What AI in Sales Really Means
3x Salesforce Sales Leader to Follow. 5x AAiSP Top Sales Leader. Teaching revenue teams how to Earn The Right to Ask Questions, which questions to ask, and when.
Published Mar 31, 2023
As we continue to hear about the values of AI in sales, it seems people are missing the bigger picture. This post is designed to help us start to address this. It will cover everything from AI vs Genreratie AI, AI in Sales Interviewing, using AI for Better EQ in the Sales Role, AI in Prospecting, AI in the Sales Funnel and Sales Process, AI in Sales Demos, AI in Sales Negotiations, AI in Revenue and Sales Operations, AI in Territory and Account Planning / Account Mapping.
This is being written to help those of us in the sales community start to connect all the dots. It is not meant to be the final picture. And of course, this is my interpretation. I am more than happy for someone to call me out and tell me what I got wrong or misunderstood in my current mindset.
Before diving in, let’s ensure folks understand the difference between AI and Generative AI. I am a layperson, so if someone wants to correct me; please do.
To the best of my knowledge:
AI is often thought of as the ability to recognize patterns and make predictions.
Generative AI is often categorized as the ability to create new content in the form of images, text, audio, etc.
So, using these definitions, one example of using AI in sales would be along the lines of recognizing patterns in various parts of the sales funnel. The easiest reference is in outbound prospecting as we look to get data around the best subject lines, value props, open rates, and response rates in relation to data.
Now, if we think about Generative AI, we are taking this one step further, well, actually several steps. The first step might be to take the data gathered and have the tool come up with even better content. And on top of that, it’s possible to use other sources around personality profiling to create best practices for prospecting based on your ICP (Ideal Company Profile) and your IPP (Ideal Persona Profile)
I am sure there is more to this, and for now, I think it’s a good foundation for the rest of the commentary.
And by the end, I will give you the one secret that ties all of this together and will make our jobs that much easier and make it more enjoyable to utilize AI and Generative AI in sales.
So let’s begin.
It is going to help with teaching everyone from the revenue team from ops to CROs, VPs of Sales, sales reps, and SDRS with their EQ.
Yup, AI in Sales is going actually to make you smarter and better equipped over time.
Everything from better interviewing to using AI in sales is further down the funnel. Meaning demo conversations, pricing conversations, and improving negotiation skills.
So you’re a sales rep going into your first interview with a VP of Sales and you want to do your research.
You research the company.
You research the person.
Maybe you have a personality tool that gives you insight into the person’s personality.
These are all great things we do and yet sometimes we have a hard time connecting the dots.
What if you went into your favorite AI tool and asked it to write a biography on this VP of Sales you will be interviewing with?
What if you went and asked your favorite AI tool and asked it to write a summary of the personality of the VP of Sales? How would you use that in the sales interview?
What if you use AI to better understand their personality to things such as a preference for bullet points or storytelling?
To know if they prefer to be direct or walk through things?
To know if they make decisions quickly or prefer taking their time?
How would you adjust yourself in the sales interview?
Now, say you have a group interview. What if you did the same thing for each person you were interviewing with?
Now say you are required to give a presentation as part of the interview process in front of a group of people.
Wouldn’t it be good to build your presentation with bullet points on a slide and then have a story to tell while on that slide to get through to all those attending?
And finally, what if you do this for several interviews at different companies? Would your EQ in general, become better? Would your skills for listening, observing, and communication become better? Not just in the business world, in real life too.
AI in The Sales Funnel, Sales Process, and Revenue Operations
Whether you call it Sales Operations or Revenue Operations, generative AI will make your job so much better and make you that much smarter.
If your fear is it will replace you, you are probably right. And you have two options: bury your head in the sand and pretend like it won’t happen, embrace what is happening, dive in deep, and figure out how to better use technology to your advantage.
You may become the best at implementing generative AI in the sales process. Someone is always going to want to hire you. Maybe you become so good you start your own consulting business, stop making everyone else a millionaire, and start making yourself one.
Where I see Generative AI supporting the Sales Ops and Rev Ops roles is to examine better the data collected at a higher and holistic level and then make the recommendations for change.
Remember, we now have access to all kinds of data.
First and last name, geography, education, personality insights based, gender, race, age, tenure at a company, role, language and conversational insights, etc. (Note: I am not a fan of the gender and race portion for ethical reasons. However, we cannot pretend this could not be captured and utilized. Ethically, I would not want to do that or associate myself there. Simply saying what others have probably thought)
Education, Titles, Roles, Tenure, Verticals, Sales Cycles, Deal Size, Company, Company Cultures, To Whom They Report, Who Reports to Them, and so on.
Yeah, I agree, this is some scary sh*t.
And we cannot ignore it.
Now back to AI in Rev Ops and Sales Ops. With all this data around our messaging and value props, along with their personality and professional insights, and specifically data around our sales cycles, generative AI may be able to clarify the following better:
Proper Sales Staging
Proper Exit Criteria for Each Stage
Better Expectations around time in stage
Better answers: "what is the one thing preventing this deal from closing?”
And when you put all this together, generative AI should be able to help us better craft our messages to the personas we are speaking at the right time. And when this happens, fewer bad deals will be in the pipeline, with improved forecasting, and improved closing.
Now from an Ops perspective, you are the one who is running this machine and taking this information and sharing it appropriately throughout the org.
EVERYONE will want to see this information for many reasons; in some cases, the causes are cross-functional.
C-Suite - Wants the forecast and revenue. Why deals are getting lost. Why deals are being won.
VP of Sales - Wants the forecast, revenue, and individual performance
Director of Sales / Sales Manager - Forecast, closing ratios, individual performance.
Sales Reps / SDRs and BDRs - Performance to goal, and then what they can do to improve.
Customer Success - How are all current customers using the product, and what is the right and next service or product to recommend based on their usage, vertical, similar companies, etc?
Sales Enablement - What do we need to be teaching the team specifically to help them improve?
Product Development - What are the customers and prospects saying about the product or service
Marketing - Messaging resonation
Dev Team - Similar to product development.
HR - Based on performance HR could look for better candidates for interviewing. This actual use case is also relevant for every other title mentioned here.
Now, can generative AI provide all this insight to the right people in the right teams in your organization without you? Probably, above my pay grade, and my hope is, maybe, it will still take some human element to help break this down. At least for now.
And so, as I mentioned before, this is what you need to embrace if you want to understand how Generative AI will affect your Sales Operations or Revenue Operations role.
Could it get you replaced? Sure, and remember, especially in the start-up ecosystem, AI and Generative AI in sales are just getting started. Someone needs to be an expert; why not you? Embracing AI in your Ops role will allow you to have the most knowledge of how to execute a Gernative AI solution with best practices. At a minimum, you become the most sought-after skill for the next 5 years.
AI in Sales Prospecting
AI during prospecting in sales is table stakes at this point. If your company is not doing this, well, it’s time to find a new company.
Of course, your SDRs and BDRs should be using AI in prospecting.
Now, what about your AE’s? The good AE’s are already doing it. As for the “Grumpy Gus” salespeople who think prospecting is beneath them, they have nothing to complain about now.
The message is written for them.
The email is written for them.
The voicemail is written for them.
And if they don’t get on board, they can use AI to write their resignation letter, or you can use it to write the severance agreement. Yeah, don’t be surprised; I’ve seen some people do this.
AI in Sales Qualification and Discovery
So imagine this. You are going into a sales qualification or discovery call with someone you have never met. You have done the basic research of the organization, them as an individual, and if wise, perhaps who you think they report to.
Then you pull the AI information on personality traits, how they like to receive and interpret data, and how they want to make decisions.
If they prefer to read something, do you send something before the meeting?
If they prefer to hear something, do you ensure you have the right story?
If they prefer to use data and evidence to make decisions, do you use that properly?
And AI can tell you the best way to ask these questions. And better yet, exactly how to say it based on their personality.
This is what AI in Sales really means.
AI is Sales Demos
So imagine this. You had your first sales call, and now your champion has gotten you a demo with key stakeholders. A C-Level Exec, a VP or Director, a manager, and an end user will be in attendance.
Just like the interview example. You do your research, and now you have personality traits for all the attendees. You can now do the following:
Build a better presentation/ demo
Know which things may matter more to different people.
Know how each person likes to absorb information: Bullet Points, Stories, Seeing It, Hearing It, Touching It.
Now, over time, with many conversations, does your EQ improve your sales skills? Does your EQ strengthen your life skills?
Yes, there are some more structured sales training and EQ training available, which should definitely be explored. And as we say in sales training, we need more role-playing and more at-bats; using AI in sales in such a way does this, and there is no better experience than the real world.
AI in Pricing and Negotiations
Now imagine you have to deliver pricing to your champion.
Yes, research and figure out how to present for them to absorb and understand.
AND… then do your research to understand how their boss and the head of their finance department like to see, hear, and absorb information.
Now, when you deliver pricing, you can build it in such a way that could give you a leg up. In fact, if you share this knowledge with your champion and explain to them what you know, and get them to tell you if it’s correct about the other people on the buying committee, you make their job that much easier. You just helped to get them to “fall in trust” with you. They will not see you simply as a salesperson. They could now start to see you as a true ally and someone they want to do business with.
AI in Territory and Account Planning
Let’s face it territory and account planning feels old school, manual, and essentially a guessing game process. We look for facts that we want to believe are true and then justify and rationalize them to be true. When in fact, they are just guesses. Then, SURPRISE, when they are wrong executive leadership wants to get angry at us.
Now for that selling into the Enterprise space, here is what AI should be able to help with, if not now, then very soon. And for enterprise sales, I am defining this as 12-18 month sales cycles, $250,000+ deal sizes, etc.
Your company requires you to build a plan and/ or an account plan.
What if AI can help you determine which companies in your patch are most like to be looking for a solution such as yours?
What if AI can help you determine which companies most like will have the budget for a solution like yours?
What if AI can help you determine which companies are the early adopters of technology and most likely to be open to your solution?
How could you better use this information for your Sales Territory and Account Planning Strategies?
What Everyone is Getting Wrong About AI in Sales
So, as you can see, AI and, in particular, Generative AI in Sales is not really about prospecting; it’s about a whole lot more. It will touch every part of the sales cycle and sales funnel. It will touch every aspect of the organization, from marketing to IT and HR.
So here’s the big secret I mentioned at the beginning.
One of the biggest sales mistakes is the lack of sales training and coaching around Pre-Sales Preparation. Everyone claims to do this, and everyone wants to do it. And yet, 99.9% of the time, when I ask someone to show me their pre-call planning worksheet, nobody has one.
Imagine this; you just set a meeting for next week with your champion and 3 additional stakeholders. Their emails are in the calendar invite.
And then, within 15 seconds, you have an email sent to your inbox:
Subject Line: Pre-Call Prep for Meeting XXX Company.
Paragraph 1 - The Hard Data: Basic bio of each person who will be in attendance, name, title, tenure, education, geography, etc.
Paragraph 2 - The Company Culture: This is the stuff mentioned above about their internal culture, probability of needing the solution, whether they are early adopters or laggards generally, and financial health. And perhaps something around who will be the decision-makers and who will be the skeptics in the decision-making process.
Paragraph 3: The Soft Skills Data: Specifically, how they like to absorb information visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically. AND it includes the specific language and words, yes, a script that will resonate with each personality.
Paragraph 4: The Objections: I want a list of the objections I should expect overall and based on the people attending the meeting. I then want to know exactly how to address these based on the person most likely to ask them, and finally, I like the exact words and phrases. A +1 to this would be to know when, where, and how to bring these up in the conversation BEFORE the prospect brings them up.
Paragraph 4: Power Point(s): First, I want all of this also in a PowerPoint for me to easily digest and make it easier to share with my team internally. And if I need to present a PowerPoint, I want the PowerPoint created based on the personas of the people who will be in attendance, including all the notes and little stories for each slide of the presentation.
Paragraph 5: The Demo: Just like the PowerPoint I want the system to give me the outline and flow of a demo based on attendees, expected objections and where they would occur, what to say based on this, and of course, what things to probably avoid.
Oh, and one more thing
Let me explain why I love AI and Generative AI in sales. Assuming we can get that email from a system. And assuming over 6 months, I use it regularly. What happens to my Sales EQ? What happens to my life EQ? As mentioned before, I am willing to bet this will improve our sales skills and continue to make us invaluable.
And sadly, there will be one thing, the “Yeah But-ers.”
The one thing will be the people claiming they are smarter than the machine. You know the ones, they are the ones who say, “Yeah, but there was this one time when I was right, and the machine was wrong.” Those folks are going to be weeded out very quickly.
Another way to recognize the “Yeah But-ers” is simple. They are the ones who take the personality tests and say, “Oh yeah, that’s me, that’s me, they nailed me there. AND then they say, but they got all this other stuff wrong.” Please stop that silliness.
So, what do you think? Are you on board with AI in sales or will you be an ostrich?
Oh, and to all, you AI in sales companies who use this to build your product roadmap, you owe me $$$. My Venmo is rh415.