The Future of AI in Sales: What Changed and What’s Next
I wrote this article for the first time in 2017. Since then, there have been tons of changes in the AI space mainly because of ChatGPT and all that stuff connected with generative AI. But does the future of AI in sales look that different? Let’s see.
Salespeople are flooded with AI tools. They’re supposed to “automate tasks,” “personalize interactions,” “streamline processes” and so on. Yes, some tools are helpful. But you can’t do everything on autopilot. Because customers are picky and when they sniff some kind of bullshit, they won’t buy from you.
Another thing is, open LinkedIn and you’ll be flooded with AI topics. You’ll see a shit ton of content about “prompt-writing strategies that win more deals” or “you’re using ChatGPT in your sales process the wrong way.” Again, your best friend is your critical thinking. Choose what makes sense and drop what’s only an empty promise. If it looks too good to be true–you know what to do.
Having said that, it’s not that at Close we’re not open to leveraging new tech. Quite the opposite—it’s just that we’re aware that there is a thin line between outsourcing something to an AI-based tool and embracing human touch that brings creativity, nuance, and empathy.
Because of that, I’ll share my thoughts on the two sides of AI in sales—you’ll see where it shines and where it, well, still sucks.
What AI Is Good for When Talking about a Sales Game
Let’s be honest—since 2017 a lot has changed. It means AI chatbots aren’t as cringy as they were before and there are many ways you can use generative AI to improve some of your sales processes. Let’s see the nice stuff about AI first and how it can help you boost your sales operations.
1. Tackling Simple Yet Boring Tasks
If there is AI that can rephrase, summarize and write you a function in Google Sheets, why not use that potential? Especially since repetitive tasks are no fun at all. In this case, feel free to outsource data entry, CRM field updates, or contract spell checks to a robot.
Nick Persico, Director of Sales and Marketing at Close, adds:
“Today, generative AI platforms like OpenAI and Bard are the equivalent to having your very own assistant that is equivalent to a senior in high school that can speed read.
They will continue to get smarter and understand more of your prompts over time.
But in the meantime, you should consider them a worthy copilot assisting you on all of your adventures… so just give them low-stakes tasks like:
- Summarizing conversations
- Taking down action items
- Finding things in a customer database”
And you’ll be fine. Those tasks don’t need any personal touch or empathy after all. But be sure to check the output so it’s not some kind of B.S.
2. Handling Lead Scoring
Lead scoring can be that sort of task that’s easily outsourced to AI. It’s because AI can handle a big dataset that needs to assign numerical value or a score to leads based on many factors.
AI can take into account lead characteristics, behavior, previous engagement with a company, or demographic data. Based on this, it can assess whether it’s a hot lead or whether chances for closing the deal are rather low.
Yet again, I wouldn’t say you should blindly follow all the pieces of advice AI gives you. It can be limited in many ways, or get an edge case that needs your revision. Keep that in mind and you won’t miss out on a lead that got a poor score but is actually very good.
3. Getting Insights from Sales Data
AI can actually help you leverage sales data quite fast. It’s because it can analyze chunks of your customer data, market trends, or customer behavior data. Based on that, you can get pretty good forecasts of your sales pipeline that can help you, for example, adjust the team's goals.
Actually, we have a pretty interesting insight about data and the way you can use AI from our Partnerships Manager at Close, James Urie: “I chatted with a Microsoft Startup company about the platform they’re building. The tool uses AI to give sales and marketing teams real-time data (because ChatGPT is shit at real-time data) to leverage their ICP and who they should be prospecting or marketing to. They’re making it easy for the sales team to leverage this data without being a total prompt genius.
“That being said, I think the sales teams that leverage AI in the smartest, most efficient way will win more often. So a sales rep should become an AI sales tool master to gain a competitive edge. Embrace AI, don't fear it. Find the AI sales tools that amplify your team's results.”
What AI Sucks at (and What You Should do Instead)
Of course, there is also the other side of this AI coin. See what you shouldn’t outsource to AI.
1. Prospecting in Sales
You should never outsource this to robots. It’s especially true when you’re just getting started—you need to be learning how to identify your customer and find who your ideal customer is.
Once you have a process in place, you can automate prospecting to a certain degree. But never fully outsource or fully automate, or outsource forever.
The reason is simple—the market for your product is constantly changing. Customers evolve. Their needs shift. New problems unfold. It’s difficult to adapt to these changes when all of your processes are controlled by robots.
Even if you’re currently using automation, explore new tools, platforms, and strategies every two or three months to ensure that you’re still prospecting effectively. During this re-evaluation, carve out time to prospect manually, so that you don’t lose touch with changes in the market and your customers.
2. Watching Your Customer Behavior and Bonding with Them
The issue with all the AI tools or generative AI is that they’re based on specific datasets. They don’t include proprietary data that only you own. And because of this, AI won’t tell you who your customers really are, what they do, what patterns they share, and what’s going on in their heads.
Only you can get to this data by talking to them or if you want to see their behavior, observing them in the wild (i.e., when they interact with your product). Where do they look? What do they click on? What confuses them? What features are most exciting? What are their pain points? You won’t get all that stuff from AI, ever.
And there is another great addition to having a lot of interactions with your customers—you’re bonding with them. Humans buy from humans!
Thus, building relationships with your customers and keeping them in good shape is what drives retention and loyalty. So, visit them in their offices, have conversations, and organize meetups. No AI will do it for you.
Our Partnership Manager, James adds to that: “ChatGPT cannot replace emotional intelligence, influencing people and getting people to feel something. The most valued skill in the world when AI reaches its peak will be emotional intelligence, the ability to influence people to feel a strong emotion.”
3. Training and Consulting Your Customers
Training your customers is one of those things that need a personal touch. You should be training them and showing them how to use the product to succeed.
Training also does one more important thing—it opens your eyes to what they’re really struggling with. This gives you a great base for what features to create, what services to offer, and how to create more value for your customers.
Of course, there are many AI tools these days that will let you create “smart” tutorials for your customers or automate training sessions. But it never really gets to the ins and outs compared to human one-on-ones.
Another thing is consulting—it’s not easy at all to automate it right now. And as your startup grows, it’s important to consult your customers on challenges they have (that don’t directly tie to your product as a solution.)
If you really want to make a difference, offer your expertise as a professional, not just a salesperson. Find out how they do business, how they solve problems, and how they plan to grow. Listen carefully and lend your advice. Prove your company has value beyond your product. Make the relationship more than transactional.
As Chris Valdemoro, Senior AE at Close, says: “I do also think AI will replace some sales jobs. That being said, as long as the people we’re selling to are still human, I think we’ll be fine.”
4. Offering Personalized Support
The sad truth is that most startups provide horrible support. You send an email and wait forever for a response. Many times, the solution you receive doesn't even answer your question.
“We are very thankful that you informed us about this matter…”
There’s no technical knowledge. No personality. No intimacy. They don’t know anything about you, so they can’t offer valuable customer service.
You’re a ticket number.
Support is one of the best ways to see how things are actually going—and this is true while prospects are still in the sales process. You can identify common questions or analyze problems with you talk with these people directly. The only way to investigate some of these issues is to allow humans to interact with other humans on a personal level.
So to avoid getting the label of "a company with shitty support,” make it human. Make it personal. Your support agents should be curious about what customers want to say, what they are frustrated with or confused with. They should ask follow-up questions and solve the issue for the product users.
So, What Will Never Change in Sales?
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said not to ask what’s changing, but what will never change.
So if you ever read an article that says AI will replace you or your sales skills won’t be relevant soon—don’t buy into this B.S. Even ChatGPT “thinks” there is still quite a lot of work for humans in sales.
And I’m also confident about one thing that will never change and this is how well you know your customers. Whoever understands the customer the best is the one who owns them. It means getting their needs, pain points, challenges they have, and how your company can address all of that.
Want to use AI to get to know your customers better? Why not! Just balance the stuff that AI can help you with and what it can’t do, and you’ll be fine.
Want to step into the future of sales? Try Close, the CRM for growth that combines automation with personalization, allowing you to bring a human touch to your sales interactions.