Utilising AI to predict buyer intent in a digital world

The growth of digital data worldwide is accelerating at an unprecedented, virtually incomprehensible rate. The search engines we use constantly collate data about our browsing habits, merchant websites create a profile about the combination of products we keep returning to, and our social media accounts merge all our data to build a profile of our digital avatar.

However, despite this, our scattered data is often stored in farms without a purpose, leaving us with poor recommendations and ads that do not respond to our interests and needs. This results in poor targeting and a bad experience both for buyers, who are being sold products they neither want nor need, and sellers, who are expected to sell products and services to the wrong audience.

In the world of B2B, this is not simply annoying – this poor targeting ends up harming the reputation of the brand behind the seller. To avoid this, the sales industry needs to start using data wisely – starting by harnessing empirical evidence to predict buyer intent. In a hybrid world, it is easier than ever to identify leads – people that have opened an email, responded to a cold call or engaged with the seller on LinkedIn.

In the remote working world, sales and business leaders should be looking to use AI technology to make the most out of this data. To analyse this data efficiently enables sellers to easily identify their warmest leads, how they like to communicate and be communicated to, and provide clear answers to the buyer’s needs – and in most cases, this no longer involves lengthy in-person meetings where the seller is left guessing buyer intent.

As a result, AI needs to become a priority tool used by businesses to generate more sales and gauge better understanding of customers in the hybrid working world.

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Selling in a remote working world

With face-to-face sales slowly declining, salespeople are needing to ask themselves the important questions: is the value they once provided yesterday still irrelevant today? Or how do they message their value in a way which resonates with the ‘new prospect’?

Over the past year, all businesses experienced an abrupt shift to remote work that made it clear technology is no longer just an additional perk, but the new way to do business. While recent shifts created more urgency for digital transformation in sales, the need has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time.

For salespeople contemplating how to react, taking care of their people and customers must be a top priority. Even as they manage that reality, sales leaders also need to adjust how their organisations sell in the face of new customer habits and trying economic times. In many ways, the changes in customer behaviour are an acceleration of digital trends that were in motion before the pandemic hit.

The point we are currently at could be described as a digital infection point. B2B sales operations going forward will look fundamentally different from what they were before the pandemic because of the way companies spend. While companies are generally reducing spend, a sizable number are increasing or maintaining it, with rates depending on company size, sector, and — more than any other factor — location in the world.

The advantage of AI (artificial intelligence)

The first, and most important, part of the sales cycle is the discovery phase, where the salesperson aims to understand the buyer’s pain points, priorities and goals so they can effectively sell to them. This phase sets the trajectory of the deal and is critical to securing revenue.

However, many sales teams often find this process long and arduous as they do not have the tools in place to quickly address the prospect’s actual challenge.

By using AI to predict buyer intent, sellers are not only generating revenue faster – they are also providing an experience that answers their prospects’ needs and wants. In short, AI-powered buyer intent enables the sales industry to generate sound business in a hybrid world.

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Looking to the future

While most sales leaders accept the need for a move to increased use of digital channels it is not as simple as just “moving to digital”. The sharp rise in the use of digital and self-service channels means that companies need to be thoughtful not only about how to enable effective digital interactions but also about how to deploy their sales reps to best effect. Re-orchestrating the customer experience and the accompanying sales processes across channels should be at the top of the list for sales leaders trying to manage effectively through this crisis and plan for recovery. So should determining how best to deploy sales professionals across channels to help customers and provide support when it is most needed.

In an environment where habits and practices have changed so quickly and will likely continue to do so, sales leaders need a clear view of what their customers want and what steps their company can take to address their needs. Traditional face-to-face interactions have given way to sales and service support by videoconference, webinar, phone, human chatbot, and other means. In this remote and digital world, however, there is still a crucial role for the human touch.

Written by Tom Castley, vice-president of sales – EMEA at Outreach

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