How A.I. Protects Sales Reps from Soul-Sapping Stress

By Pavel Dmitriev

Workplace stress can kill. Literally.

A study by researchers from Stanford and Harvard found that work-related stress leads to more than 120,000 deaths every year and piles up annual healthcare expenses to the tune of $190 billion. The study explored the areas of anxiety, fatigue, extended work hours, low compensation, work-family conflict, and other work-related issues and their direct link to risky behaviors that cause chronic health problems.

And guess what? It doesn’t take a genius to know that sales can be stressful with rejections every day, sleepless nights agonizing about next month’s quota, and worry about out how to prioritize the countless tasks you need to accomplish just to stay in sync with your team’s sales process. Not to mention emails, prospecting calls, appointments to set – and reset. The list could expand from there.

So, don’t blame yourself too much if — once in a while — you find yourself thinking that being a sales development rep, account executive, or customer success manager may drive you to the brink. Unless, of course you find that safe, sweet spot between sales and science.

While mindset change, self-help methods, and therapies, such as meditation and exercise, help alleviate the impact of stress, you can also address the problem directly by attacking the root causes of stress in the workplace.

In the sales world, much of work-related stress stems from tedious tasks that leave reps with little room, little time, and little drive to engage prospects and customers better. Meanwhile, the pervading sense of uncertainty (such as false or incomplete customer data, identifying the best prospect to engage next and the best messaging approach for the task, crafting the right response to a challenging customer email, etc.,) also aggravates an already stressful situation.

Fortunately, technologies in the form of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data science are proactively changing the workplace — and the sales floor — for the better.

Artificial intelligence and human happiness
That AI and human happiness would find each other in the same sentence seemed highly unusual but the pairing has already become a trending topic in psychology, business boardrooms, and HR departments.

Here are four areas where artificial intelligence is positively changing the nature of work:
1. Smart Virtual Assistants.
AI-powered personal assistants lend system and sense to an otherwise disjointed — and stressful — workday. From properly prioritizing tasks to granting faster and targeted access to work resources, virtual assistants help professionals do their jobs better by enabling them to focus more on value-generating tasks that require their unique skill sets; and by providing contextual, real-time insight and recommendations that greatly enhance performance. For example, Outreach’s Amplify automatically identifies new contact information such as phone numbers in customer email replies and updates the contacts database. This not only saves reps from doing a mundane task, but also gives confidence that when the time comes to call the customer, they won’t be wasting time searching for the right number.

2. Sales and Marketing Automation.
These include a whole range of solutions from email and call management software to sales engagement technologies that leverage machine learning. According to McKinsey, nearly half (45%) of professional activities can be automated. When done correctly, this could lead to significant reductions in routine and mundane work, freeing human workers to optimize their creative skills, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking not only to drive better business outcomes, but to actually feel good about their work.

3. Higher Customer Satisfaction.
Customer engagement has been top-of-mind for many developers of workplace AI, especially in sales-oriented enterprises. AI-assisted routing for customer support processes, for example, is designed to help businesses provide timely and effective service to their customers at scale. By only engaging reps at the right time or context and equipping them with the right tools, AI greatly reduces uncertainty and enables reps to be faster and more successful in resolving customer issues.

4. Enhanced Employee Learning, Training, and Development.
Many HR departments are using artificial intelligence and data to personalize, bolster, and reinforce professional training and development. AI can be used to analyze sales rep performance and recommend personalized coaching opportunities to the managers. Some ML-driven sales engagement solutions also provide on-the-job training by generating the right insight and messaging for every selling context, enabling sellers to learn empirically as they engage diverse types of customers at different stages of the buyer journey.

Saying that sales is tough or stressful is both a cliché and an understatement. Over-the-top burnout and attrition rates in the industry tell the real and alarming story.

With so much depending on an organization’s sales force, just accepting the state of things can never be an option. Fortunately, artificial intelligence and its allied fields — machine learning and data science — are changing the calculus.

With the right AI solutions for example, sales development reps get freed from mindless, soul-killing tasks such as manually updating CRM data or extracting hard-to-get phone numbers. They can instead drive meaningful and value-generating conversations with the right prospects at the right time with the right messaging. They can feel they are winning, rather than feeling overwhelmed.

How can you use AI to help your sales team?  The good news is that you don’t need to hire expensive PhD talent to implement and optimize these solutions. Today, many AI solutions and automations readily integrate into a sales engagement platform and can be easily configured and used by sales reps themselves, much like a mobile app or a plug-and-play device.

So yes, AI just may reduce stress, increase happiness, and radically improve the performance of your sales team. Which leaves one lingering question: how soon will you act?

Pavel Dmitriev is the Vice President of Data Science at Outreach.