Artificial Intelligence – a last best hope for sales management coaching


AI and Sales Management

Sales leadership talks about it all the time.  Sales consultants advocate it and sales managers say they would like to do more of it.  The “it” of course is sales coaching.

Yet, if you nose around, you’ll find less sales coaching is occurring then might be expected given all the advocacy.  Lots of companies start sales coaching initiatives but a scarce few sustain them over time.  Why might that be?

Well, there are a number of reasons but one tends to stand out – conflicting demands for time.  Sales managers get bogged down doing administrative coordination and control tasks.  So sales coaching gets put off until Friday and it never happens.  The underlying problem is a lack of sufficient focus and the absence of a long-term commitment by the key players to overcome the competing priority of shiny objects that take precedent.

It is difficult to imagine developing and sustaining a superior sales team unless a solution is found for cracking this sales coaching dilemma.  From our experience the key to cracking the code is not another training program or a motivational speech at the national sales meeting.  Reason – the problem is not primarily a deficiency of skill or a lack of motivation. It is about finding a way for sales managers to spend time doing what everyone knows they ought to be doing – providing direction and coaching to their sales teams.

There is nothing new or particularly insightful about this proposition.  Lots of thoughtful sales leaders have tried lots of smart ideas for getting this right.  The problem is too often the solution for the time problem has not worked over time.  Distractions creep back into system and once again coaching doesn’t happen.

As they say there’s got to be a better way and we would suggest one is on the horizon – Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The impact of AI, like any new technology, tends to follow the classic S-Curve.  Therefore it is very easy to overestimate the impact in the short-term and underestimate the impact in the long run.  When it comes to AI we are presently at the inflection point on the curve – hence developing and using AI is now a realistic technology to incorporate into future planning.

In support of this proposition we recently came across a great article in the Harvard Business Review: How Artificial Intelligence will Redefine Management.  The authors surveyed 2000 managers from the front line to the C-suite – across industries and functions.  Their overarching conclusion was – “artificial intelligence will soon be able to do many of the administrative tasks that consume much of the manager’s time – faster, better, and at a lower cost.”

Although currently there is no “solution in a box” the potential impact of AI for giving sales managers more time to spend on providing direction and coaching is an idea worth keeping your eye on.

When sales managers spend more time with their sales teams, good things happen.  Across studies the revenue increase figures vary from 20-40 percent.  Plus, think about the potential impact on other results like: sales rep retention, alignment with corporate strategy and customer satisfaction – talk about making a difference.

A factor that distinguishes best-in-class sales organizations is their ability to leverage trends before their competitors do.  The use of AI for providing the needed time for coaching may well be a case in point.  So a note to sales leaders – do you have someone on your staff noising around out there keeping track of what is going relative to the use of AI?  If not – you might want to re-visit that decision.


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©2017  Sales Momentum® LLC


About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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3 Responses to Artificial Intelligence – a last best hope for sales management coaching

  1. Brian MacIver says:

    Dick, an excellent, and insightful, article. AI, however, is not going to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’ with Sales Coaching, but it IS going to eliminate the BEST excuse for not doing it “I’m too busy!” Mainly, because if all you do as a Sales Manager is Administration, pretty soon you’re going to be unemployed!

    You, and your coauthor, identified THAT problem in Managing Major Sales (1991) with the three roles of a Sales Manager: Administrator, ‘super’ Salesperson or Sales Coach. We have found, through research into Sales pockets of Performance a ‘Sales Coach’ sitting in the centre, NEVER an Administrator or a super Salesperson!

    After AI replaces the Administrators, a lot of unemployed, and unemployable, Sales Managers will have to undertake Sales Coaching re-training. ABOUT TIME.

  2. Richard Ruff says:


    Thanks for comments – the future should hold some changes – it will be interesting to see how folks react.

    Hope things are well


  3. Artificial intelligence has taken the entire sales game more interesting. While others don’t trust AI that much because they fear it will take over their company. But when they try to see it on a brighter side, on how AI can help them – from accounting, to sales management, and even lead generation – it’s worth investing on.

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