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Nudging Sales into the AI Revolution

With the automation of many sales tasks, salespeople will need to focus on their own killer app - building relationships

The forces of automation that have swept through marketing are now rumbling into the sales department. As a result, sales is undergoing a fundamental restructuring of roles, says Steve Woods, the founder of Nudge, a sales platform based on artificial intelligence. Woods spoke with Jim Hamilton, Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Sales Management, at Smith School of Business.

Video Highlights

00:25     On the origins of Nudge: “We’ve seen marketing go through this macro-transition from an arts and crafts discipline into a highly measured discipline where you’re marching to the drum of numbers and process. And sales hadn’t gone through that. Sales is still very much a craft discipline of building relationships. We looked at advances in data science and AI and thought we could dig in and start to measure relationships. If you measure that fundamental unit, the cascade effect of changing the discipline of sales all becomes possible.”

4:46     The arbitrary distinctions among sales, marketing, and product need to be revisited in order to move the modern well-informed buyer from being unaware of a product or service to actually making a commitment. “It’s one spectrum. . . Business thinkers are saying, How do I construct something that works best and ignore those original arbitrary lines that we used to draw?”

7:07     It makes economic sense for firms to invest in marketing and sales automation at the expense of live bodies, but this tradeoff needs to done properly. “People are expensive but they have the ability to tease signal from noise that most automation systems don’t. . . A salesperson can get you to think a little differently about your business and introduce a new narrative, a new way of thinking.”

10:42     Over the next three to five years, artificial intelligence will force a significant restructuring of the salesperson’s role. “Historically, sales has been a step function: you’re not a customer, you signed a three-year contract for a million dollars, now you’re a customer. That doesn’t exist anymore. . .  It’s a slow spectrum of growth. The best organizations that recognize this put people in front to say, How can I make you more successful? How can I get a little more success out of your team? Over time, that give and take relationship builds trust and enhances revenue. We just happen to call that function “customer success” today. What you’re seeing in modern organizations is that customer success teams own a significant, if not the largest, revenue number. Complete change in the way we think about sales but not fundamentally different.”