Have you noticed that when you search for a topic on one device, like your laptop, then several ads related to that topic appear the next time you open Facebook or Instagram on your phone?

If this has happened to you, then you’ve experienced the power of Artificial Intelligence – AI – to customize what you see on your electronic devices. What it’s really doing is collecting information on your habits and interests so that it can retarget you with advertising.

It’s the reason why your Google search for investing courses suddenly generated several sponsored ads for investing courses in your Facebook feed. Do you feel like your privacy has been intruded on, or are you glad that AI is helping you find what you need?

That’s really the million dollar question as more businesses use AI to customize your buying experience – at what point is personalized too personal?

Have we become complacent with providing strangers our personal data to get free offers and opt ins? Or have we come to accept this as a regular part of consumerism? With the rise in chatbots and AI-led applications and assistants, we as consumers are experiencing a level of service never experienced before.

The trade off is what people are paying to obtain that convenience, and some are pushing back. The role of AI, however, will only increase over time. Should consumers be concerned? How will these changes in technology disrupt how businesses market and sell to consumers?

Imagine the amount of data that AI can gather from people using social media.

Advantages For Marketers

More and more people are tapped into social media platforms and websites, contributing to a pool of market data that’s used to predict consumer trends and preferences. Digital marketers are able to adjust campaigns and advertisements and outreach strategies to get better conversions.

Having access to trends and preferences is also changing how marketers are attracting, engaging, and converting prospects into long term customers. If a prospect sees one ad but doesn’t buy, they will be retargeted with other ads, giving them more information and building more trust in the product or offer. Companies that aren’t able to keep abreast of these changes won’t be able to compete against their rivals.

Not only will it be crucial to have access to the latest technology, but marketers will also need to be innovative with it. My marketing team, for example, is frequently studying these trends and adapting to new methods to market to prospects. If a company cannot change direction quickly, they will fall behind in a matter of weeks.

Marketers believe social media has a strong role in bringing in business.

Advantages For Consumers

Technologically savvy consumers want their information at the snap of their fingers. Speed of information is a factor when they want information or answers from a business. Goldfish are said to have a memory of 30 seconds – consumer patience is shorter.

With the increasing prevalence of AI-led appliances like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, businesses must optimize their content to get information to consumers faster. Voice searches are on the rise as 60% have “used voice search to find business data in the last year, with almost half admitting to using voice search daily.”

For consumers who would rather talk than type, the advances in the ability for technology to understand human speech is changing how we access information. People who struggle with spelling will find this a comfort.

The use of chatbots is also on the rise. It’s a convenience for both consumers and businesses as a way to provide around-the-clock engagement on websites or applications. No need for customers to wait until office hours to ask a question. Businesses can provide information to consumers in the middle of the night.

However, chatbots cannot answer complex inquiries yet. At some point, human customer support may need to step in, and businesses shouldn’t lose that human touch with customers either.

As AI advances, the convenience and availability of information to consumers will continue to soar, but businesses will need to continue to provide a balance between computer and human interaction with consumers.

Social media use is increasing by each generation, just as AI is becoming more common.

Buyer Beware

As marketers find more advanced ways to harvest information about their prospects, consumers are becoming more aware of their rights to protect their information. Big brand names entice consumers with giveaways of appealing products, and the price of the freebie is handing over personal information.

Small screens like mobile phones make it more challenging for consumers to read the terms and conditions of offers, or to understand the true implications of ticking certain boxes. However, consumers may be willing to hand over their information so they can get in on enticing time limited offers.

Overall, however, consumers are becoming more aware of their right to privacy. The use of advertising blocking technology – the ability to block ads from appearing on a web page – has been on the rise in the past year.

With ad blocking, the tug of war between marketers and consumers is becoming more deadlocked. Marketers aren’t able to harvest data on consumers as easily as before. Consumers can share their personal data, but on their terms, and they can decide what they see.

In a survey by software provider Informatica, “73% of consumers were wary about how their personal information and data was being used” and “56% of those who expressed concern about the use of personal data they have shared online with brands and organisations are reclaiming access to it – and say they intend to share less information in future.”

Buyer beware – consumers need to think twice about opting in for a free subscription, a freebie from a company, or a fun “quiz” on their smartphone. How much is your personal information worth?

People can use social media to research what they want to buy but social media can also be tracking information about their interests.

Computers Are Taking Over The Selling Process

AI is changing not only how companies market to consumers, but how they sell to them. Consumers are comfortable with e-commerce, buying anything from clothes to gadgets to appliances on Amazon.

Forrester Report, an American market research company that provides advice on existing and potential impact of technology, has a report “Death of a B2B Salesman,” that revealed the following trends in business to business (B2B) sales:

More than 20 percent of B2B phone sales reps will be out of a job by 2020, replaced entirely by ecommerce. The author of the report, Andy Hoar, explains why: “B2B buyer behavior has changed significantly in the past few years. Nearly 75 percent of B2B buyers say buying from an ecommerce site is more convenient than buying from a sales rep, and 93 percent say they prefer buying online when they’ve already decided what to buy.

The trend is that people will be replaced by technology. This trend is also affecting sales from digital marketing.

Consumers have become overexposed to free webinars and marketing funnels for low ticket to high ticket products between $40 to $1000. Costs to marketers are going up and ROI is going down.

If you’re a business selling a product online for $10 or $25, this data doesn’t apply. But if your business is selling a high ticket product that solves a consumer’s deep pain, you want commitment to that investment. For example, a business course for $2500 that will help the client increase their skills and income level.

It takes more time to build rapport and gain the trust of these customers. First, they may or may not be aware that they have a problem (such as a need to learn a new skill). Second, they may not know how to solve their problem (they know they need a new skill but they don’t know if they should take an online course or go back to school).

Third, the prospect may know what they need to do, but they don’t know if what they plan to do will give them the results they want (such as investing in a course without having the confidence that they will achieve the results they are looking for).

The higher investment for the consumer means a sale is less likely if the consumer is left on their own to read about product guarantees and testimonials, or find answers to their own objections and concerns by themselves. Human involvement is still necessary.

How The Closer Is Working With Technology

The successful closer today has many roles. Their purpose is to close a deal on a high priced product or service, such as the business course from the earlier example. But they are more than a salesperson.

They are a consultant (giving advice about the product), coach (guiding the prospect through their pain points and helping them paint the dream), product expert, and tech specialist (handling CRM software and scheduling software).

It will be far into the future before AI is able to replace the role of closers. However, AI is able to improve sales performance by working in the background.

CRM (customer-relationship management) software can target prospects with customized pitches, monitor sales data, make projections about future trends, and monitor a closer’s performance to make recommendations.

For example, CRM can collect data on the best days to send cold emails, follows ups, and warm emails. It can look for patterns in the optimal amount of time to book a follow up call with a prospect after a web registration to maximize conversion. It can also analyze deals that closed to find common patterns and suggest new ways to pitch or close prospects.

Closers with high success rates have skill, mindset, and intuition. But AI can augment their outcomes and ability to close. Currently businesses require closers to record their conversations with prospects.

Technology has taken this one step further with products such as Gong.io, which can be used as a learning tool for salespeople. For example, it can count how many times a word is used in a conversation. If a prospect frequently mentions price, it will make a note and the salesperson can look into pricing and financing options in real time.

Another advantage for sales training is the technology can analyze talk time vs listening time. A closer should ideally be spending more time asking questions and listening to the prospect than talking. This is especially important in high ticket sales.

The prospect won’t buy if they don’t see a connection between the product and how they can reach their goals and have their problem resolved. A closer can play back the call and use the results of the analysis to improve their closing skills.

Final Thoughts On AI and Digital Marketing and Sales

AI is disrupting the marketplace, offering advantages and disadvantages to both marketers, salespeople, and consumers. The question is where we find a balance that meets the needs of both business and consumer.

Technology has made it possible for marketers to collect personal data on prospects and tailor their marketing to consumers. They offer freebies and limited time deals to entice consumers to trade their information for appealing brands.

However, as consumers increase their savvy, they are making use of ad blockers and other technology to limit marketer access to their personal information.

Closing deals with consumers has changed as well, with more customers preferring e-commerce and buying online. For premium products, however, the human touch of closers is still preferred, although technology has improved the effectiveness of how these salespeople can analyze and improve their closing ratios.

Where AI will take marketing and sales in the next decade remains to be seen, as well as the direction of balance of power between businesses and consumers.

Have you used AI such as chatbots, or AI-led appliances to find information? Comment below.

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