, which will evolve throughout the day as you add or subtract items. AI will operate in the background constantly, streamlining your life. How does it do all this? By seeing what we can’t.

Benefitting from big data

It’s all about the data. And there’s so much data out there! It’s such an unbelievable amount that most of it is never analyzed. Those companies who figure out how to harness their data — like Amazon and Netflix (plus of course other giants like Google and Facebook) — will dominate their markets.

There are patterns of behavior hidden in customer data that can reveal those preferences and suggest to a sales team courses of action. These include when customers buy, how they spend money, the amount of time a customer makes to decide whether or not to buy: All of these generate useful information that can shape a sales team beyond just cold-calling. This “big data” can give us signals about where to apply resources.

AI uses machine learning’s ability to learn from huge, unlabeled datasets to find these hidden patterns and behaviors. From there, AI gives us a glimpse of the future.

Selling to tomorrow’s customers

It’s early days for how AI will affect our lives, but one thing we do know: AI affords advantages that empower sales teams to close deals faster. In fact, over the next three years, it is expected that there will be 118 percent growth in the use of predictive intelligence (e.g. lead scoring) by sales teams. One thing I’m particularly excited to see evolve is the sales process flow: how we’ll bring intelligence into every step of the process, including lead scoring, but also opportunity and account insights, along with predictive forecasting. Using big data and machine learning, AI can make correlations based on past successes and failures. It asks an essential question: What are the characteristics of leads that will (and will not) convert?

The ability to use AI to score deals based on the probability that they’ll close is a massive opportunity and something we’re already seeing make headway. Opportunity and account insights are the product of data from emails, calendars, and other content. With natural language processing, the system is able to recognize who your competitors are based on the content of emails. These insights about what makes a strong prospect or how likely a deal is to close have historically been in the heads of good salespeople. The knowledge was there, it just wasn’t shared — siloed not only in the company’s unconnected systems, but in its salespeople’s heads, as well.

What’s maybe the coolest thing to me is predictive forecasting, which can tell us that most important thing in sales: where the money is. Now, those numbers are typically set by sales managers. But what if the system could tell you how much business you will close this quarter at a company level, regional level, and team level, and give you predictions? We’ve seen that AI can predict these numbers with high confidence. The machine can tell you how much money you’re going to make in that quarter. It’ll tell you, in effect, what your company’s future is.

Someday, this level of AI will all be the norm, right up there with cars driving themselves. So much of what is tedious in life and business will be automated, enabling each of us to innovate and move faster than ever before. So much of what is unpredictable will soon be made clear by a system of intelligence that helps us see what’s really going on in all that data out there — and plan accordingly.

Pratima Arora is the VP of product management at Salesforce Sales Cloud.

Above: The Machine Intelligence Landscape This article is part of our Artificial Intelligence series. You can download a high-resolution version of the landscape featuring 288 companies by clicking the image.

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