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Sales used to be an art – now, thanks to AI, it's a science

·5 min read

(Photo: Pixabay)

The ‘art’ of sales and associated techniques are not just a cliché, they are also a highly inefficient approach. For example, around 80% of B2B Sales-Qualified-Leads fail to convert, and over half of previously committed or forecasted sales (54%) don’t go through.

Businesses are aware of the problem and have been adopting increasing amounts of sales technology such as CRM platforms, auto-dialers, e-signing, email tools and more. These help, but a recent survey found only half of salespeople (51%) used the tools, and most still rely on people skills to close a sale.

The problem is that a lot of the tech is designed to automate processes and doesn’t tackle the real issue – the soft skills needed to complete a deal.

AI and deep learning are the next step forward

The benefits of cutting-edge developments in artificial intelligence are being increasingly adopted by multiple sectors of industry. According to a recent report by Salesforce, AI integration in sales is expected to grow faster than any other technology. However, it is not set to replace salespeople – the intent is to increase sales efficiency and improve skill sets.

Until very recently, the most sophisticated way companies used sales-technology to optimize sales performance was to analyze transcribed previously recorded sales conversations (via Zoom, Webex, MSFT teams, etc.) and applying NLP/NLU methods to extract and understand what the best performing sales professionals say to prospects, under the premise that what is being said, literally, by a successful salesperson can be useful to other sales team members. This technology is known as Conversation Intelligence (CI) but carries significant limitations.

Israeli startup Substrata is leveraging the capabilities of deep learning to take things a very big step further. Substrata CEO Ori Zuckerman explains, “The analysis resulting from most companies using CI is insufficient if you genuinely want to understand the interplay between the salesperson and the prospect. It is based purely on syntax, words used, and what was said. What we do is look at how things were said or communicated.

“Existing sales-technology solutions, including CI, miss what is truly being expressed and are unable to detect implicit social signals hiding in the nuances and the subtleties. Interpersonal aspects of conversations such as attitudes, intentions, sentiment, sarcasm, and relative social status aren’t detected because they are expressed non-verbally. We set out to create a technology that’s focused on identifying nonverbal social signals. We focus on the subtext – the deep underlying social context of the dialogue.”

Research suggests that 66% to 93% of interpersonal communication is nonverbal. To improve insight and understanding, Substrata developed software that can accurately analyze important social signals that are conveyed through body language, space & distance, vocal prosody, and interpersonal synchrony.

To do this, Substrata uses a combination of deep learning and deep reinforcement learning architectures. This unique innovative tech can be applied to various communication channels, including emails and online conference calls and integrates with Gsuite, Salesforce, MS Dynamics and more. The information gathered is then used to help salespeople become more aware of, and sensitive to, the implicit social cues in sales-related engagements. This information is remarkably effective in assisting sales crews in closing deals and in building stronger relationships with customers.

“We want to replace many old fashioned sales techniques and help turn normal salespeople into highly sophisticated dealmakers,” Zuckerman explains. “We are taking the ‘art of sales’, breaking it down, and replacing it with the ‘science of sales’. This has been made possible by new deep technology and was simply not possible before. It’s the next step for the industry.”

Advances in technology and science can take sales to the next level

The approach used by Substrata makes use of the fascinating and revolutionary new field of social signal processing (SSP). SSP utilizes deep learning models to make sense of non-verbal communication. It is a field that spans computer science, social science, and cognitive and behavioral psychology.

Substrata’s social signal processing technology includes a multimodal conversation analysis API engine called “PIE” (stands for “Pragmatic Intelligence Engine”). PIE is used to analyze nonverbal cues in text, audio and video communication and make the analysis accessible to third-party software. Its ‘Q Beta’ product, on the other hand, is a sales communication assistant that helps sales professionals improve deal win-rate in real time. It can be integrated into existing email providers, sales software, and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.

The cutting-edge models don’t just determine sentiment but also analyze more specific interpersonal aspects of perceived competence, impression management, social roles, and interpersonal synchrony. These developments push the boundaries of what sales technology can do and where the industry is likely to head next, especially in light of recent global events.

“Substrata was founded in 2019 with the help of some of the best minds in the field,” Zuckerman explains. “Discoveries in the realms of social signals, social intelligence, nonverbal communication and pragmatics are under-explored and under-utilized in the business software industry. When we started to explore the field and potential manifestations of our ideas, applying the technology to B2B sales made immediate sense.”

“We have the numbers. The ‘classic’ sales methods don’t work, never have and never will, as long as the very significant aspect of interpersonal interaction is ignored. This situation was already exacerbated by the increasing use of emails, texts, calls, and videoconferencing. Then the pandemic arrived and accelerated everything. The soft skills required by salespeople in the modern world can be considerably enhanced with this kind of technology.”

The sales tech sector is increasingly turning the art of sales into a science. Forward-looking companies like Substrata who utilize deep learning (AI) are the next logical step. Human interaction can be subtle and hard to assess – but technology is likely to help with that.

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