Selling today is more social, mobile, virtual and conversational than ever before, and oftentimes requires a team to help support sales reps in their quota and revenue goals. However, many business applications for working with enterprise teams simply haven’t kept up. They are hands-on, physical and rearview mirror — simply a picture of the past.
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And, all too common in enterprise settings, there is never enough help for sales professionals. Commonly, sales representatives need access to specialized product knowledge to recommend the right products and services to end users. They need someone who understands the customer’s processes and a view of past purchases and a history of the account. And they need internal resources to help in the selling and contracting process, from getting quotes approved to navigating the negotiation process.
Artificial intelligence, while not new, is playing an increasing role in helping sales, legal, finance and operations professionals generate and manage revenue processes. Keep reading below to learn about these new developments and how, when used properly, they offer exciting and limitless opportunities for the enterprise.
The rise of machines
It’s no secret that the internet of things, where all machines are “smart” and connected to one another, is becoming a reality in the business to consumer (B2C) market. Your garage door detects you are coming home and it opens as you enter the driveway. Your office coffeemaker runs out of beans and alerts you. Your toothbrush tells you whether you’re brushing enough, not enough, too hard or too softly. You can control the LED lights in your home with a mobile app on your phone, etc. But in B2B commerce, IoT can also provide valuable assistance necessary for complex, high-value sales and wholesale distribution.
Enterprise businesses, from shipping to telecommunications to manufacturing, are now capturing and analyzing data in real time from physical devices (things) which are deployed in a wide range of settings from warehouses to factories to office buildings to roadways and shipping lanes. IoT is enabling the advanced prediction and automation of maintenance service and parts delivery. So, replace the coffeemaker example above with typical B2B order value and the importance of IoT to an array of enterprise businesses becomes clear and compelling.
The super human capabilities of machine learning
Machine learning refers to math (algorithms) that detect patterns in data. Machine learning is increasingly used to solve everyday, real-world problems by experiencing them many times and figuring out how to solve them. For us as consumers, we may have experience with machine learning without realizing it when we shop on a site like Amazon.com and see recommendations about what products other people searched or purchased. In B2B commerce, machine learning is used successfully as a guiding tool for salespeople, helping them to determine correct pricing, bundling and more, in the name of progressing their deals.
Similar to the Amazon.com example, machine learning with regards to “smart” product recommendations for B2B salespeople are a great starting point because they draw from existing sales data to offer extra value to customers. Dynamic pricing, discounts and bundles based on historical or similar orders are the next step, as they make orders more cost-effective and convenient based on what their needs might be.
And the innovation from AI doesn’t stop there. Imagine the ability to profile customers with insight beyond what humans can glean and then analyze customer behavior to predict their future needs. These capabilities are not a vision from an episode of The Jetsons (remember the loveable cartoon family living in the space-age suburbs?) They are a reality in the B2B world and their effect is already clear: They have made businesses faster, more efficient and more effective for everyone involved.
Make way for intelligent agents
While we are still some ways away from the reality of a robot-nanny-maid like Rosie on The Jetsons — I am perfectly happy with my Roomba, thank you, another example of how AI enhances B2B revenue cycles is through the inclusion of intelligent agents (sometimes called bots or chatbots). Intelligent agents, or AI-enabled bots, are conversational user interfaces that can provide human-like experiences through chat and voice apps. These agents are nothing short of transformational, capable of listening to voice commands, understanding texts and interacting with salespeople, and even connecting to augmented reality environments like that of Microsoft HoloLens.
The benefits of intelligent agents can be realized by sales organizations in a number of ways. First, intelligent agents enable voice-assisted quote, contract or invoice creation and, literally, any task can be set up and executed when a user commands it. Intelligent agents equipped with pattern recognition recognize similar tasks and preempt a user, saving time, before even being asked to perform a task — which can drastically reduce delays in the quoting, pricing and contracting approval process.
Additionally, intelligent agents can prompt sales reps to make decisions that are consistent with company goals, and give a “nudge” to influence seller behavior by showing how a product or discount recommendation will affect a salesperson’s commission. And, if that wasn’t enough, when equipped with machine learning, intelligent agents can provide sales teams the ability to compare customer and sales histories to gain insights that help sellers rapidly create quotes, as well as create and immediately notify of new opportunities — ultimately affecting the top and bottom lines.
Without question, the convergence of IoT, machine learning and AI/bots are all coming to life to improve the technology sales ecosystem. The question is, how quickly will organizations capitalize on these new technology trends? Hopefully before a sales manager, one similar to Mr. Spacely of Spacely Space Sprockets, Inc., screams, “You’re fired!”
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