Buying and selling make the world go round – and good conversations are key to securing the best sales, as anyone who’s worked in the industry knows. Getting in front of the right people and carving out the time to have those quality conversations is trickier than ever, as budgets are under scrutiny, workloads increase and more stakeholders are involved in each buying decision.
Help is on the horizon for those who worry about their increasing effectiveness in the sales sector. Society is at a new technological tipping point. AI is set to have a widespread impact on all industries and can either be seen as a challenge or a great opportunity. “We can all agree that AI is probably going to change the sales role as we know it today forever,” says Lisa Gunnarsson, vice president of sales EMEA and LATAM at LinkedIn. Sales leaders across the globe are asking one simple question: how will AI transform the sales role?
For one thing, it’s important to think about the technology as an enhancer of human talent. According to recent research by LinkedIn, 74% of US executives see at least one way generative AI will benefit their employees.
“AI and digital transformation and technology are about serving your people, not the other way around,” says Randy Petway, head of enterprise sales for EMEAL, LinkedIn Sales Solutions.
Right tools, right time
Economic headwinds are putting sales leaders under pressure to do “more with the same, or the same with less”, according to Petway. Meanwhile, the sales cycle has become more complex, making it harder to have the right conversations with the right people and reducing the time sales reps can spend selling. Research has found there are now 11 primary decision-makers in each decision, plus numerous influencers behind the scenes, all of whom must come to a consensus before making a decision.
This makes getting a deal across the line particularly difficult and means that understanding exactly how potential clients operate and the makeup of their decision-making committees is crucial.
Not only does AI have the ability to free up time by taking on routine admin tasks, but it can also be a vital research tool to help salespeople map out who they need to get in front of and what conversations they should be having. It can enable top performers to become supersellers and mid-level performers to raise their game.
“Sales is really about having the right narrative and being able to present it to the right people at the right time,” says Petway. The new generation of AI tools helps sellers leverage their networks to craft the right narrative and then present it in the best way to the best person.
Time is also a key consideration for not just the buyer, but the seller, too. AI’s ability to work at a faster pace than humans ever could – something that Goldman Sachs forecasts will lead to a 1.5% productivity boost in the next decade – will be crucial, says Gunnarsson. “AI can help remove those roadblocks of time, so that we can spend more time out with our customers – where we want to be,” she says.
Filling in the gaps
AI’s strength lies in its ability to sift through and synthesise information at speed – something that is manna from heaven for supersellers within organisations. Generative AI tools have been compared to always-eager new graduates for their abilities to do grunt work. That can be vital for those looking to improve the quality of sales conversations from their businesses.
More than three-quarters (76%) of top performers say they “always” perform research before reaching out to prospects, compared to 47% of other, less potent and successful sellers, according to LinkedIn research. The best-performing salespeople spend time sifting through that background data to better inform their conversations with customers.
“AI is all about making people more productive – processing masses of data from lots of different sources and delivering the insights that drive results almost instantly,” says Sinéad McCabe, head of SMB and mid-market for EMEA at LinkedIn Sales Solutions. However, that data isn’t always perfectly presented or complete. Forty-five per cent of sellers told LinkedIn the biggest challenge they face is incomplete data.
Sometimes that can be because the data simply doesn’t exist. But other times, it’s because the data source is difficult to uncover, or linkages between disparate data sets can be tricky to make through human intuition alone and require further analysis.
Outsourcing data analysis to AI leads to more time to focus on the things that are uniquely human: developing and deploying soft skills, building up relationships, and then leveraging those contacts to turn prospects into long-term, valued customers – who are trusted, and who trust, in equal measure.
The key sales skills for professionals have remained the same almost since time immemorial, says Petway. But increasingly, new skills have leapt up the leaderboard to possess increasing importance for those doing the job, according to LinkedIn’s Future of Skills dashboard. They include digital marketing, analytical skills and data analysis. “If you’re not helping your employees develop those skills, you’re really putting your business at risk – and you’re putting your sales organisation at risk,” Petway adds.
How LinkedIn Sales Navigator helps
One of the most important facets of successful sales is ensuring that a contact is warmed up in some way. Only 21% of buyers prefer cold calls as an outreach method, according to LinkedIn data – meaning people trust those with whom they’ve interacted before.
Gunnarsson says that sellers need to have more of those high-quality conversations that move the needle, adding that “the top performers will be using platforms like LinkedIn.” But LinkedIn Sales Navigator can supercharge that performance by applying its deep sales capabilities to LinkedIn’s strong database of leads.
And it’s making those connections even closer thanks to two new features. Account IQ harnesses the power of generative AI to provide in-depth information on would-be accounts with a single click. It organises first-party data on LinkedIn and third-party information collected from elsewhere to provide an overview of client pain points, so sellers can enter a conversation armed with valuable information.
“AI in Sales Navigator also helps to show buyer intent – suggesting warm leads to reach out to,” says McCabe. Those leads are generated based on their activity on LinkedIn, their existing network of contacts, or their tenure in their company. LinkedIn Sales Navigator doesn’t just provide a list of names and titles to target, it proposes ways to personalise outreach to those it has identified – something that McCabe says can increase customer satisfaction and sales. “The intention is to ‘augment’ a seller’s activities, rather than automate, in order to retain that human touch that makes the most successful sellers excel,” she says.
Another key new feature of LinkedIn Sales Navigator is Relationship Map, a souped-up, AI-driven update to LinkedIn’s successful Relationship Explorer tool. Relationship Map helps keep track of key contacts within client companies, using AI to analyse what relevant contacts are posting about and identifying opportunities for sales teams to leverage.
It’s not about providing insights but about providing foresight, helping users pinpoint the key decision-makers within an organisation, and what they’re looking for, to enable better sales conversations – and hopefully, better results. Tools like Account IQ and Relationship Map help give that additional context that can make the difference between fruitful and fruitless conversations, freeing up sales staff to do what they do best: communicate and interact.
When given the chance to communicate more clearly with their customers at a more personal level, sellers do excel. Earlier this year, LinkedIn commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a total economic impact study to ascertain what kind of return on investment businesses could expect from LinkedIn Sales Navigator. The study encompassed proprietary analysis and customer interviews, and found that the service paid for itself within six months, with an 8% year-on-year increase in revenue. Over three years, the overall return on investment was 312%.
“As well as saving you lots of hours or research, it helps your sales team be more productive and reach out to potential or existing customers in a personalised manner, at the time when customers want to be contacted,” says McCabe.
Ultimately AI-powered sales tools are designed to help employees shine. “AI will help to make us more efficient to get more quality in our meetings, then we can focus much more on the human skills that we know bring that competitive advantage,” says Gunnarsson. With a strong salesperson at the helm and AI on navigation, organisations can put themselves in the best position to succeed and drive revenue in the modern world.