How Generative AI Will Change Sales

Last month, Microsoft fired a powerful salvo by launching Viva Sales, an application with embedded generative AI technology designed to help salespeople and sales managers draft tailored customer emails, get insights about customers and prospects, and generate recommendations and reminders. A few weeks later, Salesforce (the company) followed by launching Einstein GPT.
Sales, with its unstructured, highly variable, people-driven approach, has been a laggard behind functions such as finance, logistics, and marketing when it comes to utilizing digital technologies. But now, sales is primed to quickly become a leading adopter of generative AI — the form of artificial intelligence used by OpenAI (the company behind ChatGPT) and its competitors. AI-powered systems are on the way to becoming every salesperson’s (and every sales manager’s) indispensable digital assistant.
Sales is well-suited to the capabilities of generative AI models. Selling is interaction and transaction intensive, producing large volumes of data, including text from email chains, audio of phone conversations, and video of personal interactions. These are exactly the types of unstructured data the models are designed to work with. The creative and organic nature of selling creates immense opportunities for generative AI to interpret, learn, link, and customize.
But to realize the true potential, there are hurdles and challenges to overcome. Generative AI must be non-intrusively embedded into sales processes and operations so sales teams can naturally integrate the capabilities into their workflow. Generative AI sometimes draws wrong, biased, or inconsistent conclusions. Although the publicly accessible models are valuable (hundreds of millions of users like us have already used ChatGPT to query the knowledge base on practically every topic), the true power for sales teams comes when models are customized and fine-tuned on company-specific data and contexts. This can be expensive and requires scarce expertise, including people with significant knowledge of AI and sales. So how can sales organizations harvest the value without wasting energy on heading down unproductive pathways?
What’s Possible
Before addressing the how, consider what generative AI can do for sales organizations.
Reversing administrative creep. Almost every sales organization we touch is cursed with the gradual increase of administrative work over time. As selling complexity grows, so does the need for documentation, approvals, and compliance reporting. Unwittingly, the increasing use of sales technology is also a large factor. New technologies often lead to more training, more data entry, and more reports to peruse. Generative AI can reverse administrative creep, for example, by helping salespeople write emails, respond to proposal requests, organize notes, and automatically update CRM data.
Enhancing salespeople’s customer interactions. The use of AI in sales has been progressing of late. We have helped many companies deploy AI-powered systems that recommend personalized content and product offers, along with the best channel for salespeople to use to connect with customers. Recommendations are based on data about the preferences and behaviors of the customer and similar customers, as well as past interactions with the customer. Salespeople accept or reject the recommendations and can rate their quality to improve the algorithms.
By layering on generative AI, the models can produce better recommendations. One example would be considering customer sentiments gleaned from the nuances of language and subtle signals of customer interest or distrust — in emails, conversations with salespeople, posts on social media sites, and more. Further, the salesperson can collaborate with the system to improve recommendations in real-time. For example, after receiving a suggestion to approach a customer with a new offering, the salesperson can dig deeper — both vertically into the customer’s own needs and horizontally to find other customers who might benefit from the same offering. An interactive, conversational user interface makes the application easy to use. In a truly collaborative seller-buyer environment, even the buyer can be part of the dialog.

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