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No matter how large Steve Chong's company gets, it will always be tough to compete against the big guys. Chong, chief operating officer of Boston-based Projector PSA, a professional services software company with only 29 employees, and his lean team go up against the likes of FinancialForce and Oracle's NetSuite, both of which have a lot more money to spend on marketing. That means every sale counts.
Earlier this year, the company started thinking of how it could increase sales and wondered if artificial intelligence might give it an edge. It started testing a program that can tell exactly how the clients who became sales-qualified leads--those who fill out a form asking for more information--navigated its website. That journey, he found, was similar for all customers. He then mapped out where people who didn't become leads went on the website.
Using a program called Orange, he can tell how close users come to filling out that form. He then looks at the IP address of that user, puts that number to a company name, and calls the business, hoping it will consider testing his program. It's been only a few months, but so far he's been able to get one of the four people he's tracked and contacted to sit for a meeting. "It's still a small sample size, but the potential magnitude of the leads that can come through is phenomenal," he says.
It's still early days, but Chong is convinced that A.I. will have a major impact on the sales cycle. How so? Here are three ways.
- It will speed up the sales cycle. Sales is often a waiting game--waiting for people to make up their minds, return phone calls, and express interest in a product in the first place. A.I., though, could dramatically speed up the sales cycle, as companies will be able to better identify who's truly interested in a product, says Mark Hunter, a sales expert and author of High-Profit Prospecting.
By combining market research and proprietary client data, companies will know if they're wasting their time by talking to one possible customer over another. That, in turn, will help sales teams make better use of their time. "A.I. will allow companies to increase the time they spend with a customer because they'll have a better understanding of who they need to be talking to and what they need to be saying," he says.
- It will help companies provide better service. Prospective clients don't always want to talk to a sales person directly, though they may have questions they'd like answered. Enter chatbots, automated sales or customer service reps that can, using A.I., answer client questions and learn better responses over time. While some clients are chatbot-averse, others have no problem talking to one. "You need to have different communication tools if you want to reach your entire customer base," says Hunter.
A.I. is helping improve service in other ways, too. Blue Canoe, a Seattle-based startup, uses Alexa-like software to help non-native English speakers recite sales scripts without an accent. "It's Alexa meets a brain scientist meets an English language instructor," says Jacob Colker, a managing director at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Customers respond better to people who speak conventional English, he says, which results in higher sales. Conversion rates for Blue Canoe, which is part of the Allen Institute's incubator program, jumped by 60 percent after reps started using the software.
- It will help companies find more clients. As Chong is discovering, A.I. can help companies find new customers. Now, with his various tools, he can see who may be interested in his offerings, even if they don't ask for more information. If he can learn what these anonymous visitors are looking at on his site, and then identify them, his sales could soar. "If we can covert a fraction of that into actual leads, that will be enormous," he says.
Other companies, like Scalex.ai, are helping sales teams send personalized messages to prospective clients. The program aggregates information about a prospect from a variety of sources and then creates a personalized email in seconds. The more emails that can be sent, the more sales a company could make. "We can aggregate data much faster," says Hunter about A.I. "And we can use that data to have more specific sales processes with different customer types."
While Chong is only at the start of his A.I. journey, he expects to incorporate more tools in the future, especially as the technology matures. "Look at A.I. five years go compared with today and it's a world of difference," he says. "I can only imagine what it will be like five years from now."
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