Artificial Intelligence (AI) is all the rage in sales right now. But in my conversations with sales leaders, I’ve learned that AI is rarely delivering what it promises to sales organizations operating in a complex b2b environment.
As I see it, this is based in part on a misunderstanding created by the words we use to talk about it. We call it “artificial” intelligence because it’s not organic–i.e., it’s intelligence that is “created” by machine learning, which was developed by humans.
And we call it “intelligence” because it mimics human intelligence in its ability to learn things and then apply what it learns to new situations.
But what if we shifted our perspective and instead of focusing on where AI comes from, we talk about how we use it in our organizations.
I would like to suggest that, at least for complex b2b environments, we begin thinking in terms of “augmented intelligence” when we think of AI, instead of “artificial intelligence.”
When we talk about augmented intelligence, we can move away from seeking to replace human intelligence, but rather to augment it by automating some routine processes and surfacing insights and recommendations that make decisions easier, faster, and more effective.
In transactional sales, AI as in artificial intelligence may be a valuable way of thinking about technology. AI chatbots that guide buyers without involving human salespeople, AI platforms that choose when and how and to whom to make special offers during the buying process, AI systems that determine which suggestions will be made based on a buyer’s history. These are all automated, fully “artificial intelligence” processes that can be effective tools in a transactional environment.
But in the complex b2b world, where human interaction is primary and decisions are made as part of a process and often within a buying committee, the promise of sales automation via AI is misguided. Technology is not now, and probably won’t be anytime soon, capable of navigating all the complexity of a significant b2b purchase.
There is too much that is still uniquely human in the process. Cognitive bias, limiting beliefs, company politics, emotion, the fact that we’re social animals and that trust is key. These are only a small sampling of uniquely human factors that AI has not yet learned to account for.
In addition, in a complex b2b transaction, it’s impossible for all of the relevant information for decision-making to be captured by the “big data” engines that AI uses. For instance, you may record that you had dinner with a client, but if you record every detail of the conversation, every gesture, every element of body language that indicated how people were feeling–you would spend all day entering data instead of focusing on the sale. And you still wouldn’t get it all in, because much of this information is processed in our brains below the level of consciousness.
On the other hand, our brains track all of this information, and we use it in processing and making decisions, even when we’re not conscious of it.
For these reasons and many more–many of which even science hasn’t figured out yet–AI is just not ready to make major decisions. And it probably won’t be for a very long time.
What this means for sales is that if you’re chasing the elusive Artificial Intelligence solution that will automate decision-making, you’re chasing the wrong thing.
Instead, we should be focusing on augmented intelligence–technologies that make our decisions easier by providing us with AI-processed insights and suggestions.
To increase the effectiveness of your technology, consider these four keys when choosing and implementing augmented intelligence solutions.
One of the biggest reasons for failed technology implementations is lack of user adoption. This is very often rooted in the fact that most technologies are a pain to set up and use.
Before you implement AI in your organization, make sure it’s easy to use and that it will actually do what you need it to do without major human investment. It should be built in or integrate seamlessly with the technologies you’re already using, and enhance each salesperson’s day, not detract from it.
It seems like this should go without saying, but if your technology, AI or otherwise, isn’t improving the performance of your sales team, what is the point of it? A couple examples of how AI can help enhance sales performance:
Here is a key difference between AI (artificial intelligence) and AI (augmented intelligence). Artificial intelligence takes over the role of the salesperson and makes all the decisions, often to the detriment of the customer. For instance, this is why interacting with a chatbot can be frustrating. If there’s anything unique about your situation, the chatbot may be completely incapable of understanding what you need, and may make frustrating decisions about how to respond to you.
AI as in augmented intelligence, however, does the opposite. It surfaces insights and recommendations to the salesperson, but makes it easy for the human decision-maker to actually make the decisions. For instance, an augmented intelligence content engine might suggest a particular piece of collateral for the salesperson to use, but it won’t automatically deliver that content to the customer.
This can be really important in a world where people’s inboxes are overflowing and stress levels are high. The salesperson knows the customer in a way a machine can’t, and can make intelligent decisions about whether the customer will actually appreciate that content or, instead, experience it as one more piece of junk to be disposed of.
One of the strengths of augmented intelligence is its ability to access and sort information across a large pool of data, such as everything produced by your entire sales force, and surface unique insights based on that large pool of information.
Because of this, it is uniquely suited to help your team continually improve performance based on these insights. Choose technologies that already have built-in the ability to execute on insights in a way that enables continual improvement across your teams.
At Membrain, we’ve incorporated many elements of augmented intelligence into our platform. It guides salespeople through the sales process so they don’t have to use brain power on remembering or thinking about “what’s next,” while allowing them the flexibility to be creative with conversations and approaches. It delivers content suggestions inside our content hub, based on context, for salespeople to easily grab and use.
And much more. Schedule a demo today and I’ll show you.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn