The B2B sales process is undergoing substantial transformations fueled by advances in information and communications technology, specifically in artificial intelligence (AI). The premise of AI is to turn vast amounts of data into information for superior knowledge creation and knowledge management in B2B sales. In doing so, AI can significantly alter the traditional human-centric sales process. In this article, we describe how AI affects the B2B sales funnel. For each stage of the funnel, we describe key sales tasks, explain the specific contributions AI can bring, and clarify the role humans play. We also outline managerial considerations to maximize the contributions from AI and people in the context of B2B sales.
Can AI contribute to sales performance?
B2B sales managers have always been concerned with serving their clients at every stage of thesales process. However, much has changed since the days of stereotypical salesperson Willy Loman, the protagonist in Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman. As the opening quote reveals, Loman’s travels took him to many cities in which he could rely on personal, emotional, and professional connections with his clients. In the process, Loman and his fellow salespeople mainly relied on manual, analog technologies (e.g., maps, landline telephones) to enable their B2B sales.
The launch of the world’s first mobile telephone certainly seemsdand wasda long time ago. Many technological innovations have shaped B2B sales since, especially profound advances in information and communications technology (Morkunas, Paschen, & Boon, 2019; Paschen, Pitt, & Kietzmann, 2019), digitization, and artificial intelligence (AI) (Gupta, Keen, Shah, Verdier, & Walutowy, 2017; Syam & Sharma, 2018). In particular, AI systemsddefined as information systems that act intelligently (Russell, 1997; Russell & Norvig, 2016)dare substantially different than technological advancements of the past (Kietzmann, Paschen, & Treen, 2018). While previous technological innovations, including the advent of the telephone, computers, or the internet, helped with collecting, aggregating, processing, or communicating data (Paschen, Pitt, & Kietzmann, 2020), decision making always rested with humans. Today, emerging technologies such as AI can significantly alter the interactions between humans and machines (Marr, 2016), enabling computers to solve problems with minimal or no human intervention (Syam & Sharma, 2018).