Much has been made of AI’s role in serving customers, and AI-supported smart devices have invaded homes everywhere — Amazon’s Alexa was even used to order millions more Alexas as Christmas presents in 2017. Artificial intelligence is embedding itself in our technology-obsessed culture, but not every industry has taken advantage of AI’s utility.

Adam Honig and his co-founders at Spiro saw an opening to use AI to drive the sales experience. Businesses utilize CRMs to compile and track the data needed to support ongoing sales efforts and pinpoint new sales opportunities. But Honig, the CEO of Spiro, says that many companies aren’t getting the data they need from these platforms — they aren’t used correctly, fully, or consistently, meaning the information these sales teams are working from is skewed.

Spiro is an AI-driven CRM, complete with a conversational email interface, or an email bot, that utilizes existing data — from salespeople’s calendars, emails, and more — to lay out a schedule or to-do list for a salesperson and anticipate next moves. The AI function can process existing information more quickly than humans poring over spreadsheets can, empowering the CRM to predict how many follow-ups it may take — and what format will be most effective — to close a deal.

But that’s not where Spiro sees AI’s intersection with the sales experience ending.

How a People-Driven Industry Benefits From AI

It’s well-known that AI can process data better than humans can — a Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup’s software developed stronger predictive models than the majority of its human competitors did, and some predict that AI will be better than us at everything by 2060. But even then, there are limits: Eleni Vasilaki of the University of Sheffield says there’s “little evidence that AI with human-like versatility will appear any time soon.”

That’s what confounds many: How could an industry fueled by personal relationships, charisma, and camaraderie be driven by AI? Sales is surely a people-driven arena, but it’s already focused on tracking metrics and moving the needle by predicting human behavior. Honig and his co-founders realized, through their CRM work with more than 3,000 companies, that the problem lies in the data being gathered.

“To say that salespeople hate CRM is an understatement; most consider it a soul-sucking beast of burden that doesn’t add any value to their sales life,” Honig says. “We knew that salespeople desperately needed a CRM that would help them make more money, not give them more work. When I saw the movie ‘Her,’ I realized that the new AI technologies that were emerging would be perfect to automate non-sales tasks so they could focus on selling.”

Is This the End of Sales as We Know It?

Beyond increasing productivity and efficiency, automation can relieve salespeople from manual tasks, freeing them up for more high-level strategic efforts. Though many predict that AI will lead to mass unemployment as human beings are relieved of their duties, AI is designed to elevate the skill sets needed in each industry so complex, nuanced problems with big implications are solved by humans who will have to absorb those outcomes.

That’s why Honig believes AI will augment, not replace, salespeople. “In some ways, AI is already replacing salespeople at a fast pace,” he says. “Amazon.com’s AI algorithms make specific purchase recommendations and provide a high level of service that’s hard for retail salespeople to match.”

What that means is that to compete, salespeople selling to businesses have to be prepared to embrace solutions that make them more effective with customers. “In practice, this means using AI solutions to do things that technology can do better, like entering data, and let them focus on the things that people do better, like building rapport and really understanding the needs of a customer,” Honig explains.

The Productive Path Forward

The biggest benefit AI may offer to the sales process is its data-gathering capabilities. Whereas some salespeople operate from instinct or their “gut feeling” about a customer and his needs, sales is often now held to the same standard and expectation of ROI as most marketers and advertisers. Without numbers, it’s hard to maintain a budget, commission, or even a permanent position.

Despite this need for hard data, many sales departments track information haphazardly, failing to record final contract numbers in a database or neglecting to indicate how many touchpoints a lead went through before finding his way to the bottom of the sales funnel. That lack of information may not impact that specific sales process, but it can alter an entire team’s goals and predictions. AI-driven platforms like Spiro can grab the data where it’s buried and build their own reports, adding a layer of analysis and interpretation for human reviewers. Honig says Spiro’s reports have been shown to contain eight times more data than regular CRM reports, underscoring the power of AI.

The other side of AI’s productivity can be seen in its ability to look at an overview of a person’s behavior, add context, and predict future actions. “Imagine if your CRM could advise you who you should call and follow up with to drive all your leads and deals forward,” Honig says. “That’s what we do. Spiro uses a machine learning algorithm that was trained by more than 15,000 salespeople to identify the best times for follow-up, the best email templates to be used, and the best contacts to focus on.”

Thanks to these insights, Spiro’s customers have indicated they reach up to 47 percent more prospects each week. A big factor in reaching more customers is having the AI predict which prospects won’t close so salespeople can focus on others. Human hope makes it hard for sales professionals to shut down a potential source of income when they can’t see where the road ends.

“Artificial intelligence will do more and more for salespeople,” Honig says. “Beyond advising them who to call and follow up with, it will automatically identify similar prospects and suggest that salespeople call them. It will listen in on sales calls and provide real-time feedback to help make the pitch even better. It will learn from emails, calendar appointments, and phone calls to craft specific proposals based on what’s already happened.”

In other words, Honig predicts AI will become salespeople’s constant companion, designed to help them make more money. Sales may be a people-driven industry, but AI is on a path to ensure it values data as much as instincts.

Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. You can reach me at brad at readwrite.com