It’s hard to think of a technology that has caused a bigger firestorm than artificial intelligence (and its fashionable acronym, AI). But like any technology, AI’s hype often obscures the underlying value it can deliver today and the even greater value it will deliver in the very near future. One of the most promising applications of AI is in sales training – targeting it, delivering it and simulating real-world buyer interactions.
1. Targeting It
AI will bring in a new era of “smart” sales training. By collecting and rapidly analyzing vast quantities of data (related to sales pipeline analytics and rep performance, for instance), AI can deliver keen insight into where reps are struggling in deals, which then informs and influences sales training. For example, AI-driven insights may reveal that a rep struggles when selling a certain product at a particular stage in the sales cycle or when competing against specific competitors. With this information, sales enablement can focus on relevant product certifications and training or on strategies for selling against the competitors in question to improve rep readiness and results. Each rep will be served bespoke readiness paths based on this intelligence.
The same intelligence could be used to make sales forecasts much more accurate and meaningful, by including the readiness of the rep when predicting the probability of a particular deal closing. The ability to analyze all sorts of variables around each prospective deal – such as sales rep experience and track record, number of previous buyer interactions, overall rep readiness, whether the buyer is a new or existing customer, and what competitors are involved will be part of the AI forecasting methodology. Organizations can then assign much more accurate probability-to-close values, while simultaneously collecting the data required to create unique and targeted training paths for every salesperson.
2. Delivering It
Once AI has provided all of these precise data on sales rep performance and training requirements, how can organizations act on them and improve sales readiness? Traditional approaches, such as targeted training paths, will continue to apply, but the branch of AI known as cognitive analytics opens a world of additional possibilities. Cognitive analytics is a set of technologies that mimic the processes of the human brain to gain insights into unstructured data, such as video and natural language. For example, cognitive analytics could be used to understand the difference between a happy emoji and sad emoji.
Let’s say you’re facilitating a workshop on presentation skills, and as part of the workshop, participants are video-recorded delivering a presentation. AI can augment in-class feedback provided by the facilitator with an extra layer of coaching, without the need to invest additional time or headcount into the effort. In the very near future, this feedback will be possible by running the video through machine analysis. These applications will give reps instant, unbiased feedback on their eye contact, voice tone and inflection, emotions conveyed, speaking rate, language complexity, and more to augment and guide the feedback from a “live” coach.
3. Simulating the Real World
Today, face-to-face role-playing is most commonly used in preparing salespeople for buyer interactions. These sessions typically include the sales rep, a person playing the buyer and an observer. While role-playing provides some terrific value, its effectiveness is limited, because it is impossible to truly mimic a real-world interaction – there are simply too many variables involved. Ultimately, reps typically don’t encounter a realistic buyer interaction until there’s an actual buyer interaction. This type of on-the-job training, where reps are literally learning from their mistakes, can exact a steep price for organizations through lost deals and compromised relationships.
Augmented reality (technology that superimposes images and sound over a real environment) and virtual reality (a complete virtual world detached from reality) hold great promise at improving sales readiness and, when used with AI, are arguably the most exciting innovations for sales training. In the coming years, salespeople will step into these virtual realms to better prepare for meetings and master their craft.
For example, reps will be able to enter a simulated environment where avatars behave like actual buyers – asking questions, voicing objections and even being downright rude. Trainees will have to navigate multiple (and conflicting) prospect personality styles and degrees of competence, in situations that closely approximate the real world, with myriad variations based on actions the rep takes.
There’s no doubt that AI and its different applications will have a major impact on sales training. The big question is when. We will likely see significant adoption of AI-driven “targeting it” and “delivering it” within one to two years. “Simulating” through AR and VR will take a bit longer due to the massive development efforts required to develop real-world simulations – but we’ll still see it readily available in less than five years. AI is coming soon to sales training – and that’s not just hype!