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AI-Powered Sales

May 5, 2023
A former cowboy boots salesperson at a billion-dollar distributor used AI-powered software to learn how to sell to customers and quickly generate sales.
I have a new definition of retail therapy for you. And it’s a true story a distributor shared with me.

Like many of you, this distributor was under pressure. His top sales reps were eyeing retirement. His company faced a tough talent market and increasing customer expectations. And even though they were short-staffed, that was no excuse not to hit sales numbers.

Amid the chaos in his mind, this distributor went shopping for a new pair of cowboy boots. He had an extraordinary experience because the young salesperson who helped him was fantastic. The salesperson was passionate about his work and had a great personality.

The distributor began to wonder if this cowboy boot salesperson could be successful as a sales rep for his billion-dollar distribution company. His immediate thought was, “Of course not. He’s a boot salesperson with zero experience in distribution.” Then others warned the distributor that the cowboy boot salesperson would fail.

But his gut told him it just might work. The rep is young, with a great personality and drive to be successful. This distributor gave the cowboy boot salesperson a chance because he had an AI-powered sales tool to elevate his performance and get him up to speed in a day. Once hired, the former cowboy boots salesperson went out to the field with an AI-powered mobile app sales tool. With customer information readily available in the palm of his hand, he anticipated customers’ needs and had knowledgeable conversations that converted to sales. The quick success of the cowboy salesman was made possible with AI technology.

Sales AI Empowers the Next Generation of Outside Sales Reps

What if 20% of your experienced sales reps were to retire in the next five years? This isn’t a what-if scenario for many distributors. It’s their reality.

Baby Boomers will have reached ages 60-78 by 2024, and  13 million will be 65 or older. Even if some are extending their working years, the pandemic motivated many to retire.

Along with large numbers of the workforce expected to retire, other issues compound the sales labor shortage. Voluntary turnover is nearly three times higher for sales organizations, with one report finding a  30 percent average turnover rate for B2B sales organizations. The Great Resignation continues with  66% of employees seeking their next professional move for more work/life balance and higher job satisfaction.

And when they move on to the next thing, whether it’s retirement or a new position, it’s difficult for distributors to fill the void. Even when you’re successful in the recruiting and hiring process, like the cowboy-boot-shopping distributor from our story above, it can still take  more than 60 days for a B2B sales rep to begin to make an impact.

It takes time and resources to train new sales reps. And when decades of product expertise and knowledge walks out the door when a top sales rep retires after a long career, distributors need a way to quickly recoup the loss and get new sales reps onboard and proficient immediately.

Distributors need to lean on technology and AI to increase a sales rep’s time to value considerably.

Thriving in the New Market with AI-Powered Sales Tools

It’s no longer a winning strategy for distributors to increase sales by hiring more reps. Even though that’s been a tried-and-true strategy for years, it’s just too expensive. Distributors must do more with less. A sales tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI) can help outside sales reps increase productivity and accomplish these three key objectives:

#1. Ramp new sales reps quickly. With sales insights from AI, new sales reps don’t need extensive industry or product knowledge to become immediately successful. They only need to follow the AI’s recommendations for who to call and what to talk about when. If a customer is due to reorder, the AI knows it. If a product is out of stock, it can suggest a substitution. With an AI-powered sales tool, sales reps have a cheat sheet to success and even new sales reps can operate like seasoned experts.

#2. Prioritize accounts with actionable insights. With AI, sales reps don’t waste time planning and can spend more time selling. AI analyzes data from every sales channel in the organization for a 360° view of each customer. It can determine the biggest revenue opportunity or churn risks so a sales rep can prioritize accounts to visit.

Identify upsell and cross-sell opportunities to grow wallet share. Sales reps don’t need years of experience with your product catalog when they have an AI-powered sales tool at their fingertips. The tool gives sales reps a comprehensive view of everything they need to sell, including product insights such as inventory, pricing, and substitutes for stock-outs. By highlighting categories where a customer is underspending, AI-powered sales tools give sales reps sales plays to unlock additional sales opportunities.

#3. Automate quote follow-ups. Manually tracking quotes and follow-ups isn’t efficient. An AI-powered sales tool can automate many tasks, such as quote follow-ups, alleviating the burden of administrative tasks for your sales reps. Freeing your sales reps from manual data entry leaves them more time to sell.

Looking Forward: Embracing Technology to Do More with Less

With the right technology supporting your sales reps, you can think outside the box when recruiting and hiring sales reps. That’s exactly what distributors must do in a tough talent market. When you embrace technology to increase sales reps’ time to productivity, you can do more with less. The next time you encounter a salesperson with the personality and drive you like but with no distribution sales experience, go ahead and give them a chance if you have the technology to support them.

About the Author

Benj Cohen

Benj Cohen grew up in his family’s distribution business, Benco Dental, a dental supply business started by his great-grandfather in the 1930s. He blended this background with a Harvard degree in applied math to found (, a company dedicated to bringing artificial intelligence to distribution companies and others in the B2B world to deliver large ROI. Cohen was the subject of a 2019 Electrical Wholesaling feature on AI, “The Art & Science of Artificial Intelligence.” You can contact him at [email protected].

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