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There's not a salesperson on the planet who is satisfied with his or her sales figures--they'd all love to land more clients and increase their company's (and their personal) revenue. The problem? It's hard to know how to squeeze more out of the sales funnel. 

That could soon change. New artificial-intelligence and analytical tools are starting to answer some big sales-related questions--like precisely what to say to get someone to buy--and it won't be long before salespeople are hitting targets they never imaged they could reach.

"We'll be able to analyze what salespeople do, what patterns they use to communicate, what they spend their time doing and more," says Pavel Dmitriev, vice president of data science at Seattle-based Outreach, a software company that's using A.I. to help clients increase sales. "We want to find out what leads to success."

It's early days, but by 2025 every company will be using some sort of A.I.-enabled tools to boost sales, he says. Everything from the way people speak to potential customers to the wording of the emails they send to how weather patterns impact commerce will be measured and fed into systems that can reveal specific customer habits. Those insights will be given to sales teams to help them land more clients. 

Outreach has already created A.I. tools that can help salespeople save time. Its software knows when someone sends an email saying he or she doesn't want to be contacted, and it can automatically remove that person from any lists--but more significant A.I. applications are in the works.

For instance, by looking at industry best practices and the thousands of emails clients have already sent, the software will be able to dictate when and how a sales rep should respond to a client. "For a given prospect, we'll be able to know the best sales sequence or email template to handle a specific type of situation," Dmitriev says. "Maybe someone replies saying they don't have the budget--we'll know what to say back."

Predicting the Next Move

Martin Ford, a futurist and author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, says the holy grail of A.I. is telling people what they want before they know they want it. Companies like Google and Facebook are already trying to do that with the advertisements they feed users who come to their sites, but A.I. will take that idea to the next level. 

Privacy issues aside, someone could drive by a billboard and get presented with an ad that relates to where they've been that day. Salespeople will know, based on aggregated data and previous client interactions, what customers in New York may want to hear versus customers in London. "That data, combined with complex algorithms, will give salespeople a better sense of exactly what a customer needs at a certain point," says Ford. 

The Future Is Now

While much of this still feels sci-fi, there are some A.I.-related tools that can be used today to increase efficiency and streamline the sales process, says Jennifer Martin, founder of Zest Business Consulting, in Ojai, California. She knows of a tool, created by Clara Labs, that uses A.I. to set up meetings with clients on a salesperson's behalf. The program acts like a real person, sending emails to a potential customer with times and dates when the sales rep is available.

Another tool she's familiar with, Chorus.Ai, automatically records, transcribes, and stores conversations. It can then identify how that salesperson performed--it can tell if there was a point during the call when the sale went sour or when it moved forward--and help that rep replicate what worked or avoid what didn't. "This is the first step--using tools to make our sales teams more efficient and effective," she says. "Over time, though, a lot more will get automated." 

Companies may have to be patient for the A.I. revolution to fully arrive, but A.I. will drive sales in a much bigger way over the next few years. A.I. software will not only look at patterns and data of what companies are doing today, but also incorporate behavioral science and insights from a wide array of sources, including satellite imagery and demographic data, to help people sell more, says Dmitriev.

Sales today, he says, is like going to war with no armor, while sales in the future will be done with wide variety of weapons and tools. "We're going to battle now with empty hands; we have just our mental toughness," he says. "Soon we'll have all sorts of weapons that will help us save time and be more successful. Sales is going to become much easier to do."



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