Stop Treating AI Like a Technology; It’s More Than That

7 Dec 23

Generative AI is not just a solution—it’s a new way of working. B2B sellers need to work with AI throughout the sales process to unlock its true value.

Conversations on generative AI continue to maintain a fever pitch among business leaders today, but enterprise-level adoption remains spotty. SBI surveys with CEOs reveal that only 26% were running small-scale pilots with just 9% doing anything more. This is despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of respondents expect AI to play a significant role in their work in the next 12 months, with 94% of leaders wanting to integrate AI into their sales programs.

In an article publish on Harvard Business Review, my colleagues, Ray Makela and Bryan Kurey, and I highlight a rising concern over the use of GenAI for B2B selling. For those unsure about how to leverage new GenAI technology built on the Open.AI platform as well as the proliferation of other GenAI tools, our perspective and guidance has been to just get started. Unfortunately, what we are seeing happen, is a disconnect between the what sellers are sharing with their customers in writing, and their actual understanding of the customer's business challenges.

The issue is that customers are expecting to speak with an industry expert, only to meet a seller with a scripted talk track. GenAI set an expectation the seller could not match—and this story is getting more and more common today. Incredible outreach efforts to customers are falling apart at the actual sales dialogue stage.

AI is not just a new tool, it’s a new way of working

When sellers treat AI as just another tool that automates tasks, they’re unknowingly placing a cap that limits them from reaching the full potential of what AI can do. Most organizations’ approach to AI tends to focus on minimizing risks and driving standardized adoption as a change management exercise. However, the future of generative AI is one where it is used ubiquitously, where insights and output generated are applied to day-to-day workflows.

Harnessing generative AI effectively in sales requires creativity, interaction, and lateral thinking. SBI research on sellers shows that those who do ample preparation ahead of sales calls tend to drastically outperform their peers. Those who take an anticipatory approach to obstacles in the customer journey yield 22% faster sales cycles and 12% larger deals compared to other sellers. Generative AI creates the springboard for a seller to learn and discover deeper business acumen on their customer’s situation, which is what truly drives the success of a sale.

An exercise that SBI’s sales training division is now using with sales teams involves conducting a “five why’s” approach when using generative AI for customer research. After asking about the issue that a customer is dealing with, the seller goes through a series of follow-up questions. Continuing to ask the AI more levels of questions can help the seller deeply understand their customer, so that they can come to the discovery call a little more prepared.

Thus, generative AI has the potential to crack one of the longest-standing frustrations of sales leaders—sellers lacking business acumen and deep customer understanding. While the job of augmenting business acumen typically falls on sales managers, our research finds that only 44% of sellers receive regular coaching on business acumen from their managers. This presents a big opportunity for sellers to cover the gap by having thoughtful discussions with generative AI, enabling them to gain a deeper level of business acumen without needing extensive manager involvement.

So, where do you start in creating a new working relationship between your salespeople and generative AI?

We are now past the time for individual experimentation—this will only lead to inconsistencies in usage and results. Leaders need to provide direction and codification to truly help sellers incorporate generative AI into every step of the sales process. SBI recommends starting with 4 steps—learn these 4 steps by reading the full version of this article on Harvard Business Review.


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