There are a million books you can read about how to sell. Some describe sales as a science, others say it is an art. I tend to think that art is something that lacks rules and relies on the insight and perspective of the artist to become beautiful. Science is an area defined by rules and data, not so dependent on the creativity of the scientist but on their adherence to the rules. So what is sales? I think it necessarily must be both.
Historically sales has been something of an art form, but technology is pulling it in the direction of science. There is a mythical quality to a good salesperson. Somehow their instincts are tuned to a channel most people cannot find and they close deals that no one thought they could. This ability appears mystical from the outside. But technology is demystifying it through big data and artificial intelligence. Technology is making everyone a closer.
These are three trends that are changing sales departments:
How do you close a deal? There are a million steps, beginning with an email or exchanging a business card and ending with a signed contract. Managing those steps requires attention to detail, relentless follow-through, and, at least until recently, instinct.
Customer relationship management (CRM) software has advanced to a point where it can be used for more than describing how your sales department is doing -- it can actively prescribe methods for improving. Based on millions of events in a sales organization, artificial intelligence can analyze methods against outcomes and make precise recommendations for improvement.
"Prescriptive sales platforms can make very specific recommendations," says Uzi Shmilovici, founder and CEO of Base CRM. "For example, it may determine that you improve the chance of converting a lead if you call 30 minutes sooner, or if you target CIOs, or if you send pitches first thing in the morning."
These kinds of insights are generated to improve conversion rates and demystify the entire sales process. Most importantly, Shmilovici explains, "it does more than describe how much you are selling, it helps you to sell more."
Pairing a sales professional with an A.I. platform augments the human ability to relate to people and persuade with a computer's capacity to take into account those invisible data indicators about which outreach methods are most effective.
Technology is beginning to blur the divide between marketing and sales. Of course marketing will always have a different function than sales, but executives are altering marketing KPIs based on tangible outcomes.
Numerous technologies now allow marketers to track engagement metrics, meaning not just who saw content, but whether they liked it, how much they liked it, and if they are promising sales leads. Andrew Raso, co-founder and director of Online Marketing Gurus, writes, "We need to measure engagement the right way because we need to understand how people are really responding to our content. It's not how many times they click 'Like' on a Facebook post. It's not how many people are being driven to a page. Engagement is about how involved people are with the content you create and promote to them."
Sales departments are beginning to track more than just closed deals by using prescriptive sales technologies, and marketing is moving to track more than just impressions through engagement metrics. Both are signs that we are moving towards more scientific methods.
Small businesses that want to scale face a challenge: How do you sell more without hiring staff that you can't afford yet? Artificial intelligence is stepping up to the plate to alleviate the need to bring on salaries before you are ready for them. Simple A.I. functions exponentially increase the reach and effectiveness of sales departments.
One significant application of this technology is through virtual communication. A.I. programs can manage your outbound sales emails and carry on fully intelligent conversations with prospects until they express interest in the product. Platforms like Conversica will then flag the conversation and forward it to a human manager for follow-up.
This kind of technology makes sales teams more effective with less. Whether your company is scaling or just trying to grow its sales, adding A.I. is an increasingly necessary way to be competitive.
These trends are changing the way that sales is done. Technology removes so much of the fog that there are fewer and fewer instances where instincts come into play. That is good news for businesses that can empower anyone, whether they are natural born salespeople or not, to be closers.