Software Advice in Sales – Smarter With Artificial Intelligence?

The article deals with the possible uses of automated advice and partial automation in sales and customer service.

The interested customer is looking für information before bying. He or she may ask a specialised salesperson and consultant who has all the relevant answers ready and can think in the customer’s interest. This relieves the customer. Or they, the potential clients, may look for publicly available information and customer review to avoid the advice of an inexperienced and overburdened sales representative.

Many sales representatives of complex products, starting with bicycles, are quickly overwhelmed by well-informed prospects. The rhetorically untrained salesperson feels attacked, the sales talk goes off the rails, the interested party prefers to buy from a supplier without advice.

The web part of customer journey

Depending on the product, between 80% and 90% of the buyers begin their customer journey with an search engine. So it is important for the seller to know what it is reported in the web, take care of the correctness of web information and avoid contradicting information. If there is human sales staff, they are supposed to assist the web customer journey and take care of a seamless process.

The consultant with all the facts in mind and the fully automatic customer advisor are extremes, the practical truth in the company lies in between.

Can the web be the better customer advisor?

Yes and no. The informations in the web and the informations given by a human sales person are supposed to go without contradiction. Nobody likes lies and deception.

Some companies help themselves with consulting software for salespeople. In this way, the seller collects the relevant information from the customer, the software itself compares the information with the content of the database and delivers a print-ready result.

This is often used by financial service providers, banks and insurers and is not yet artificial intelligence. The results are determined by a fixed algorithm. Today, the software is mostly a web application, giving management strong control over the sales process. The sellers outside have to adhere to the guidelines of the management. Furthermore, the consultation process can easily be implemented online for a web form to be used by the customer himself. The interested party enters the data themselves without being tied to branches and sales representatives.

An experience from market research: the classic CATI procedure: “read the questionnaire and let the interviewer type in the answers” is no longer the only state of the art. Online research providers are winning and therefore have better data.[0]

Artificial intelligence would record the results of the consultation or process, compare them with predetermined success goals and recommend adjustments. Something salespeople do intuitively, too, if you let them. Artificial intelligence therefore means less control, and the susceptibility to errors is at least not reduced. On the other hand, opportunities are used that might otherwise have been overlooked. Not enough staff. I have to replace people with machines. What to do?

Make as much information as possible available on the Internet in a neatly structured way. Many people would like to find out more before making personal contact, but cannot find the information they are looking for. The use of test studios or at least test persons for user-friendly optimization that is understandable, especially for the uninitiated, can help here.[2] Self-promotion Saving half an hour of calls per working day justifies an expense of €2,000 for an improved sales website or other type of customer information – and that for telephone staff at a standard wage. Informed customers are better customers.

The meaning of human interaction

The seller has my needs, takes my wishes and builds the best possible solution with his expertise. In between, looking up details and availability on the computer is essential for complex inquiries.

Advice form humans or from machines and websites?

Whether or not a human intermediary remains necessary for information collection and transmission depends on the product itself and on the personal preferences of the interested party. Some can evaluate and implement the freely available information, such as product descriptions, customer reviews and more for their own needs, while others cannot.

Good sales people relieve the customers. To do this, they must put the interests of the customer first and not fight for sales at any price. Consulting software in the sales pitch

Success with automated sales on the web

Success has many reasons

Incidentally, the screen of the gentleman can turn directly to a prospective customer without the computer interfering. And if he needs information from the cloud or machine, he has it quickly at hand.

Qualitative Market Research – Understanding Clients or Counting Clients

This article is about bringing qualitive and quantitave research together with integrating numbers and representativity into qualitative research. Quantitative research is primarely counting and statistics.

To research people ‘qualitatively’ means that you intend to understand them. This is beyond algorithms. Let me show you how best to do this. I am here to listen to you. (Elif Kus Saillard)

The topic of qualitative market research is understanding. What does the world of my target group look like? What emotional and financial settings do they have? Quantitative research, on the other hand, determines how many people in the target group have which attitudes, how many they are and how their budget looks. A random sample is drawn so that not all members have to be questioned.

Some entrepreneurs therefore believe that unstructured observation can replace qualitative market research. Sometimes that works too. Quantitative market research uses representative, large samples according to statistical rules and brings different results due to the large number of subjects.

Large institutes can save costs by comparing similar studies and using similarities to minimize the required sample size. Others sell the same report to multiple customers – that is Boutique Market Research.

The claim of qualitative market research

Qualitative market researchers understand the customers. Its like some newspapers articles, where journalists describe some individuals where they think they are good for the numbers. Quantitave shows the numbers – for example 60% believe that the government does a good job in education. Discussions in focus groups, in-depth interviews, images, social media and much more can be used as data sources for qualitative research.

Target your customers – find about needs they do not even know about.

Also compare here (New Market Research Blog). The qualitative market researcher is an active part of the research process. He or she uses their subjectivity to better understand the phenomenon being studied. You want to understand why people believe in what and see the world a certain way. A qualitative researcher wants to understand the process of selecting a product, for example. A quantitative researcher wants numbers, averages, and more. Manufacturers and dealers can then base their decisions on this.

How qualitative researchers can do representative studies with small numbers

A qualitative researcher makes small samples. Understanding the process and the mindset of the subjects, this researcher assumes some validity. To ensure this this procedure can help:

The result of the small sample are suitable when no changes are to be expected from a larger sample. This can be checked by first evaluating 30 questionnaires. Hopefully there is no significant change with a further 10 questionnaires. If there is, another 10 questionnaires are added. If this does not maintain the hypothesis that the differences in responses are statistically insignificant, the study can be considered representative provided the responding participants represent the target group.

Some subjects suitable for qualitative studies:

  1. Lists of ideas – if the ideas are repeated, the study can be ended. Studies that do not record the subjects’ ideas via structured questions but via free text information fall into this category.
  2. All – or – none results. If every participant in a small study says the same thing—like, “I see a train station in this ad,” or “I prefer the new packaging”—the conclusions are likely to be valid, even with small samples.
  3. Strong hypotheses for the study to support If we have a hunch and it is supported by the small sample, we can be sure that the hunch is correct. All we have to do is verify that the underlying hypothesis is not just speculation. This type of market research is popular with journalists who can get by with just a few interviews.
  4. Understanding instead of measuring – for example customer journey. This analysis helps testing new products.

The problem of representativeness in qualitative research remains.

With small samples, the problem of representativeness remains. There is no statistical way to ensure the representativeness of a non-probable sample. The market researcher’s judgment must be added here: can the result be as the study suggests or are there other, contradictory results? Trusting only statistically proven results without knowing the underlying connections can be misleading.

How prices are perceived from seller and buyer

Pricing affects everybody. Selling your apartment, selling used furniture, doing salary negotiations or finding prices for your products. How to find a price liked by the seller and buyer? In my seller history I found situations with low prices where the customer voluntarely added a gift, and many situations where nobody wanted to buy. The reason for this can be “no market for the product” and “price is prohibitively high”. The latter one means there is a market for the product, but not at the charged price.

The next chapters give structure to this complicated matter.

The classical theory of pricing for optimal is very simplified. It assumes a linear demand function, with only one determinant, the price: demand=f(price) . This means only demand determines the price. What happens if demand has many more determinants?

This can be:

  1. The look of the selling (web-)site
  2. Do the salesmen make a good job?
  3. Do I get good advice from the staff?
  4. Can I expect some value if I pay more?
  5. Does the product make me feel better?
  6. Do I have the budget for luxury?
  7. What are the prices of the competitors?
  8. The price the seller wants

Point 1-4 are the value to the product added by a good sales team. Example: if a retail store buys a pallet with 1000 packets pasta for 600 € and sells the package for 1,2 € the sold package is not the same product as on the pallet. The services of the retail store are added.

The following graph is an example. It may look different for a specific produkt. The graph with the numbers given there works good for used cars and expensive utilities sold on Ebay or webshops.

What determines the price, pricing
What determines the price, pricing

Example: make advice a valuable good

Many brick-and-mortar retailers complain that their customers do not pay for advice. What they do not tell: how much do their prices differ from common internet sellers without any consultancy? Is there really value added in the store?

In old times, when sales was based on printed catalogs, there was the famous trade costing, with list prices, heavy rebates, and purchase prices. Most retailers ordered their stuff at wholesales, which themselves made their cuts. The result was that end user prices were about 3-10 times as high as the factory price. I understand that many want this time back. The customers had no choice, they had to buy locally. Many wishes and dreams of customers weren’t ever fulfilled for the high costs of maintaining catalogs and storage.

Now many internet retailers order directly at the manufacturers, and they have to look for competing offers worldwide.

Selling Services

There are two approaches for long-term pricing: with interchangeable goods, many manufacturers, in the long run the price will be the production cost plus some earnings. The earnings are the incentive for producing. Examble: a spare part for an historic car. Production cost is 150 €, with this part added the car gains 2000 € value. If the seller knows that and wants a high price, the buyer might look for another source which produces it for 150 € and pays additional 50 € for the favor.

In Services it is a bit different. Production costs is one side. The other is: how much will the buyer profit from my service? If the seller, you, knows that 25-50% of the profit for the seller, the trainer or consultant, are normal.

Is there a formula for prices?

In economic theory the price is equal to marginal use. That means the price equals the benefit the buyer thinks he has from the last unit he or she buys.

If we can measure the benefit in money and realtime, we have the formula.

The benefits are listed at the beginning of the article. The problem is that the customer does so many estimations, that change over time. Also new competitors with low price entrance strategy might show up.

When selling over a website it is quite easy. Look at the ones who buy related to the ones who look at the article. If there are many who look and do not buy then lower the price, if most of the visitors buy then raise. This needs a lot of finetuning. Sometimes visitors look a few times at the articles until they finally buy. When they see that the prices go down, they might wait even longer. So you might want to include the total number of visitors.

How to calculate?

There is a mathematical formula and there are ways to survey it.

We measure the first eight determinants, with due consideration of costs:

determinanthow to find and count
The look of the sales (website) position.Survey of visitors
Are the salespeople doing a good job?not available everywhere, get feedback
Do I get good advice from the staff?Get feedback
Can I expect value if I pay more?Tests and surveys on buying motivation, own samples
Do I feel better because of the product?Tests and surveys on buying motivation
Do I have the budget for luxury?Experiments, interviews
What are the prices of the competitors?Research
The price the seller wantsLook deep inside you

Market research helps with the first six points. Usually it is necessary to repeat the market research every 3-6 months with the well-known market research problem: the target person doesn’t like to answer. They are bored and do not know whatfor they took their time to answer the questions. We must therefore look for other methods. An easy-to-install method is to encourage visitors to comment. You may get 1-5% comments from the customers. This responses add up to valuable data source. It is also possible to conduct studies with paid testers. There are some problems with representation of the correct user group there, additional research helps to circumvent this.

Photo du titre by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

Storytelling makes successfull

How do I find the right story for my product, how does my storytelling become a success?

Products are enhanced with storytelling. I am looking for a 17 mm socket, which of the three available nuts or wrench sockets will I buy:

  1. Simple picture on blue background, price € 5.60, supplier unknown
  2. Same picture as 1., but additional information that it was made in China by a small factory in Shenzen from the best steel for heavy use, price 8.30 €
  3. Again the same picture as 1., and the same manufacturer as 2. The dealer introduces himself as Franz Müller from Rottweil in deep Swabia, who specializes in the sale of quality tools. Price € 9.20.

I learned that Swabian dealers are very quality conscious. Franz Müller connects to my experience, and his story gives me expectation that the tool will run smoothly and that can use it without any problems. I order his stuff despite the higher price.

Storytelling has to appeal the customer’s mental world

Good examples for that:

  1. Promise of getting rich fast with Network Marketing. You are shown the beauty of wealth. The way to do this is very simple: you win a few customers who in turn win new customers.
  2. Anyone who has ever been to partner exchanges surely knows the many supposedly young and good-looking women and men who promise the perfect relationship. Fortunately, they don’t present their price list until late, so you don’t have to pay for the illusion of a perfect relationship due to the lack of a valid contract.
  3. Berlin advertising agencies in particular currently love telling stories from the ideal world of the rurals village or a small city with intact neighborhood “where everybody knows your name. The stories are pinned to every product whose distributor requests it.
  4. Coaches encourage other their coaching clients to tell their history. That is supposed to induce more interest from potential customers. A very common story is that of the poor lady or gentleman, stricken by fate. This person believed him/herself and made it again into great wealth. And there are photos from trips to exotic places or they buy artworks.

How to find your story?

Take care that your story does not disguise the product, unless the story is the product. Example: an email from a coach who promised me a great development as a globally admired speaker and expert in my discipline. I asked myself: “What does he even offer”? It was simply an rhetoric training, as I learned later. By reaching into the rhetorical multi-level marketing language, however, he created unpleasant associations for me. If any kind attention was the target of the action, the coach is successful. If he wants to be a serious personnel developer, less so.

Market Research helps you to find about more about your targeted group.

To the featured image: Thanks to Allie for sharing their work on Unsplash.Photo by Allie on Unsplash