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Expert Interview: Founder of Altify on the Future of Artificial Intelligence in Sales and Account Planning

Amazon No. 1 Best-seller author of Account Planning in Salesforce, Donal Daly (@donaldaly) combines his expertise in enterprise software applications, artificial intelligence and sales methodology, as he continues to transform how progressive organizations sell.

We recently checked in with the CEO and founder of Altify to get his insight on the evolution of sales and the importance of account planning. Here’s what he shared:

How has sales evolved since you started your career? What excites you about the future of how sales professionals do business?

There are two aspects of selling that have changed dramatically since I started my career. The first is value creation and the second is flexibility.

Everything moves at a much faster pace than ever before. Customers now have access to much more information, so your job as a seller is to create value for the customer by helping them figure out how they can apply your products or solutions to deliver value for their business. Great sellers always did this, but the bar has been raised, so that if your customer does not see you as a value-creator, you will not survive.

And because the customer is more informed, they will engage with you at varying stages in their buying cycle. You need to be flexible and prepared to meet them at their chosen point of engagement, with a message and solution that progresses them farther along their buying journey.

What are the must-have components of a successful sales strategy today?

A successful sales strategy today must have a structured framework or methodology that supports a proven planning approach, and smart technology embedded in the CRM that guides and supports the operational aspects of that methodology. The strategy must come to life and add measurable value for sellers as they work their accounts and opportunities – otherwise, it is just a lifeless, worthless exercise.

What are some outdated or inefficient techniques you see businesses still using today? Why is it time they left those methods behind?

Companies are still investing heavily in sales training that does not stick. The main reason this type of training doesn’t endure is because the tools that are used – paper, PowerPoint, Word or Excel – don’t work the way salespeople do. While there is often great methodology taught in training classes, the learning is often forgotten and the investment is wasted. Some studies would suggest that over 90 percent of sales training is forgotten only 30 days after the training has been completed.

To increase sales productivity, sellers need to change how they work every day, and the right technology can support that.

We all use business and personal productivity apps on our phone to find directions, check stock movements or book flights. We would never think about reverting to the old way of doing these tasks. Why should sellers not be equipped with the same level of support to do the job they do every day? If you can use a smart application like Google Maps to get directions to your customer, shouldn’t you have a smart app to help you navigate the meeting when you get there?

Our research shows that 62 percent of sales meetings do not progress the sale. Technology can end these ineffective sales calls. If you don’t equip your sales team with these tools, you should be concerned because your competition is enabling their sales force with productivity tools that will outpace your sellers.

How should sales pros approach account planning today?

Account planning is fundamentally a collaborative exercise. Its purpose is to create, develop, pursue and win new business in your largest accounts.

If you use a cloud-based account-planning tool, you can collaborate with all of the account team, and with your customer, identifying new areas where you can add value for the customer to solve more of their business problems. If you solve more of their problems, you increase their loyalty while also substantially growing your revenue. Account planning presents a true win-win opportunity when done right.

What tools have you found most useful for account planning? How do they help sales teams?

There are three core tools that we have found to be extremely valuable. Firstly, we use a Customer Insight Map to visually represent the business problems that the customer is facing, their goals, business pressures and obstacles to progress. This tool is a flexible software app that helps the salesperson describe for the customer the problem they think they are solving. A review of the Insight Map is one of the quickest and most flexible ways to get the seller and buyer on the same page, working toward a solution of mutual value.

The second part of the puzzle is figuring out the relationship landscape or the political structure in the account. This Relationship Map shows who is making the decision, who owns the business problems and whose perspective you need to research to validate that you are delivering the right solution. Account planning enables sellers to develop business deeper and wider in an account. We use White Space analysis to visually represent where there are areas in the account where there might be further opportunity to deliver more value to the customer and add revenue for the business.

What are the most common mistakes or oversights you see brands making in the account planning process? What should they be doing differently?

In some cases, companies view account planning as a once-off exercise that happens at the start of the year for each of the most important accounts. Then the account plan is put in a drawer, or stored in a PowerPoint file and rarely referenced again. This process is perhaps understandable as many organizations have not yet adopted the modern, smart cloud-based applications that enable on-going refinement and usage.

Account planning delivers the most impact when it is a living, breathing activity, available in software and always accessible to the account team. Selling to a large company is an ever-changing endeavor and the account plan needs to reside in software that can be updated and referenced in parallel.

How has artificial intelligence impacted sales methodology? Where have you observed the most exciting uses of artificial intelligence in improving sales?

Applying a combination of knowledge, data and insights to predict outcomes and prescribe behaviors is now possible with artificial intelligence. We have applied this combination to identify risk in specific opportunities and in the overall pipeline, and then prescribe preemptive corrective behavior for the sales person.

When artificial intelligence is used to monitor all of a salesperson’s opportunities, it will uncover vulnerabilities that the seller might occasionally miss, but more importantly, it can monitor much more efficiently than the salesperson can – freeing up time for the salesperson to apply his or her experience, expertise and magic to the deal, or better yet, more deals.

How are the most progressive organizations conducting sales today? What can we learn from them?

The winning sales organizations today use smart technologies to focus on three main things: the people, the problems and the plan to connect the two of these. When that works effectively, either at an opportunity, account or overall pipeline level, predictable revenue growth is systematized. Look at what organizations like Autodesk, GE, Optum and Salesforce are using to accelerate their growth – while adding more value to their customers – and you will see what world-class looks like.

For more information on how business analytics can increase sales, watch this free webcast detailing how Dickey’s Barbecue Pit was able to gain valuable insights to make real-time decisions on everything from staffing to inventory to marketing.

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