Sales has always been about the connection between buyer and seller. To build trust, you have to know when to persuade and when to pivot, how to listen and how to tell a compelling story. And you need a deep understanding of the customer’s problems—including those they don’t even realize they have.
In other words, sales is a fundamentally human skill. And yet sellers are often overwhelmed by the pace and quantity of digital tasks, like writing follow-up messages or manually entering CRM data. Like many knowledge workers, sellers are deep in digital debt , struggling to contend with a nonstop crush of data, emails, meetings, and notifications.
AI, data, and analytics can start to lift these burdens, helping you quickly check low-value tasks off your to-do list. Equally important: AI can help you identify and prioritize sales leads and guide you in your engagement with customers. Here’s how to use AI to be more responsive, more innovative, and, crucially, more helpful to customers.
It’s that sinking 9 a.m. feeling. You check your to-do list and confront the dozens of emails you need to sort through and answer. You’re facing a long day of “just checking in,” “circling back,” and “looking forward to hearing from you.” People in sales spend less than a third of their time actually selling, and more than 66 percent of their day managing email, according to research commissioned by Microsoft.
Some days are tougher than others. Let’s say your company just launched a marketing campaign, and you’re flooded with incoming emails and inquiries. Typically, this might lead to weeks or even months of work: researching prospects, reaching out to them, managing their status along the buyer journey, and replying to messages (and yes, plenty of “circling back”).
The challenge: When it comes to email, it’s hard to know which messages to prioritize. Who’s actually ready to buy? Who’s probably going to walk away? What’s a likely dead end, and what might have a meaningful impact?
The solution: Prioritizing leads will always be a uniquely human skill, reliant on the intuition and expertise of an experienced salesperson. But there are tools that can help sort through the pile.
AI and data analytics tools
can help you prioritize leads based on everything from past buying history to whether a client attended a recent industry event. Predictive lead scores, from 0 to 100, can help you rank your queue of customers within Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales, and, combined with your own experience and feel for each buyer, you can determine who gets your first email, and your second. Also: when you’re trying to sort through long message chains,
Microsoft Sales Copilot
can pull out the relevant points so you quickly understand what matters.
“My team was thrilled when I used the new email thread summary feature in a meeting,” says David Swenson, chief information officer at Netlogic. “We get tons of email threads every day. Now we can look at these six bullet points and understand what to do.”
Engaging the Buyer
You’ve identified your top lead and are about to engage with the customer on a particularly promising call. But there’s a lot to juggle. You’re thinking about which product features to highlight and how to move the conversation along to maximize your time together, all while trying to take notes for the (hopefully) rapid follow-up.
The challenge: You’ve had so much on your plate, juggling so many different tasks, that you haven’t had enough focus time to prep for this call. You’re afraid you’ll forget to mention key points, or that you’ll have to look things up, which could lead to awkward lulls in the conversation.
About half of sellers say they do not have enough focus time, and more than 60 percent say that repetitive or menial tasks take them away from more meaningful work, according to Microsoft’s 2023 Work Trend Index report, which includes an international survey of 31,000 workers across 31 markets.
The solution: In an ideal world, all of your meetings with buyers would include a teammate or copilot by your side, recommending pertinent topics you might not have thought about and reminding you about things you forget to mention. Today, conversation intelligence tools can do just that. During a meeting, you can receive notes in real time about what to discuss next, based on factors like customer mood and relevant KPIs. Within Microsoft Sales Copilot, your AI-powered copilot captures action items and surfaces business insights that are relevant to the conversation. As one user put it: “When I am ready to get on with a customer, I can pull the window up and see all the information about the attendees on the call. It’s like having a personal assistant but better.”
After the call, you immediately get a meeting summary , complete with an overview of how the conversation went, as well as action items and customer sentiments throughout the call. (Bonus: meeting and email summaries automatically get saved in the CRM, keeping it up to date.) And during conversations, your attention isn’t diverted by note taking, and the automatically generated summary saves you time and allows you to move quickly to the next step in the process: composing a thank-you email.
Crafting the Follow-up
You’re excited about how the last call went, and confident you’ve made a connection. And now with the automated call summary in hand, which includes a timeline, full transcript, action items, and relevant keywords, you have everything you need to craft the follow-up.
The challenge: The clock is ticking, and you’re looking at a blank screen where the first lines of a follow-up email need to somehow appear. How do you hit the exact right notes that will seal this deal? How do you write an effective email that doesn’t sound like something you’ve just written to 10 other buyers?
One of the biggest pain points of follow-ups is the sheer volume. “There’s a repetitive nature to them,” says Angela Byers, senior director for product marketing, customer experience at Microsoft. “You’re thanking the customer, recapping what was discussed, going over next steps.”
You clearly need help—and 78 percent of people in sales would be happy for that sort of help to come from AI, according to the latest Microsoft Work Trend Index.
The solution: Sometimes all you need is a nudge. Templates used to be the go-to, but AI offers help that goes far beyond that. Today, there are tools that can take the information that’s already been laid out in your call summary and automatically compose an email tailored to your specific buyer, including relevant account data. You double-check it, make a few changes, and hit send. What used to take you over an hour now takes you just a few minutes.
Sending a Proposal
Success. You’ve sent the follow-up, and your buyer responds with a request for a proposal. In the past, you could have waited until tomorrow to respond, but in 2023, everybody needs everything yesterday.
You want to ship a proposal that afternoon, but you also want to make sure you get everything right. Does this buyer qualify for a lower rate? Is there a special offer on the particular product they want, or a volume discount?
The challenge: Proposals depend on data, from buyer history to specific product information, and finding that data almost always takes time—often more time than you have in a day: about 60 percent of people in sales say they spend too much of their workday searching for information. “Different customers qualify for different offers,” Byers says. “But if you aren’t aware of them, you won’t know to search for them.”
The solution: New AI tools can automatically generate proposals tailored to specific customers and situations based on data you might have otherwise had to search for. Instead of you having to look through product catalogs for prices or search through past correspondence to see if a buyer attended a particular webinar, AI can craft a well-written email that takes all of that into consideration—and sometimes, even more.
Hit send, and the ball’s in the customer’s court. You’re close to closing the deal—and with so much less effort and frustration than it would have taken in the past.
You and your team want to spend less time on low-value work and more time helping customers. “AI gives the gift of time: freeing people to focus on the highest value work, the work only they can do,” says Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Modern Work and Business Applications at Microsoft. Sales teams that embrace AI now will have an early edge and a distinct advantage in how—and how well—they can help customers.