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September 18, 2023

Gen AI in Sales: What’s All the Fuss?

By Steve Reis, Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company and Jennifer Stanley, Partner, McKinsey & Company
A blue technology background with AI on the right.

Generative AI (gen AI) seemed to come out of nowhere late last year, but it didn’t. Gen AI has been built through years of advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) that have already revolutionized B2B sales – a trend gen AI promises to supercharge.

McKinsey research estimates AI overall could automate upwards of a fifth of current sales-team functions. That’s a sweeping disruption that will force B2B players to rethink how they do business. But one thing leading companies – those that boost market share by at least 10% annually – tend to have in common is early adoption of advanced sales technology. And players that invest in AI are experiencing a sales ROI uplift of 10–20%.

There’s much for B2B sales organizations to consider, including the impact on sales functions, interactions with customers, and whether to invest in gen AI now given the much-publicized potential risks of this powerful technology. Each of these three areas has promise and risk for sales organizations, and growth leaders are experimenting, learning, and adjusting as they go:

1. Gen AI Should Make Sales Reps More Efficient

The rise of gen AI will impact many areas of B2B sales, including customer experience (CX), top-line growth, and productivity. Gen AI–driven CX makes possible hyper-personalized content and offerings based on individual customer behaviors, personas, and purchase history. In this way, gen AI–based CX applications provide sales reps with richer insights on how and when to connect with customers – allowing them to spend their time far more efficiently and in ways that improve customer satisfaction and engagement.

Gen AI can also boost efficiency by offloading and automating many mundane sales activities, such as combing through previous proposals to figure out what resonated most in winning situations. This frees sales teams to devote more time with existing and prospective customers, while reducing a company’s cost to serve. Personalization is also crucial. Harnessing the power of gen AI against data that’s specific to decision makers and influencers can enable insights at the most granular level, allowing B2Bs to go beyond account-based marketing via hyper-personalized outreach.

2. Gen AI Should Make Sales Reps More Effective 

At the top of the sales funnel, gen AI outperforms standard AI-driven lead identification and targeting, which relies on web harvesting and simple prioritization. Gen AI’s advanced algorithms can leverage patterns in customer and market data to segment and target relevant audiences. These capabilities help marketing and sales teams analyze and identify high-quality leads – resulting in more effective and tailored lead activation campaigns.

Gen AI can also provide continuous support throughout the rest of the sales process after lead generation, from proposal to closing. With its ability to analyze customer behavior, preferences, and demographics, gen AI can generate personalized content and messaging specific to the context of a specific stage in the customer’s buying journey – for example, hyper-personalized follow-up emails after a proposal presentation and contextual chatbot support that references previous rep communications.

Another exciting opportunity is to deploy gen AI in ways that mimic a 24/7 virtual assistant, offering tailored recommendations, reminders, and feedback to help each sales team member deliver higher engagement and conversion rates as a result of how they spend their time. As deals progress, gen AI can even provide real-time negotiation guidance and predictive insights by analyzing transaction data, customer behavior, and competitive pricing.

3. The Time to Invest in Gen AI Innovation Is Now

Generative AI can be a powerful catalyst for growth. But the promise of AI needs to be backed by built-for-growth technology and the operational muscle to fully realize the potential. Various players are already deploying gen AI use cases, but barely scratching the surface. We believe that will change soon. McKinsey research indicates that no less than 90% of business leaders expect to deploy gen AI solutions “often” over the next two years. The most effective companies are prioritizing and deploying advanced sales technology, building hybrid teams, and enabling hyper-personalization – and these trailblazers are already realizing the potential of gen AI on their operations.

Alongside this innovation, though, comes the need for risk management. The astonishing advancement of gen AI has inherent risks associated that span topics like intellectual property, data privacy, and security. There is need for human oversight and ways to mitigate these risks. We have identified six “no-regrets” AI strategies to capitalize on the opportunities ahead.

The gen AI landscape is evolving at breakneck speed. While it’s hard to predict the future of this revolutionary technology, it promises to make a major impact on many areas of B2B sales. Top-performing sales organizations are already using gen AI to maximize their operations by exploiting advances in personalization and internal sales excellence. What are you waiting for?

Steve Reis and Jennifer Stanley are leaders of McKinsey & Company’s Sales and Channel Management Practice.