Steli Efti is the CEO and co-founder of Close, a CRM with built-in sales automation features for startups and SMBs. Close is a trusted partner of Microsoft for Startups Founders Hub, providing our startups with their 1st month free and an 80% discount on any Close subscription plan for 12 months. Steli is a Y Combinator alum and an advisor to startups and entrepreneurs.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is disrupting every area of business – it’s built into chatbots, sales reports, and even tools to help salespeople write better emails. By 2027, the AI market is expected to be valued at a staggering $407 billion.
But, there are a whole lot of folks using AI in their sales process without understanding how it works or how to use it thoughtfully. One of our biggest takeaways from integrating AI into our own sales process at Close has been just how risky it can be to develop an over-reliance on these tools—no matter how great they seem at first.
Ultimately, they’re still just tools that can’t replace the human elements of building real relationships with the people you’re selling to.
AI in sales: mistakes that make you less effective
Sales is about building relationships, and over-reliance on AI removes the human aspect of sales — which can be devastating to startups looking to gain an edge in the market. Here are a few of the biggest wrenches an over-reliance on AI tools can throw into your well-oiled sales process:
- Not proofreading the copy your AI tools are generating: The goal of any cold email is to start a conversation and begin the qualifying process. You know when a sales email feels like it’s written by a real person who cares about the outcomes they’re delivering for you. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure your AI-assisted emails are free of spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and a tone that doesn’t match the way you want to come across. To solve this growing challenge we identified, we built our own AI-powered sales tools trained on our experience sending tens of thousands of emails that start conversations with real prospects.
- Insufficiently guiding AI for your specific purpose: Believe it or not, AI tools can’t read our minds (yet). Whether you’re using ChatGPT or something else, these kinds of tools will only be as effective as the level of care, attention to detail, and love you place into the prompts. Anything powered by AI will thrive on very detailed guidance and direction, so the more time you invest instructing your tools with exactly what you want in output, the stronger your downstream sales results will be.
- Failing to measure effectiveness: All too often, sales teams scale up their outreach with an AI-assisted approach, without having a clear framework in place to check if that AI-assisted process is actually working. How do you define success with the introduction of an AI tool into your email outreach process? I’ve long argued that response rates are all that matter when it comes to cold email campaigns, so if your response rates aren’t holding steady or gradually improving with an AI-adapted outreach process, it’s time to reevaluate how you’re leveraging these tools.
How to keep your sales process human (while using AI)
Like any other tool that’s added to your sales tech stack, AI needs to be used thoughtfully and carefully by those choosing how these tools are implemented with the goal of advancing your go-to-market strategy. Start by setting a clear, actionable goal you want to achieve with the help of AI. Maybe you want to increase outreach, send nurture emails faster, or follow up with 2X the number of customers.
Once you have a goal (and find an AI tool to help you reach that goal), make sure you understand how each particular tool works and what type of data it needs in order to be effective. Ask yourself questions like:
- Where is your input data coming from, and how reliable is it?
- Has the AI tool been properly trained to perform that task?
- Do you have evaluation criteria for determining whether your implementation is successful?
Don’t just ask ChatGPT to write a sales email. Instead, tell it what company you work for, who you’re reaching out to, what industry your prospect is in, and any additional intel you have on prospects to help write a truly great sales email. If you don’t like the first result, refine your prompt, instruct the AI more clearly, and try again.
Finally, make sure AI is part of your sales process, not your entire sales process. This means taking AI outputs (whether that is a sales report or a cold email) and making them your own. Depending on what you’re using AI for, that might mean personalizing your email or validating your sales reports.
The future of sales isn’t people vs. AI; it’s salespeople who understand how to use AI well versus all those folks who don’t.
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