Artificial intelligence used to be thought of as a futuristic technology from sci-fi novels and space movies. Luckily, thanks to the relentless pace at which our modern technology develops, true artificial intelligence is looking more and more like it might become a reality, and it has the potential to affect all areas of our lives.

One of the big benefits of AI is that it can process huge amounts of data without batting an eyelid, much more quickly and effectively than any human being could ever hope to. AI software can also make rudimentary decisions based upon that data, and it can teach itself to draw new conclusions from it through the process that we call machine learning.

This process will allow us to achieve insights that we would never have thought possible, and a partnership between man and machine could well improve everything from traffic systems to healthcare, marketing and more.

And then there's sales.

AI and Sales: A Match Made in Heaven?

Sales teams love data, and AI is the perfect tool to help them to make sense of it. In fact, artificial intelligence is starting to be built straight into CRMs and marketing automation systems, and the funny thing is that people won't necessarily need to know it uses AI to reap the rewards.

Making a sale is all about connecting with a customer on a personal level, and AI can help to power those personal connections by providing sales teams with the information they need to strike up a conversation. It can make predictions based on how similar leads have acted and by tapping into big data, and a lot of the power of machine learning comes from the fact that it gets better and better over time.

This will simultaneously make sales teams much more effective. Instead of relying on a scattergun approach, AI software could identify the prospects that are most likely to buy and figure out what kind of message they're most likely to relate to. They could spend half as much time on the phone and still close twice as many sales.

Rethinking Shopping

AI could also influence real-world shopping situations by pushing in-store purchases by serving up ads that relate specifically to buyers in the moment of purchase. Meanwhile, online shopping could witness a similar change thanks to conversational interfaces and virtual assistants, which can make the online shopping experience feel more natural and even lead to more conversions.

It's important to remember, though, that AI isn't coming to take the jobs of traditional salespeople. Whether you work in B2C marketing on the shop floor or whether you work in B2B marketing in a busy call center, you'll be able to harness the power of AI to streamline your conversations - much like how we use sales scripts today, except that the script will be customized for each customer thanks to a combination of AI and big data.

In fact, the true value of using AI as part of a sales program is the fact that man and machine in partnership are exponentially more powerful than either of them together. Humans need AI to help to process data in real-time, but AI needs humans to then make educated decisions based upon the data that they're provided with. Perhaps one day, AI will advance enough so that it can make those decisions on our behalf - but at the moment, the closest we've come to that is AI being used to place bids and adjust programmatic advertising programs.

Parsing Unstructured Data

One of the big problems that marketers face is the challenge of making sense of unstructured data. By unstructured data, we mean things like reactions to a social media update or feedback that people leave on Amazon reviews. At the moment, if we want to standardize this information and add it to a customer's record, it's a laborious, time consuming process that's prone to human error, but artificial intelligence could offer us a way to parse and process this data with a minimal amount of human supervision.

The sales processes that we're used to are going to change, and that change is going to come whether we like it or not. For example, instead of leads coming in and being assigned to the nearest rep based on geography, sales software could identify which rep is most likely to close a sale. Location will play a part, of course, but so will a whole range of other factors like their areas of expertise and how salespeople have performed with similar leads. It may even turn out that the best person to close the sale isn't a salesperson but is actually someone from the technical team who can answer the questions that the lead wants to ask.

And the beauty of all of this is that it's inherently measurable. In fact, the measurements that you take will be what the AI software will analyze to arrive at its decisions, and you're likely to find that the more you measure something, the more that very measurement improves as AI continues to find ways to streamline processes and optimize your sales team.

Tomorrow's Technology Today

All of this might sound futuristic, as though it's something from a sci-fi novel, but the truth is that much of the power of AI is ready for us to harness right now, today. Modern technologies that tap into artificial intelligence include Salesforce Einstein, IBM Watson Commerce, Ceralytics and Nuance, and each of them taps into a different area of AI-based sales and marketing.

Meanwhile, the big players like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are all increasingly using artificial intelligence, whether that's by using it to power their search results or whether that's by creating AI voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. In fact, the sales decisions of the future could well be made while interacting with a voice assistant. Just imagine how beneficial it would be to be the first result when someone says, "Alexa, buy me some soda."

The future of AI-based sales is looking bright, then, and while there's a long way to go until AI and sales is as common a combination as digital and marketing, it's the direction that we're heading in. And in the meantime, you can get a head start by becoming an early adopter. Good luck.