Achieving Sales Mastery with AI

Quota attainment went from 63% in 2012 to 53.8% in 2018 – that’s nearly a 15% drop.

Today, we constantly hear that “sales are harder than ever before”. The question is – is this just a perception or reality?

To understand how much sales have changed and how managers can improve their teams’s sales performance, we spoke with globally recognized sales expert Jim Dickie, founder of Sales Mastery.

Research shows that this is in fact a reality. Jim explains that there have been a number of changes, especially since coming out of the great recession.

“Research conducted on 18 different operational metrics such as the ability to carry out key account planning, market segmentation, needs analysis, etc., shows that from these metrics, 17 out of 18 are in fact down. Clearly, sales is getting harder.”

Jim tells us what is already being done with AI has either not worked or not reached its full potential, but at the same time there are still a great number of new capabilities out there that have never existed. Although AI has been out there for a long time, the attempts often failed in the past. It was not until recently that things began to come together successfully.

Is AI being used effectively?

A case study for AI in sales gathered data from 420 companies showed that one third had implemented AI, another third were evaluating its use and the last third had no sort of interest in using AI at all.

The thing about this representation of data is that it does not reflect the true figures of the marketplace for AI. In reality, these numbers are in the low single digits.

Jim explains that he wanted to look deeper into these three different constituencies as to what has encouraged them (or hasn’t) to use AI.

“If you’re not looking at AI, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”

With CSO Insights, Jim worked on gathering data to understand what challenges sales teams are facing, why these problems exist and more importantly what to do about it. It begins by looking at the tasks each sales team do to find, win and keep business. This is done by gathering data annually from about 1000 businesses, where they are asked to rate their ability to do key account planning, need analysis, etc., to configure their solution. This data quoted is across the salesforce.

One thing is that 80% of sales people think that they are above average, but often are not. With AI, we can find and pinpoint what is and isn’t working among sales teams and bring that number down.

Continually rediscovering the sales process

People sometimes find themselves staying in their comfort zone for sales processes. When it comes to using AI, it is important that teams continuously adapt to find out what works and do more of it.

Jim emphasizes how important it is to stay on top of sales processes and constantly be ready to adapt to change. For instance, a UK bank, felt that they had a great sales process in place as part of the EU. Suddenly came Brexit, meaning no one wanted to do business because of the potential for the UK to leave the EU, despite the bank being UK-based. As a result, people are moving their banking relationships over to another continent. Then, Theresa May announced that if people are willing to accept her Brexit plan she would be willing to put up another referendum. If the vote happens again, but this time the outcome is a decision to stay, the entire salesforce would need to be re-trained because everything they were told about how to sell in a non-EU country would become useless.

It is essentially about constantly being able analyze and gauge where there are opportunities to achieve gain or remove pain in the process based on changes in the economy, the competitive landscape, and the political environment.

Continuous improvement

We live in a frail ecosystem. Small changes can have large ripple effects. AI is huge today and people are constantly speaking on it.

“Using AI can be a small change but has the ability to greatly increase productivity.”

With sales, the aim is to continually improve processes to achieve increases in productivity. It can sometimes take a while to sink in if what is being explained is too abstract. Therefore, it is necessary to be specific on problem areas – for example, to start by tackling five main problems of sales processes rather than 50.

More people need to think strategically and look at the benefits of AI. Some financial services have the luxury of saying what is good for them right now because they have been working on their sales enablement for the past 9 months and thinking strategically. However, what they need to be looking at is what they should look like in a years time.

About Jim Dickie

Jim began his career more than 30 years ago with IBM and Sterling Software before launching two successful software companies. His client work spans multiple industries and includes world-renowned companies: 3M, ADP, GE Capital, Cisco Systems, Corning, Fairchild Semiconductor, Harte Hanks, Federal Express, IBM, Accenture, VISA, HP, Barclays, Rockwell and Intel. He’s a contributing editor for CRM Magazine, CustomerThink and, as well as a contributing author for the Harvard Business Review.
Jim is the author of The Chief Sales Officers Guide to CRM and Insights into High Tech Sales and Marketing, and he co-authored The Sales and Marketing Excellence Challenge and The Information Technology Challenge. He’s also served as an advisor to Baylor University’s Center for Professional Selling and as a lecturer at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

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