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January 16, 2024

Authentic Customer Conversations in the Age of AI: Why They Still Matter

By Chad Brines, Chief Revenue Officer, Braintrust
A person presses AI on the transparent screen.

Amid an ever-evolving and shifting business landscape, the role of AI in B2B sales has garnered significant attention and focus. It is a hot topic, and rightly so! The intersection of AI and B2B sales isn’t just about leveraging technology; it’s about optimizing workflows, enriching customer relationships, and ultimately driving better business outcomes. This ongoing evolution continues to shape the future of how B2B transactions are conducted and relationships are forged.

In this article, we will discuss how:

  1. AI has a place and it isn’t going away.
  2. Communication mastery is critical to relationship-building.
  3. A proven and executable approach to communication sets the stage for high performance.

To fully grasp the potential influence of AI on B2B sales, it’s helpful to briefly glance in the rearview mirror to appreciate the technological advancements that have reshaped the selling environment. The past three decades have been impacted by significant tech evolutions that have not only impacted but also progressively redefined B2B sales. Although this is not an exhaustive list, here are several key innovations:

The 1990s saw the rise of CRM systems that helped businesses more efficiently manage customer information, sales leads, and interactions.

In the 2000s, sales force automation tools were introduced – streamlining the sales process by automating tasks like lead tracking, contact management, and forecasting. In addition, online B2B marketplaces such as Alibaba emerged, making it easier for businesses to find and connect with suppliers and customers worldwide.

By the time 2010 rolled around, social media platforms like LinkedIn became vital for sales professionals to connect with prospects, build relationships, and share valuable content. As an example, when I was leading a biopharmaceutical sales team with a novel new product used in surgery, we actively leveraged LinkedIn to create buzz around new users of the product. We posted content and images with the sales representative, the doctor, and the OR team – highlighting their first cases and the excitement around utilizing the new technology. The benefit of content sharing was obvious, but the initiative also generated fun and excitement for the sales team and our customers.

The decade also witnessed the rise of social selling tools and platforms. Alongside this, marketing automation platforms like HubSpot – which allowed businesses to generate and cultivate leads, automate email campaigns, and measure marketing ROI – began to penetrate the landscape of sales and marketing. Mobile apps for on-the-go access to CRM data, email, and other sales tools became commonplace with salespeople, enhancing their productivity, responsiveness, and efficiency. The implementation of predictive analytics and machine learning with sales data allowed businesses to identify patterns to predict customer behavior, leading to more targeted and specific sales strategies.

More recently, in the 2020s, we were introduced to AI-powered tools like chatbots, virtual assistants, and predictive analytics that further enhanced sales processes, providing real-time data and insights for personalized customer engagement. Then, along came COVID-19 – forcing the acceleration of virtual sales, video conferencing, and online sales meetings, and transforming and reimagining the way B2B sales teams engage with prospects and customers.  During COVID, while I was the leader of a national sales team, video conferencing was critical to maintaining connection and relationships with the sales and customer team, my leadership team, and my cross-functional partners. Technology was a key support mechanism to maintain personal connections in a very isolated and limited environment.

The 2020s also saw B2B companies increasingly integrate e-commerce platforms into their sales processes, allowing customers to make purchases online and streamlining order fulfillment. Customer data platforms (CDPs) consolidate customer data from various sources, enabling businesses to create a comprehensive view of their customers for more personalized and effective sales and marketing efforts.

Eight circles in blue on a blue background.

Today, AI is the newest technological advancement with all the buzz and numerous applications, including B2B selling. Conduct a quick search online for AI and sales and you will immediately discover countless articles about AI, how it will impact sales, how it will revolutionize sales, how to use it to accelerate sales, etc. A quick search of AI in sales generates 775,000,000 results in less than one second!

Though it’s uncertain what the true AI impact will be on sales – or what the next technological advancement will be – there’s one consistent thread that can be found running through the entire history of technological advancements…

[Top performing sales professionals have mastered the customer conversation]

World-class salespeople put technology in the proper place as a resource, support, or effectiveness tool to better serve their customers. Until we are all T-800 Model cybernetic selling organisms like the Terminator, the reality is that meaningful sales conversations still require one human to talk to another human.

AI is commoditizing the collection and interpretation of information. Today’s and tomorrow’s successful sales professionals and teams need to continue to master the emotionally intelligent customer conversation.

As an example, let’s consider the idea of building a house. If I hire a horrible carpenter, with little to no carpentry skill, to build a house, it won’t matter if that carpenter gets a new saw. Without great carpentry skills, the new saw (the tool) will not make an impact and the house will not be built with great craftsmanship and quality. The same is true for salespeople and new tools, such as AI. AI is a useful and exciting tool, but a great sales professional will still need to master the customer conversation.

While world-class sales professionals leverage technology advances to drive efficiency in their days, maximize territory planning, and properly target opportunities, ultimately they are consistently successful because they have perfected the process of establishing trust, building connections, and mastering the customer conversation via effective storytelling focused on the customer. However, after over a decade of training sales professionals, one reality is constant: Many sales professionals do this intuitively, but few do it intentionally; and, because they don’t do it intentionally, they don’t do it consistently. As a result, providing salespeople with the knowledge and understanding of how to effectively communicate is critical to intentionality, consistency, and (ultimately) results.

For sales professionals who have mastered the customer conversation, whether intuitively or intentionally, what do they do that separates them from all others?

  1. Great salespeople meaningfully connect with their customers. They know how to create personal connections through an authentic blend of humility, honesty, and vulnerability. They connect with their customers much more deeply than surface-level rapport and establish genuine trust and connection. In our many years of teaching and training NeuroSelling® (braintrustgrowth.com/neuroselling) – our validated and proven sales program built on neuroscience and behavioral psychology – this practice alone has driven a meaningful, significant lift in sales results.
  2. Great salespeople effectively communicate that they understand and care about their customer’s business and goals. They invest the time to understand their customers, their business, and their goals, and can articulate it through a story that establishes professional credibility but also demonstrates to the customer that the sales representative cares about what the customer cares about. AI can be a wonderful tool to research and better understand your customers, but the sales professional remains critical in communicating that knowledge in an emotionally intelligent fashion.
  3. Great salespeople know and can articulate which problems and challenges put their customer’s goals at risk, and they support that knowledge with insights. Without a reason or urgency to change, people generally do not depart from the status quo. To do so, the risk of staying the same must be greater than the risk of change. A world-class communicator and sales professional knows how to skillfully, authentically, and honestly explore and discuss risks to the customer’s goals by leveraging third-party insights as validation for a meaningful discussion, which ultimately drives urgency to change.
  4. Finally, great salespeople serve their customers by solving their problems in a meaningful and measurable way. If your product or service cannot help the customer, you are honest and credible enough to admit it. On the other hand, if the first three areas mentioned above have been properly and artfully navigated, the salesperson’s solution is the best option for the customer because the salesperson has demonstrated how they are uniquely qualified to solve an agreed-upon problem that puts the customer’s goals at risk. World-class salespeople know how the problem they are solving impacts the individual they are calling on, the department or business function they are supporting, and the overall goals of the business – and they articulate it through a masterful customer conversation including the use of storytelling techniques.

Ten people stand in a line covered by a slightly transparent handshake.

So, what does an organization need to do to build a team of sales professionals who have a mastery of the customer conversation? In our experience, we have generally found two things to be critical:

  1. The team must have a deep understanding of their customer (not market research, but what is truly important to the customer) and be provided with the proper sales communication skills to master the customer conversation, including the ability to articulate what is truly important to the customer, and ongoing reinforcement coaching to develop consistent communication habits. And ongoing coaching leads directly into the second critical factor…
  2. Salespeople need great managers who have a mastery of the sales conversation and know how to effectively coach their people. Why do the greatest quarterbacks in the world have quarterback coaches? Why do the greatest professional golfers in the world have swing coaches? Why do the best baseball players in the world have batting coaches? The best in the world have coaches to constantly hone their skills, observe their performance, and coach them to consistently perform at a high level. Sales professionals need and deserve the same to be elite in their profession.

Based on the importance of a sales team to an organization’s success, at Braintrust we remain focused on two areas: the customer conversation (www.braintrustgrowth.com/neuroselling) and the coaching conversation (www.braintrustgrowth.com/neurocoaching), executed through sales enablement training and leadership coaching programs. Both programs are rooted in neuroscience and behavioral psychology designed to develop consistent communication habits that translate into the ability to sell and coach at an elite level. Contact us today, at www.braintrustgrowth.com, to learn more about how our team can partner with you to achieve your people growth and sales growth goals.

Chad Brines, chief revenue officer at Braintrust, is focused on helping clients grow their revenue, improve the coaching climate, and enhance their overall organizational culture while simultaneously working to help Braintrust expand their footprint to teach more professionals on the secrets and science of world-class communication.