Artificial intelligence: Sales success is plannable

Sales functions and field sales forces constitute the most valuable personnel resources in a company. Artificial Intelligence (AI) broadens the knowledge base relating to existing and potential new customers and helps boost sales performance. Consequently, this pays off for the sales function while at the same time raising the motivation of the employees.

Thanks to the strong economy, recent studies show that “middle and high-ranked sales managers can look forward to salary increases of up to 10,000 Euros this year”. This level of remuneration can present a problem especially for medium-sized companies. Software experts are particularly in demand for digitisation projects. Overall, sales and marketing specialists occupy third place among the most sought-after specialist employees.

Artificial intelligence sharpens the profile

Companies are therefore required to use this high-value resource as effectively as possible. Artificial Intelligence has been making a key contribution for years – from recruiting to profit-oriented sales management. From a comprehensive standpoint, self-learning algorithms can for example answer the question as to which formal criteria and personality traits actually make up an outstanding salesperson. Does it depend on their final school results or their choice of university? Is it more important to come across as being friendly, or should a certain tenacity be the deciding factor? These questions can only be answered with a view to the respective company. Is it the jovial salesman who brings the best results, or perhaps the sober technician who likes to talk shop with his prospective customers? If the system learns from past sales results, the desired recruitment profile can be sharpened.

Customer visits must pay off

A fixed salary, a recommended performance-based remuneration element of 30 percent, a company car: The working hour of a salesperson can easily cost a company 100 Euros. It is therefore worth taking some care in answering the question of how best to use this time. How many new and existing customers, and specifically which ones, are worth a visit? Relevant information can be extracted from the customer value and the level of order expectation. These can be determined from historical sales data by using an AI system to evaluate whatever amount of structured and unstructured data is required.

These values can be based on business software, on visits and their results as well as on visit reports; all available information can be analysed and evaluated without taking the personal assessment of sales staff into account. By virtue of steep learning curves, the AI-based systems multiply the knowledge relating to customers and prospects. Because they take into account the time sequence of events, LSTM (Long Short-Term Memory) networks are well-suited to studying these large amounts of data that have been collected over long periods of time.

Minimal time requirement: optimised route planning

Since the data can also be evaluated at the level of the individual salesperson, sales management not only knows which customers should be included in the route planning, but also which task is best suited each salesperson. The analysis of past activities ultimately aims to generate knowledge for the future, for example in that the AI systems generate structured suggestions for individual salespersons’ appointments. Not only do they consider general information about the customer, such as availability (morning/afternoon), but they are also route-optimised in order to minimise salespersons’ travel time.

The route planning can also show up prospective customer appointments. Promising candidates are identified through the neural networks via text mining from corporate websites and databases, as well as by validating existing leads. Ultimately, the sales force thus receives an address list with a very high sales potential – a valuable contribution to competence-oriented employee management. “Certainly there are employees who define their work as an ‘8-hour job’, their main focus being on their salary being paid on time at the end of the month. However, most people are keen on the challenge and want to feel that they are needed. They love being able to use their strengths and talents in the workplace. Both excessive and understated demands are anathema to them”, says sales trainer Christian Polz. By creating a working environment that contributes to “sustained inner motivation”, with clearly defined and promising tasks, Artificial Intelligence understands not only the (potential) customer but also the salesperson better than most supervisors, which in turn promotes sales success.

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