AI is everywhere –– everyone is talking about it but it’s not well understood. Do we really get it? People frequently focus too much on the application of AI, when in fact, the power of prediction comes from data. Today, predictive algorithms are powerful and can, for example, find compatible personalities among prospects and reps to facilitate deeper relationships. Others are advancing Natural Language Processing (NLP) to provide deeper insight into digital customer interactions. AI as a whole is introducing a sales pipeline that is more customized and personalized than ever before.
For the past 14 years, I’ve been in the business of enabling business leaders to drive higher performance, plan better and ultimately, improve their bottom lines –– often with the help of data. Indeed, AI is exciting, but data is critically important for implementation. With the right data, we can augment the existing instincts that make a salesperson successful and increase our capabilities throughout the entire pipeline. We can look at the activities that cause success and compensate the specific behaviors that drive those activities.
AI Tomorrow: Taking the Black Magic Out of Sales
My 20+ year-long career in sales has taught me that leading a sales team can be a bit like black magic –– a dark art. AI presents an opportunity to lift the curtain and better understand what’s really going on and to see trends or patterns that are not obvious.
Out-Dated Sales Planning
The very best sales leaders know their teams: who is an up-and-comer, who is a strong end-of-quarter closer, who is a sandbagger, but might not be able to articulate why. Similarly, sales planning is full of guesswork –– most plans are made at the start of the fiscal year and are based largely on last year’s performance with some guess work at predictions. These plans represent a moment in time and every day that we get away from the “Plan” they become less and less accurate. Plans are often set aside and not revisited until it’s too late to make critical adjustments.
Agile Sales Planning
A real “Plan” would track performance and update forecasts and assumptions throughout the year. In today’s environment these plans need to be agile to drive the right behaviors that result in the highest possible results. The combination of utilizing AI to create optimal plans with planning tools that track performance against the plan all year, will ensure success.
This is where the opportunity of AI lies.
AI Today: Focus on the Data
Today, it’s imperative that companies focus on data. We need to be data-driven leaders. Without rich, diverse data, algorithms can’t do their work. You can have the best algorithms in the world, but without a large empirical data set, they can be meaningless.
Predict Sales Rep Turnover
At Xactly, an example of how we are using our data – and specifically an application of AI- to relieve a central pain point among sales teams is our Attrition Predictor. Sales reps are primary revenue drivers and they have the ability to make a massive impact on a company’s bottom line. The stakes are high: companies spend $15 billion a year training their salespeople, with an additional $800 billion spent on sales compensation, according to The Harvard Business Review. Losing salespeople is costly, too, and can carry a $155K price tag to find and train a new sales rep.
Xactly’s intelligent attrition system identifies key trends over a sales rep’s tenure to predict turnover. While the model relies on a number of inputs such as tenure, promotions, commissions, and recently closed deals — it ultimately gains it’s intelligence from the robust set of data used in it’s build. It’s a powerful predictor that we’ve used among our own organization with success. And it’s just the beginning of our AI offerings.
Sales Performance Management
AI will touch each and every part of the sales pipeline, from planning and forecasting to staffing and commissions in the near future. If sustainable data collection isn’t yet a priority for you and your company, you will miss a crucial piece of the puzzle as the future of sales is becoming more and more data-driven every day. Data-driven Sales Performance Management is the future, and the future is right now. Once the C-suite gets wise to this, they will be on the path to unleash the potential and performance of all their employees across their respective organizations.