AI in Sales: A Deep Dive for the Modern Sales Professional

Sales Meeting. Source: UAB.
Sales Meeting. Source: UAB.

The sales landscape is undergoing a transformation driven by artificial intelligence (AI). While the adoption of AI is increasing among sales teams, academic research often lags behind practical applications.

A new study led by Professor Colleen McClure, Ph.D., from the UAB Collat School of Business (USA), and her colleagues from Old Dominion University and Univ. Lille (France) aims to clarify what AI is, the role of AI in sales, and its implications for multiple stakeholders in the sales organization: salespeople, sales managers, organizations, and customers.

What is AI and how does it influence sales?

Artificial Intelligence refers to the use of intelligent systems that can simulate human cognitive abilities. In sales, AI takes the form of software tools powered by algorithms that analyze large amounts of data. These tools automate tasks, generate insights, and personalize interactions, ultimately increasing sales effectiveness.

McClure, who teaches analytics and industrial distribution courses at UAB, and her colleagues provide insights into how AI tools have permeated the sales function, emphasizing that “AI technologies are helping to augment every phase of the sales process, especially regarding complex B2B sales processes.” With AI expected to handle 60% of sales tasks by 2028 (a significant increase from 45% in 2023), the sales field is on the brink of a significant transformation.

The AI Sales Ecosystem: Impact on Multiple Stakeholders

  • Salespeople: AI frees up time for high-value activities, such as closing deals, by automating repetitive tasks like data entry and lead qualification. Sales representatives can also leverage AI for real-time advice and personalized recommendations during calls. As the researchers note, “sales reps will focus less on activities like prospecting and cold calling, thanks to AI’s ability to analyze data and predict customer behavior with high accuracy.”
  • Sales Managers: AI enables managers to optimize team performance through data-driven insights. They can identify sales training opportunities, predict potential roadblocks, and allocate resources more efficiently. Managers can use AI tools to receive real-time feedback and guidance, making the coaching process more data-based and personalized.
  • Organizations: Companies benefit from AI-driven sales through increased revenue, higher customer satisfaction, and a more efficient sales process. AI can also help organizations identify new market opportunities and optimize pricing strategies.
  • Customers: Customers experience a more personalized buying process with AI. AI chatbots can answer questions 24/7, while recommendation engines suggest relevant products or services.
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Beyond Expectations: Exploring Challenges and Opportunities

The authors conducted interviews with sales professionals to gain real-world insights into AI adoption. Here’s what they found:

  • Challenges: The paper also addresses the challenges of AI integration, such as the need for ongoing training and adaptation to new technologies, and risks associated with data accuracy and privacy concerns. “As AI affects various stakeholders, a comprehensive view of the challenges and opportunities AI poses for the sales function is necessary,” the authors argue.
  • Opportunities: The study calls for more research on how AI technologies can further revolutionize sales strategies and customer management. It highlights the importance of exploring the long-term effects of AI on customer relationships and the changing needs of sales organizations.

The researchers’ exploration of practical AI applications in sales showcases several tools currently in use. For example, AI applications like Gong and Salesforce.com are cited for their ability to enhance lead scoring and customer relationship management, respectively. These tools exemplify how AI can optimize operations and foster more meaningful interactions with customers.

Conclusion

The researchers emphasize that “the pace at which AI is evolving requires continuous research to keep up with its advancements and better understand its broad implications in different sales sectors.” They advocate for a balanced view that recognizes AI’s potential to transform sales while acknowledging the need for strategic oversight to manage its integration effectively.

The article concludes by outlining key areas for future research. These include exploring the ethical implications of AI in sales, investigating its impact on B2B (business-to-business) versus B2C (business-to-consumer) sales, and understanding customer perceptions of AI-driven interactions.

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By understanding the current state and future potential of AI in sales, all stakeholders can navigate this transformational era and unlock its full potential.

Contact
Colleen E. McClure
Collat School of Business, The University of Alabama
710 13th St. South, Birmingham, AL35233, USA
Email: cemcclur@uab.edu

Reference
McClure, C. E., Epler, R. T., Schmitt, L., & Rangarajan, D. (2024). AI in sales: Laying the foundations for future research. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/08853134.2024.2329905