AI in the B2B Sales Playbook

AI in the B2B Sales Playbook
July 7, 2020

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is being discussed in many business use cases, with more than 60 AI applications in the marketing field alone. But many sales executives are still hesitant in using AI as part of their sales playbook. Do you think AI can make a difference in your process? Find out below where AI can add value in a typical sales process and where personal relationships still are unbeatable.

Let’s start by taking a look at what sales teams are facing in 2020. Face-to-face prospecting is no longer an option while working from home and social distancing. B2B sales reps must be able to identify and qualify prospects online. The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic shutdown and social unrest have affected almost everybody in the United States.

And it’s stopped many face-to-face B2B sales reps in their tracks.

While the reopening has started, we’re in unprecedented times and the outcome is unknown. It’s possible that the virus could pass, the social unrest subsidies and the economy returns to its previous level. But it’s also possible that the virus reappears, the social unrest increases and governments continue to shut down businesses and pay people to stay home.

Right now, the result is unclear. But even if we have the former, there are still rapid changes heading our way. Remote working is one of them. How many sales teams will come back to the office full time when the restrictions are lifted?

For some companies, especially tech companies, the pandemic hasn’t slowed their sales teams at all. That’s because many had already optimized their sales operation to leverage the current technologies and tools available.

The Technology of the Modern B2B Sales Team

Good sales reps are extremely valuable. The best have elite skills in persuasion and time management. The more time they have selling, the more deals they close.

To optimize for this, modern sales teams are set up with specialized roles for specific tasks. Those are typically broken down into the following buckets:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Initial outreach and nurturing
  3. Value discussion
  4. Proposal development
  5. Q&A and conclusion

Prospecting & Initial Outreach

In most industries, this is best completed with online research -- building target lists of companies and people, monitoring signals and reaching out via email or social media. For companies with inbound marketing teams, prospects include people who have downloaded content, visited your website and opted in for your offer or list.

Sales development reps (SDRs) are best suited for handling this type of work since it requires digital research skills, comfort using numerous different applications, skill in connecting via email and social networks, setting digital appointments (phone calls, Zoom calls) and the discipline of working in front of the computer most of the day.

The best performing sales teams typically leverage a lot of technology in this stage, including AI (which we’ll discuss below).

Value Discussion

This is where the typical sales rep comes in. SDRs handle the initial outreach and gauge interest, and pass along interested and qualified leads to the sales rep. This is where rapport building, value building, pain discovery and solution building occurs. In some organizations, the SDR will continue to track these deals through the pipeline and stay involved for support.

Video conferencing is used at this stage during the pandemic, but the rest of this is handled by people. AI is not ready to replace this stage (and probably never will).

Proposal Development

For complex offerings or professional services, many companies use a dedicated person to create proposals. The proposal writer works with the sales team to define the solution and costs, but handles the majority of the writing, scope of work, timing and cost calculations. This allows the sales reps to focus on selling instead of writing proposals. The sales rep typically delivers the proposal and establishes the follow-up conversations.

This stage has not been automated by AI.

Q&A and Conclusion

This is where the sales rep earns her money – asking questions, overcoming objections and winning the business. It’s purely a human task.

Where AI Can Help B2B Sales Teams - Prospecting & Outreach

Every seasoned B2B sales executive has a clear understanding of how to optimize steps 3-5. It’s steps 1-2 that are the challenge. But that is starting to change, and the success of the ZoomInfo IPO this year has put the spotlight on the value of the sales intelligence space. There’s a tremendous amount of inefficiency in this stage, so adding AI and automation is a logical choice.

Are you selling into the enterprise and Fortune 1000? If so, finding the right contact is the hard part. ZoomInfo provides quality contact information and company research from its DiscoverOrg acquisition. There are plenty of options though, including the following:

Are you selling into startups and the mid-market? If so, finding the companies that are a good fit can be the hard part. Everybody has the list of the biggest companies, but it’s hard to find all of the startups and mid-market companies throughout the U.S.

Startups and mid-market companies emit digital signals that show purchase intent on a daily basis. The sales teams that can identify these signals and take action, in real time, are the ones who are most likely to get the sale. Many B2B sales teams spend time reading social media posts, news feeds, email newsletters and industry publications to find these signals. The challenges for many companies is that manual online prospecting can be overwhelming; news feeds can take hours to read and salespeople are good at selling, not researching.

Option 1 - Create THE SDR Role

One solution is for sales teams to create the Sales Development Representative (SDR) role to have a dedicated person handling this work. This allows a specialist to handle this work and allows the sales reps to focus on what they do best. SDRs should have excellent technical research and communication skills, be resilient and organized, have strong discipline and be able to craft persuasive emails and voicemails.

Option 2 - Build Your Own Inbound Data Feeds

Another option is to build automated, customized inbound data feeds. Forward-thinking B2B companies with in-house cloud engineering resources are building these feeds to deliver signals straight to SDRs or their sales teams.

Option 3 - Partner with an AI Provider

A third option is to hire a vendor to build this for you. Some enterprises are tackling this as part of their digital transformation process. However, this can be intimidating or out-of-reach for most SMEs. Rehinged is a potential solution. Our data processing engine uses artificial intelligence to identify the companies who are the best fit for our customers’ product and services.

We’re partnering with early adopter SMEs (tech startups preparing for their A round and mid-size B2B tech and services firms) to deliver affordable sales intelligence dashboard solutions that automate prospecting and deliver fresh leads every day.

Connect with us to start a discussion and see if you’re a fit.

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