As AI technologies advance, becoming more sophisticated and intuitive, they’re reshaping the sales landscape: from AI-driven chatbots providing real-time support to predictive analytics revolutionizing lead generation.
According to Gartner, within four years, 60% of the B2B seller’s work will be done using generative AI sales technologies. And McKinsey predicts that a fifth of the sales teams’ functions could be automated with AI. While estimates vary, the view shared is similar: AI sales technologies will have a revolutionary impact on sales.
Meanwhile, sales leaders, enablement professionals, managers, and sellers, are struggling to adapt. As they shared with us during RAIN Group’s recent research study on AI in the Sales Process,
“We don’t know where to start or what to prioritize—there’s so much out there. And then, there are the security concerns.”
“It’s overwhelming and unclear and seems too time-consuming to understand where to start.”
“There’s more work involved in the process than the vendor community communicates. The gap between the vision and actual is still pretty big.”
Understanding AI-related technologies and use cases, adopting AI tools, and integrating AI into current and emerging sales processes are among the challenges cited by sales professionals.
Many find themselves overwhelmed.
That overwhelm is understandable as anyone who has attempted to stay abreast of available AI tools and their capabilities will know.
Among the applications for AI in sales are:
- Large Language Models (LLMs): In late 2022, ChatGPT released the largest LLM, demonstrating the power and capability of these tools.
- Integrations: Many AI integrations can help improve seller productivity and efficiency.
- Einstein in SFDC and/or ChatGPT integration with CRM: Automate entry of prospect names and titles, tie to opportunities, qualify leads, schedule reminders, etc.
- Copilot & Viva Sales: Draft email replies, integrate with SFDC knowledge, store, and update insight back into CRM, call notetaking, conversation intelligence, etc.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
Key Research Findings: AI in the Sales Process
To better understand the current state of AI in sales, RAIN Group surveyed 251 sales leaders, sellers, sales managers, and sales enablement professionals across a range of industries in the Americas, EMEA, and Asia-Pacific.
We wanted to know how AI is being used in the sales process currently and explore its impact on sales organizations, specifically:
- How is AI used to move prospective buyers from the early stages of the buying process to purchase?
- What challenges are sales organizations facing with AI?
- Are sales teams getting value from their use of AI?
1. Sellers Are Struggling to Keep Up
Sellers and sales leaders report difficulty keeping up with AI advancements (50%) and overwhelm from all the AI options and use cases (38%). Additionally, they’re concerned about inaccurate/misleading information (59%) and data privacy and security (45%). These challenges may be holding some sellers and sales organizations back from integrating AI into their daily workflow and realizing the benefits AI has to offer (see point #4).
When we looked at the respondents seeing the greatest impact from AI on sales performance and productivity—the 26% who reported significant or transformational impact—some differences emerge comparing them to everyone else.
For instance, those reporting the greatest impact are more likely to say their organization has a clearly communicated policy around the use of AI (31% vs. 17% for others).
Interestingly, even many of those seeing the greatest impact from AI on their sales performance say they’re overwhelmed by the AI options and use cases (45% vs. 35% for others). Perhaps because the more you go down the AI rabbit hole, the more possibilities you uncover.
2. Chatbots Lead AI Tools Utilization
By far the most popular AI tools and technologies currently being used in the sales process are chatbots (e.g., ChatGPT, Bard, Bing, Salesforce Einstein) (63%) and email automation and personalization (54%).
Which of the following AI tools or technologies do you/your sales team currently use in the sales process?
In addition, those reporting the greatest impact of AI on sales performance are 1.3x more likely to use chatbots. If you’re looking for a place to get started, chatbots are the go-to for most sellers and sales leaders. Need ideas for prompts? Start with our infographic below.
3. Frequency of AI Use and Impact Correlate
How would you characterize your/your sales team's use of AI in the sales process?
Most respondents don’t use AI in the sales process: 27% have never used AI and another 27% rarely use such tools. However, a notable 20% of respondents use AI tools frequently or daily.
Those reporting the greatest impact from AI on their sales performance and productivity are 3x more likely to use AI tools daily or frequently. It’s hard to get impact from it if you’re not using it, and the more you use it the better you get and the greater the impact it will have.
4. Sales Teams Are Getting Value from AI
As sales organizations begin the journey of using AI in the sales process, a high percentage strongly agree or agree they get value from AI in ways including:
Importantly, those reporting the greatest impact on sales performance and productivity from AI are significantly more likely to strongly agree that AI:
- Acts as a new teammate to collaborate with: 4.8x
- Helps uncover challenges and pain points: 3.4x
- Reduces time spent doing manual tasks: 3.3x
- Allows focus on other higher-value tasks: 3.1x
Two core themes jump out to us regarding the benefits of AI.
First is the impact on productivity that AI can have. Imagine a tool that assists sellers with many of the manual tasks they’re faced with every day: data entry, opportunity creation, writing follow-up emails, recording meeting notes, personalizing outreach messages, etc. Let's say they spend three hours a day on these tasks and can reduce that to one hour leveraging AI. That’s two additional hours—or 25% of their day— they’ve reclaimed and can now use to focus on higher-value tasks that will move the needle.
Second is viewing AI as a teammate. This is a mindset shift that those who get the greatest impact out of AI are already making. Imagine having a teammate you can collaborate with, bounce ideas off, someone who will do research for you, edit your work, recommend solutions, summarize meeting notes, etc. Most sellers would love to have a colleague at their beck and call to do this with. AI can play the role of that teammate.
5. Benefits Gained from AI Use
The use of AI is changing the way businesses interact with clients and manage internal processes.
Among the top benefits sales teams report are...
- Improving value messaging in client interactions (68% of respondents strongly agree/agree)
AI tools can help in analyzing customer data and feedback to tailor messaging in a more relevant and impactful way for each client or prospect. By better understanding client needs and preferences, and aligning the product or service offerings accordingly, sellers can improve the effectiveness of sales conversations.
- Reducing time spent on manual tasks (68% of respondents strongly agree/agree)
AI automates routine and repetitive tasks, including data entry, scheduling meetings, and managing customer records, which traditionally consumed a significant amount of a seller’s time. This allows sales teams to focus more on strategic activities like building relationships with clients, understanding their needs, and closing deals.
- Personalizing prospect and customer interactions (63% of respondents strongly agree/agree)
AI enables the customization of interactions with prospects and customers based on their previous interactions, purchase history, preferences, and more. Such personalization can lead to higher satisfaction and loyalty, as prospects and customers feel understood and valued.
- Drafting messaging for sales cadences (62% of respondents strongly agree/agree)
AI can assist in creating effective communication strategies and messages for different stages of the sales process. It can suggest the most effective outreach methods, timing, and messaging based on the analysis of vast amounts of sales data and customer behavior.
- Providing valuable sales insights (60% of respondents strongly agree/agree)
AI-powered analytics tools can process vast amounts of data to provide insights that would be impossible to glean manually. These insights can include which prospects are most likely to convert, emerging market trends, and how sales strategies can be optimized for better results.
According to our survey, 85% of respondents haven’t received any formal training on using AI in their sales role. While that hasn't stopped some people from learning on their own, the vast majority—78%—want training on how to better use AI in the sales process. Clearly, there's an opportunity for sales organizations to address this need.
Infographic: 10 Sample Prompts to Use with AI Chatbots in the Sales Process
As noted above, those reporting the greatest impact of AI on sales performance are 1.3x more likely to use chatbots. But when it comes to chatbots, effective prompting is half the battle. In this infographic, we outline 10 use cases for AI and sample prompts you can use for each.
Harnessing AI in Sales: Strategies for the Future
The survey results underscore the potential for AI to enhance an organization’s sales process. It’s early days and, doubtless, the use of AI in sales will continue to rapidly evolve. Still, we believe it’s best that a sales organization proactively explore and experiment to uncover how AI might be able to improve the sales process.
Here are our top four recommendations based on the research findings:
- Explore AI and Use It Frequently: Get started by using chatbots. Chatbots are used most often and are a good starting point to explore how AI can help your sales process. Then, expand to explore other tools suitable for your sales process, e.g., email automation and personalization, AI-driven content recommendations, predictive analytics, lead scoring, and so on.
- Communicate an AI Policy: Clearly communicate a policy around the use of AI, including data privacy, security, corporate IP, recommended tools, etc. Respondents reporting the greatest impact of AI on sales performance are 1.8x more likely to say their organization communicates such a policy.
- Gain a Competitive Advantage: Some sales teams are already seeing an impact on their sales performance and productivity from the use of AI. The benefits of those reporting the greatest impact range from saving time, being a more valuable advisor to customers and prospects, providing valuable insights they otherwise wouldn't have, and improving the value messaging with clients. Don’t get left behind.
- Promote Continuous Learning: Enablement and sales leaders can invest in and deliver training to help their sales teams achieve the benefits and address the challenges around AI use. In the absence of company-sponsored training, sellers and sales managers can develop their own skills in the use of AI.
This study indicates that AI is not only a tool for efficiency, but also for enhancing the quality of sales interactions and strategies. By handling routine tasks, personalizing customer interactions, and providing valuable insights, AI can enable sales teams to be more strategic, customer-focused, and ultimately more effective in their roles.
So where do you go from here?
Start with the four recommendations above. Try dipping your toes in with the sample prompts in the infographic. And be prepared for change.