In baseball, says Sandeep Soman, vice president of product at Brainshark, coaches often use simulators to help players master their swings for different types of pitches, from fast to curve to changeups. In sales, artificial intelligence (AI) can play a similar role by helping salespeople prepare for any conversation that comes their way.
That’s the goal of Brainshark’s new AI-powered engine, Machine Analysis, which transcribes and provides automatic feedback on videos submitted by sales reps based on specific criteria specified by their managers. For example, a manager might want to make sure reps are using specific messaging regarding a new product and its competition. She will ask her team members to record themselves practicing a pitch and tell the platform to flag those messages as well as things like filler words or speaking pace. The platform will provide a score to the reps and the manager as well as feedback on those criteria. Then, the manager can use the score and feedback to provide targeted coaching to the reps.
Other companies have recently launched platforms that use AI to augment coaching. Last year, Steve Andersen, founder and president of Performance Methods, Inc., told Training Industry that many salespeople “are drowning in data.” That’s true of sales managers, as well. Sales coaching can have a significant impact on sales, and technology can help free up managers’ time to do more of it – and do it better. It also, Soman says, “takes the subjectivity out of the equation” by using a machine rather than a person to analyze and assess behavior.
“Sales readiness is more than just the knowledge,” says Soman. To really be ready to sell, reps need to have the right message and the right delivery. AI can help reps access that knowledge quickly and easily, according to experts like Julie Thomas, president and CEO of ValueSelling, and Yuchun Lee, CEO and co-founder of Allego. It can also now help with the delivery. With video, managers can see and hear a rep’s message and help them improve it.
Overcoming Coaching Reluctance
“Resistance to coaching takes many forms,” Amy Jen Su, managing partner of Isis Associates, told Harvard Business Review in 2014. Soman says that sales managers are often reluctant to provide coaching because they feel they simply don’t have the time. Reps themselves may be reluctant to be coached, especially when such coaching involves recording themselves on video for their managers. “There’s an empathic approach here that you can do on both fronts,” Soman says, “and AI plays an important role.” If the rep isn’t comfortable sending a video to his or her manager, having a computer analyze the video and provide feedback without using the manager can be a good first step to develop more confidence before working more directly with the manager.
“AI is actually a strong enabler for establishing a coaching culture,” Soman concludes. By automating feedback, giving managers data on which employees to devote more coaching time to and helping reps develop confidence before being coached, AI can support a culture that builds knowledge, fluency and trust among reps and their managers.