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Salesforce released its third annual State of Sales report today, a compendium of insights, trends, and surveys from over 2,900 sales professionals worldwide. It’s chock full of interesting facts and figures, but one of the biggest takeaways is that artificial intelligence — specifically as it relates to opportunity insights, lead prioritization, and guided selling — is gaining slow but steady ground in the sales industry, and sales teams expect it to become pervasive by 2020.

“AI is one of the most exciting fields today,” Gilad Raichstain, vice president of product management at Salesforce, told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We’re seeing how it’s impacting the business world.”

The industry is bullish on AI’s ability to close sales and boost the bottom line. Nearly half of all salespeople surveyed said that AI has a role to play in guided selling capabilities, like opportunity rankings (i.e., highlighting customers with high sales potential) and suggested next steps (tips and ideas to help clinch a deal). Of the “high-performing” salespeople surveyed, that number was 62 percent.

“Without the help of AI, sales teams are doing all these things that are taking time out of selling and building relationships with customers,” Gilad said. “They’re spending a third of their time doing selling. With AI tools, you want high enough accuracy that you can complete things automatically and build trust and relationships with customers.”


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In fact, Salesforce says that 76 percent of teams using AI have increased the size of their staff since 2015. That’s compared to sales teams that aren’t using AI and don’t plan to use AI in the near future, only 48 percent of which saw staffing levels rise.

Across the board, respondents to the Salesforce survey said that they expect AI to substantially impact sales report forecasting and guided selling. About 66 percent characterized machine learning’s ability to glean customer sentiment and engagement as “transformative,” and 65 percent said that AI-powered insights into business developments, emails, and calendar data would “make them more effective in their job.”

Despite the confidence teams expressed in AI and its positive impact so far, a minority of salespeople have access to it. Only 46 percent of sales representatives surveyed said they receive data insights into customers’ propensity to buy, and just 34 percent said they have intelligent forecasting and/or get alerts to key actions on opportunities.

But respondents expect the gap to narrow in the coming years. By 2020, they predict that AI adoption in the industry will grow by 155 percent. (The growth metric is unclear, in this case; the Salesforce report didn’t elaborate.)

“For years, people were talking about data and how they weren’t getting any insights out of it,” Gilad said. “AI providing insights for you has been a vision for a long time. In the future, I think we’ll see AI everywhere — in voice, text, and email — that’s going to optimize processes and end up enabling teams to sell more.”

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