B2B Selling: AI Improves Sales Reps’ Efficiency, Performance in a Complex Environment

March 22, 2018

What are your biggest challenges in B2B selling? For many sales managers, making sure all the reps on their team sell efficiently to the most relevant customers and effectively pitch the right products at the right price is a significant challenge. Regardless of the training, tools, tips, and tricks that a sales team receives, there will always be top performers who seem to have a natural ability and other performers who, despite their best efforts, don’t seem to break through to the top of the pack.

In the human population, most people are right-handed and the world is designed to accommodate them. Left-handed people (such as myself) must, therefore, adapt as much as they can to the right-minded world around them. While most of us succeed with various level of proficiency, the reality is some left-handers can’t integrate as well as others. Many studies have been done on this topic which helps us to understand the challenges of human adaptation in general, thanks to those who were the least-adapted to the existing system. As a result, various techniques have been created to bring the least-adapted to a much higher level of performance, and surprisingly these techniques can help the so-called “naturally adapted” folks to improve their performance as well.

“Natural Ability” in Sales Organizations

In the B2B sales world, we often see significant turnover of 15 percent or more among sales staff which is ultimately related to their sales performance. At their exit interviews, salespeople may say they are leaving because they feel it’s “too difficult,” or they can’t achieve their financial objectives or feel “it’s not for me.” Perhaps management has made the tough decision to terminate a team member after investing significant effort, time and energy into that person but without a change in performance. In many businesses, this is simply accepted as the way things are. But could there be something else going on? Could these folks be the left-handers of the sales organization?

By contrast, some salespeople manage to sell “easily.” There are various books and literature about the top performers and when they are asked what they do to achieve this level of success, they usually can’t explain clearly why it happens. It just feels natural; like being right-handed in a right-handed world but never noticing it. I’ll take a shortcut: Each of these top performers has somehow found their personal way of working — perhaps very differently from other top performers — but each has found a special method or approach that works for them. That’s all well and good, but top performers usually represent less than 20 percent of the sales population in each company. The question is: what can we do for the other 80 percent, those who haven’t found their way yet and who are merely good (but not great), or average, and even for the low performers?

Complexity Compounds Inefficiency, Low Performance

Have you noticed that the least-performing sales staff are the first to voice their challenges? Too much bureaucracy, too many unsuccessful prospecting calls and emails, not enough time to call all customers in their portfolio, not sure what product to pitch (so the familiar/commoditized ones come first), or they have an unbalanced portfolio compared to other salespeople. These elements are often seen as excuses by sales management, but the reality is they are right! Every sales portfolio is unique, knowing what product to pitch is daunting when there are 10,000 products in the catalog. (Who has time to analyze this? No one.) Customer potential figures aren’t necessarily accurate.

Salespeople respond predictably, but not wisely, in the face of this dilemma. Instead of bombarding customers randomly with emails and phone calls, hoping that a fraction of them will magically connect with the customers’ needs, they should be “smart” and call the most relevant customers, talk about the product they are likely to purchase and offer a fair price. Indeed, this is exactly what salespeople want to do and for better or worse, they are trying to do it: make sure they know what customer to call, what product to pitch and what price to offer... and act on it!

That is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) can improve efficiency and performance for all salespeople – not just the top 20 percent. With predictive analytics, salespeople can now have targeted guidance based on the best opportunities in their individual sales portfolio. AI helps sales reps know what customer to call, what product to pitch and what price to offer. In our experience, some B2B companies start with the pricing question while others start with the identification of cross-sell products or signs of customer defection. More and more, companies are combining these insights for maximum effect. The results in terms of sales team performance are strong. We have seen situations where newcomers in a sales organization performed in the top 20 percent as they applied the insights and guidance generated by the AI engines.

To me, that’s the democratizing effect that AI can have on a sales organization, to bypass the question of natural ability (or overcoming the left-hander challenge) and simply delivering the critical information that sales reps need to improve their efficiency, and ultimately performance.

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