As technology continues to evolve at light speed, many of us are constantly impressed at the level of innovation. Much of the buzz these days seems to be centered on the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it is being applied to business. Today, AI and predictive analysis has been primarily discussed in relation to retail and product-based marketing. However, what more people should be talking about is how AI is starting to permeate organizations looking for an edge in selling services.
More specifically, what role does AI have in accelerating success for business developers selling professional services? Before we provide an answer to that question, it is important to look at the most common challenges for professional sales people that work for accounting firms or partners that sell as part of their responsibilities.
Few would argue that the most important commodity of any business developer is time. Regardless of who you are, there are limits on your time. The allocation of where you choose to spend that time is going to result in an opportunity cost of spending it somewhere else. The challenge is how to spend time in a way that will produce optimum results.
Even those who have a good handle on time management may not know who they should be meeting with to uncover needs that may lead to new work. And this applies to both direct business opportunities as well as referral networks.
Unfortunately, when you are in a world of business-to-business (B2B) competition, you are not working in a vacuum. More simply said…you are often one of many people in your firm that may be targeting an individual or an organization. Multiply that by the number of competitors that you have and the number of partners or associates they have trying to surface the same opportunities and this illuminates why business development is so challenging.
The reality is that we are all looking for any edge. Some firms have turned to marketing and marketing automation while others are sinking heavy dollars into saturating their markets with more business developers. To gain that edge, some firms are now leveraging newer AI capabilities. For business developers, this includes insights around CRM data and email servers.
When it comes to CRM platforms, the information is only as good as the source. To get valuable information, most organizations need to have consistency of inputs and participation in the CRM. More importantly, it often takes people to assess the data in front of them in order to gain some insights that might help them talk to the right people or land a specific piece of business.
Most of the leading accounting firms have now realized that AI tools, in combination with the right CRM and marketing platforms can provide meaningful information to their business developers in a way that can impact how they handle meetings and potential deals. It can shorten the life cycle within the sales funnel, making your time with prospects more effective.
Here’s how AI works. AI looks at volumes of data for predictive purposes, which means the information is “historical.” For a person who is dealing directly with people in order to get results, historical information is only valuable if it provides strategic insights into the individual you are meeting with, their industry, or their organization.
In fact, today’s AI tools for business developers can do just that. Artificial intelligence can scour very large data sets, seek specific types of trends, and deliver that information to people who use the insights to increase effectiveness in their business development cycles.
Most accounting firms are pushing away from being heavily focused on tax compliance revenue and want partners and business developers to have a bigger impact as trusted advisors. Having AI tools as an aid to bringing those people insightful information at the right time can turn into meaningful results.
AI is like an invisible employee that never gets sick, does not take vacation, and works 24 hours a day. It learns based on what you are asking it to research and improves its accuracy over time. If your business development efforts require you to source others for reporting and information, it may be time to look into the possibilities and power of artificial intelligence.
AAM Minute: Business Development
Danny Estrada, MBA, E Squared Strategy & Management Consulting