The idea of artificial intelligence can be a bit scary. It may conjure up thoughts of science fiction stories, robots and futuristic gadgets. But the future is here, and artificial intelligence is already being used by many sales organizations - and making a huge impact.

Artificial intelligence is the next great technological revolution, and sales professionals shouldn't hide from it; they must embrace it.

In an interview with Reply, Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter says, "Just as the telephone a century ago changed business, and the personal computer and the internet have done so more recently, we don't need to think AI is the end all."

It's not a matter of whether or not artificial intelligence will change the future of sales, but how and to what extent it will change it. Here are six ways artificial intelligence will impact sales.

1. Data over intuition

All sales professionals have some idea of what their clients and prospects are interested in. You use your experience and your intuition to decide which prospects to reach out to, what products to recommend and which channels to use for communication.

But the problem with this is that it's not based on cold, hard facts. Your intuition may be good, but it won't be 100% right all the time. That's where artificial intelligence comes in. AI allows sales professionals to base their decisions on data. And by focusing on data, your decisions and choices will be more accurate.

With artificial intelligence, you can target the right customers based on an analysis of their profile and data. You won't just be guessing whether or not a customer is right for your product; you'll know.

2. A clearer picture of prospects

Not only will you be able to better target your customers with AI, but you'll also be able to better understand them. Artificial intelligence can give you a wealth of information about your prospects and what they're interested in.

And that data leads to better results for you and your team. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study found that companies that use artificial intelligence in sales said they increased leads by 50%.

The reason is because artificial intelligence goes deeper than just surface-level data. "Predictive analysis in AI is going beyond the 'what' in data and delves into the "why," says Alex Hillsberg of FinancesOnline in an article for Sales Hacker.

3. Focus on analytics skills

Artificial intelligence is affecting more than just sales operations. It's also affecting sales professionals themselves. With the evolution of technology, the role of sales professionals will evolve too.

Forrester caused a stir in 2015 when it estimated that 1 million B2B sales jobs would be eliminated by 2020. But AI isn't a replacement for sales professionals. If anything, it's an enhancement.

Peter Schwartz of Salesforce writes, "I'd be more worried about being replaced by another salesperson who is empowered by intelligence than by a machine."

Artificial intelligence is helping sales professionals do their jobs better, but the ones who will have the most success are the ones who understand analytics and data science. "AI is continuously developing and being refined. As it develops, having access to digital media and coding skills will be a requirement," B2B technology and marketing writer Liz Alton writes at Sales and Marketing Daily Advisor.

4. More time for relationship building

A McKinsey Global Institute study found that 40% of time spent on sales work activities can be automated. Think about that for a second. 40%. That means artificial intelligence could free up almost half of a sales professional's time.

The time sales professionals spend on tasks like prospecting, finding qualified leads, managing leads, processing transactions and other mundane tasks will now be spent focusing on relationships. After all, a machine can't replace the human aspect of sales. Sales professionals can put more time, energy and resources into building relationships with key clients - nurturing their most profitable customers.

In an interview with Reply, Mike Restivo of Bullhorn said, "If they can embrace artificial intelligence and integrate it seamlessly into their daily operations, they'll gain an unprecedented competitive advantage and see dramatic improvements in customer engagement."

5. Shorter sales cycle

With more information on prospects, sales professionals can expect the sales process to go a lot smoother in the future. Lead generation and qualifying will be automated, which will give sales professionals a head start. You'll no longer need to start from scratch. Artificial intelligence will give you the boost you need to push the prospect through the funnel faster.

Plus, with less time spent on administrative tasks and many tasks automated, sales professionals are free to focus more on closing. They'll be better able to nurture a lead and get them closer to closing faster.

6. Faster customer service

We're already seeing the impact of artificial intelligence in customer service. Many companies now employ chatbots as a means to answer basic questions from customers. Using chatbots means sales and customer service professionals don't have to waste time on these simple questions and are free to help other customers with larger issues. This means businesses can cut customer service costs and save money in the long run.

Plus, customers receive responses faster, which means they are happier and and issues are dealt with before they blow up. Customers are more satisfied and feel more positively toward your business - and more likely to do business with you again.

What do you think about artificial intelligence? Are you scared or excited about its impact on sales? Share your thoughts in the comments below: