In our customers installment blog post, we explored two common questions High Tech companies have about the relation between artificial intelligence and their customers—including the impact AI can have across the customer journey. In this companion Q&A, Accenture’s Bryan Gauch and Audrey Hawks look at the other side of the table—sellers. Specifically, they answer two questions they routinely hear about how AI can help High Tech sales people manage not only leads and opportunities, but also the internal supporting sales processes.

How can AI- and data-powered assistance help sellers more effectively progress leads and opportunities?

Bryan: When it comes to AI, we all know it starts with data. A foundation of clean, accurate data must be in place for AI to have the right kind of impact—and for sellers to trust the leads that AI uncovers for them. A simple example: If a sales person sees four variations of the same contact, that raises suspicions about the quality of the leads. And that makes the sales person very hesitant to buy into and use the AI capability which, in turn, mutes the impact AI can have. With the right data, a company can really move to the next level with AI-guided selling, which opens up incredible opportunities for sales people to sell more efficiently, engage prospects with relevance and insights, and progress leads through the sales funnel. Think about sentiment analysis. How valuable would it be for a sales person to have a tool that could say, “Hey Bob, here’s something that might be valuable for you to know before you meet with that prospect. It’s something that worked with similar customers and deals in the past.”?

Audrey: Absolutely. And if you think about it, guided selling is an umbrella concept that can be broken down into a few ways in which AI can support sales. First, AI tightens and streamlines the lead handoff from marketing to sales, ensuring sellers are receiving pre-qualified leads and can provide continuity of experience for customers. Second, AI can be a huge help in prioritizing opportunities for sales people—identifying which opportunities need their attention, which is especially important for volume sellers, who may be managing many deals at a time. Third is that AI can help sales people determine how to initially engage with a prospect or customer—recommending the right collateral to send, the right upsell offer, and appropriate contacts at a prospect’s company to engage to progress the deal. And finally, AI can help with follow-up to make sure the lead doesn’t die after a great first conversation. AI can automate many parts of the required follow-up activities to progress customer engagement and enable sales to close more deals, more quickly.

Bryan: I think what you said about automation is really critical. The AI value proposition for sales can’t just be, “Tell me something about my customer I don’t know.” Sales people are incredibly busy and have a lot on their plate. If you can use AI to automate all of the simple activities that consume a lot of their time—like, for example updating records in the CRM system—it enables sales people to do more selling. And it starts building trust in the AI tool.

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So how does AI-powered support help sellers manage manual and time-consuming internal processes?

Audrey: Sellers at B2B High Tech companies spend as much as 30% of their time on administrative activities on things like quoting, approvals, and pricing. And a lot of the tools and processes supporting these are very complex, which is a headache for sellers. Plus, many sellers have the added challenge that their companies are adopting as-a-Service business models, which means they have to straddle different types of deal management processes. Virtual sales assistants can relieve a lot of this burden by handling many activities and freeing up sellers’ valuable time.

One great example is contract renewals. Sellers are under intense pressure to improve their renewal rates, which often results in sellers’ avoiding going through the process to gather different upsell quotes because the quoting mechanism is difficult and sellers don't want to risk losing the renewal. A virtual agent can streamline the quoting process by doing the legwork to get those quotes for sellers. It saves sellers a lot of time, and provides them with upsell recommendations tailored to each customer.

Bryan: That time savings is huge. Think about how sellers interact with the order management or quoting support functions: send an email, wait for the response, get the response, send another email…that kind of tennis match is no longer an option given the pace of decision-making and response time customers demand today. This is where virtual sales assistants can really shine, making sellers’ jobs easier. “What can I do for you?” “How can I help you find the information you need?” “Can I update that record for you?”

Going back to the quoting example: A seller has to update his quote quickly because the customer is asking for it and the seller doesn’t want to miss the opportunity. He goes into the quoting system to configure the quote, and has to sort through thousands of line items of a very complex offering. There’s nothing quick about this. A virtual assistant can do that configuring far faster and better than the seller could. The assistant may even add some new line items to the quote that it determines are highly relevant to the customer based on other like customers with comparable infrastructures. So now the seller has a quickly developed quote, elegantly added upsell or cross-sell recommendations, and a rationale for those recommendations—i.e., they’ve worked very well elsewhere—that she can give her customer. What a huge win.

Audrey: What you said really highlights an important theme. AI is all about helping companies invest in and use resources in the right way—both in back-end and front-end functions. I think there’s a common misconception when we talk about AI in sales that it means critical functions will be replaced with bots and result in a sub-par experience. That does not need to be the case. It's about innovation and investment, and enabling companies to do things in really smart, highly efficient ways.

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AI is all about helping companies invest in and use resources in the right way—both in back-end and front-end functions.

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In our continued series, we learn from a customer’s perspective: How can data and AI help align with consumer expectations and the role of data and AL in supporting the end-to-end journey.


Audrey Hawks

Senior Manager – Strategy & Consulting

Bryan Gauch

Managing Director – High Tech, Aerospace, and Defense, Customer, Sales and Service

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