Why AI Will Govern Customer Relationships in B2B Sales
“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Roy Charles Amara
How AI fits in the B2B Customer Relationship
At first glance, seeing a statistic that 85% our customer relationships will be managed without a human seems improbable. And one could think that the only market where this is a possibility is in B2C where Amazon has shown the power of self-service and its ability to improve customer satisfaction. Most people in B2B think that “Humanless” is not a possibility in B2B sales due to the product and solution complexity and tremendous rate of change. However, B2B has several dynamics which may make it even better suited for placing intelligent digital agents in the front lines of the customer relationship.
B2B is different from B2C because companies must sell solutions incorporating many products that must interoperate according to technical specifications. In turn, each solution must ultimately solve a business problem and deliver ROI. In contrast in B2C you are typically selling a single point product. B2C sales are often conducted using a simple catalog. Whereas, B2B sales has been traditionally been conducted with human experts providing advice on building solutions. The problem is that this traditional manual B2B sales model does not scale for the seller and it is not the experience that is preferred by the buyer.
AI Based advisors can bridge these knowledge gaps that have typically been closed with human manual effort and deliver agility to customers in the buying experience. AI Based advisors for B2B can incorporate enough expertise and intelligence to empower buyers to self-serve and identify optimal solutions that meet their business requirements.
How the 70% Rule is Rapidly Driving the Adoption of AI Advisors and Knowledge Bots in B2B Customer Relationships
There are 3 key statistics I like to call the “B2B 70% Rule” that are driving the rapid adoption of AI Based Knowledge Advisors in B2B for front end sales:
- B2B Buyers are 70% of the way through their decision making process before they even contact a sales rep - Deploying AI Based Recommendation engines and advisors so buyers can self-serve is the only way to influence demand and insure sellers are not left out of the sale!
- 70% of people prefer texting over calling – If you make your customer call you could lose the sale. From the customer’s perspective there is too much friction when using the phone.
- Administrative Tasks can consume as much as 70% of a sales reps time – You can literally double your sales capacity by augmenting your sales team with Bots that can do repetitive tasks.
AI Based Advisors for B2B sales must offer a conversational interface in addition to a web interface and be more intelligent than a classic chat bot. B2B sales needs a Knowledge Bot not a Chat Bot to add value in the customer relationship.
The AI Advantage in B2B Sales
Imagine a B2B business that puts conversational advisors and recommendation engines out on the web allowing users to self-serve and build complete solutions. If you don’t offer Knowledge Bots and recommendation engines you most likely will not be considered by the buyer when they go to independently research on the web. If this Knowledge Bot now offers a seamless transfer to purchase the solution or talk to a human resource imagine the improvement customer experience and probability of purchase. Buyers are quite clear they prefer chat over the telephone. Finally, if you have an administrative bot that takes over the admin work for the sale (pricing, discount approvals, quote documentation, engineering approvals, etc) the two bots can dramatically improve the sales efficiency and scale of your sales organization. This is especially critical in an industry that cannot hire and train enough human experts to assist buyers in the solution sales process.
But What About Human Relationships in B2B Sales?
We have all noticed the importance of relationships in B2B sales.
Will Knowledge Bots replace old fashioned human relationships between the sales rep and the buyer? The short answer is NO for the following reasons:
- Buyers want to you to be “Easy to do Business with”: Sales Reps using Knowledge Bots will be viewed as most competent, most agile and easiest to do business with. No more “I will get back to you”. No more unnecessary iterations.
- Buyers want to do business with the “A” Team not the “B” Team: Teams with the most expertise and fastest turnaround times win the most business.
- Technology Facilitates More Communication Not Less: At the end of the day technology allows people to communicate more – not less. And more communication makes relationships closer. Facebook and LinkedIn have replaced the telephone in a substantial number of conversations. But because it is more efficient, relationships are closer than ever before and do not languish as they did when there was only the telephone and email. With AI agents, buyers and sellers can stay connected more not less.
- Technology Facilitates More Trust Not Less: Knowledge Bots make both buyers and sellers instant experts. They can jointly evaluate more alternatives in a fraction of the time. They remove risk by being able to determine optimal solutions improving customer satisfaction and trust. Sellers with the best Knowledge Bots become the trusted advisor to the customer.
- Technology Builds More Meaningful Relationships: To quote Mark Zuckerberg: “Facebook is about bringing people closer together and enabling meaningful social interactions”. Similarly instead of buyers and sellers having conversations about “where is my quote”, answering qualification questions or doing endless “what ifs” that can all be addressed with a digital advisor or knowledge bot they can focus on more important issues such as the best avenues for migrating to the cloud.
- Technology Can Detect when Relationships are in Trouble: Digital Advisors and Knowledge Bots have built in Analytics and Predictive capabilities. This allows sellers to see if they are interacting less or shifting business to lower end products and services.
Best Practices for Augmenting Sales Teams with AI
Digital Advisors and Knowledge Bots Build Stronger Relationships. Sales teams with Knowledge Bots are Better Together but the B2B sales process must adapt:
- Measure Sales reps on the QUALITY of phone minutes not on the QUANTITY of phone minutes spent with customers.
- Incentivize Sales Reps on the number of times their customers use their personal digital advisors, recommendation engines and Knowledge Bots.
- Incentivize Users to leverage Digital Advisors and Knowledge Bots and seamlessly collaborate with sellers.
- Empower Sellers with Digital Administrators and remove any tasks that take them away from selling.
- Require that users answer basic qualifying questions using a Knowledge Bot before they access a seller.
Sellers should use precious phone time on meaningful conversations.
Summary – AI Agents and Knowledge Bots will become an essential member of EVERY B2B Sales team
B2B needs AI to facilitate customer relationships even more than B2C. Conversational agents and recommendation engines will become an essential member of EVERY B2B Sales team. But they must be able to handle more complex conversations and have more in-depth expertise – they must be Knowledge Bots. Knowledge Bots remove friction in the sales process for both the seller and the buyer. And finally they give sales organizations unlimited scale and fill a gap in staffing shortages.
Have I forgotten anything? Please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.