The clock ticking, deals hanging in the balance, and your sales team racing against the sand slipping through the hourglass. A lengthy sales cycle can be as frustrating as it is costly. While navigating through complex products, multiple stakeholders, and budget cycles, sales professionals often find themselves entangled in a web of endless negotiations. The ever-evolving economic climate and the relentless competitive landscape don’t make this journey any easier. Moreover, change management within an organization can sometimes feel like trying to steer a ship through a turbulent sea. 

But what if we told you that there’s a beacon of hope cutting through the stormy sales seas? It comes in the form of AI technology. It promises not just shorter sales cycles but more effective and efficient ones. 

To demonstrate how AI tools can expedite the sales cycle, Graip.AI recently hosted a webinar featuring industry experts Sergey Jermakov (COO) and Karyna Mihalevich (Head of Product) from both business and IT backgrounds. In this blog, we will highlight the key takeaways from this webinar, providing you with valuable insights on leveraging existing AI tools to enhance your sales processes, drive efficiency, and boost profitability in your business.

What Holds Your Sales Back?

In sales, one of the biggest challenges companies encounter is the length of their sales cycles. These cycles can be quite complex and filled with various details, potentially affecting a company’s overall performance. To tackle this challenge, it’s vital to take a closer look at the factors responsible for these prolonged cycles. We can break down these factors into three main categories: external, internal, and technological.

External Factors

1. Product Complexity: The intricacy of a product plays a significant role in elongating the sales cycle. When customers are presented with complex offerings, it naturally takes more time for them to evaluate and comprehend the products. This evaluation phase can often slow down decision-making.

2. Multiple Stakeholders: In many business scenarios, decisions are influenced by numerous stakeholders within an organization. Aligning these internal stakeholders’ opinions and decisions can be a time-consuming process as it involves coordinating various perspectives and priorities.

3. Budget Cycles: Customers frequently adhere to budgetary cycles, and these cycles can become hurdles in the sales process. In many instances, customers must justify their investments within predefined budget cycles, leading to delays in purchase decisions.

4. Economic Climate: The ever-changing economic landscape also has an impact. Economic uncertainties and fluctuations can lead customers to take more time to make financial commitments.

5. Competitive Landscape: In a competitive environment, evaluating proposals from multiple vendors becomes a time-consuming affair. Customers need to carefully compare various offerings, which can naturally extend the sales cycle.

6. Change Management: The resistance to change is inherent in most individuals. The process of implementing a new product or service often requires change management, which, if not handled effectively, can prolong the sales cycle.

Internal Factors

1. Product Knowledge: Sales teams must possess comprehensive product knowledge. Understanding customer needs and being able to position the product accordingly is essential. Without this understanding, sales cycles can stretch.

2. Sales Process: Efficient sales processes, with clear entry and exit criteria for each stage, are fundamental. When salespeople deviate from these processes, it can lead to delays in progressing the deal from one stage to another. 

3. Alignment with Marketing: Consistency in the messages conveyed through marketing and sales channels is critical. When these messages lack alignment, it can create confusion and lead to extended sales cycles.

4. Continual Training: Staying competitive in the market requires ongoing training. Failure to provide regular training to sales teams can hinder their ability to perform effectively.

Technological Factors

1. Product Complexity: Utilizing technology to support sales cycles is essential. For instance, systems that assist salespeople with product configurations are invaluable in reducing delays in proposals.

2. Lack of Collaboration: Effective collaboration tools and practices are crucial, especially when complex configurations require validation with other departments like manufacturing.

3. Repetitive Tasks: Repetitive tasks within the sales process can substantially slow it down, particularly when technology is lacking or underutilized. For instance, sales teams must manually assemble proposals from various sources and diverse documents, such as consolidating product catalog and pricing from spreadsheets and gathering product information scattered throughout multiple PDFs.

4. Data and Analytics: Having access to historical data and insightful analytics is a cornerstone for sales efficiency. Understanding a customer’s purchase history and preferences helps streamline the sales process.

5. Integration Issues: Integration challenges often result in redundant and annoying data entry across various systems, contributing to sales cycle delays.

6. Tool Adoption Rate: Even when technological tools are available, the effectiveness of the sales cycle can be undermined if the sales team doesn’t fully embrace and utilize the available tools.

Now and Then: AI’s Impact on Sales Cycles

“According to Forbes, sales reps spend only 34 percent of their time selling. For instance, when we consider the specific process of proposal preparation, it typically takes between 17 to 33 hours to complete the proposal,” explains Sergey Jermakov, COO of Graip.AI. This means that sales reps often become entangled in repetitive tasks, and with automation tools in place, their performance can significantly improve.

AI for Sales Cycles - Graip.AI

Now, let’s explore multiple critical phases which play a pivotal role in shaping the final outcome and how AI can automate this specific process within the end-to-end sales cycle. 

1. Customer Request

The process commences with a customer’s request for specific products or services. Customers may express their requirements through various means, ranging from straightforward emails listing desired products to more complex documents such as Request for Proposals (RFPs) or Request for Quotation (RFQ) documents that contain detailed specifications.

With the support of AI, this initiation phase becomes far more efficient. AI tools are adept at document ingestion, wherein they read and interpret the various formats of customer requests. They identify the crucial line items, which essentially represent the products the customer desires. AI then connects these line items with the product catalog and historical data for a comprehensive understanding.

2. Product Selection and Configuration

Following the receipt and interpretation of customer requests, the next step involves configuring the product offering. This step is crucial in aligning the product or service with the customer’s specific needs. Determining relevant pricing strategies that can enhance the chances of winning the deal is also a vital component at this stage.

AI plays a substantial role in this phase. It maps the identified line items with the available product catalog, historical data, and other pertinent information. Once the list of products is created and validated by the sales team, AI aids in applying appropriate pricing. It considers multiple parameters, including competitive pricing analysis, logistics information, and discounts offered to the customer.

3. Pricing and Quoting

Pricing and quoting are intricate steps in the sales cycle. Pricing strategies, discounts, and other financial details are established in this phase. A well-structured quote is generated for presentation to the customer.

AI simplifies this step by streamlining the creation of quotes and facilitating the negotiation process. Additional information on products or services and potential discounts are smoothly incorporated into the quote to meet customer expectations.

4. Proposal Negotiation

Proposal negotiation is the stage where sales teams interact with customers to fine-tune the details, negotiate terms, and reach a consensus. This phase often involves back-and-forth communication to address customer queries and concerns.

AI doesn’t directly negotiate with customers but plays a critical role in providing sales teams with the necessary data and information to facilitate effective negotiations. It ensures that sales teams are well-informed and equipped to meet customer expectations.

5. Fulfillment

Once the customer approves the quote, the next step is creating a sales order and initiating fulfillment. The customer’s order is processed, and the product or service is delivered.

AI significantly contributes to the fulfillment process by streamlining data extraction, classification, and validation. It ensures that the information moves seamlessly into the backend systems, such as ERP, CRM, or CPQ, which handle the order creation and fulfillment procedures.

AI’s Role in Enhancing the Sales Cycle

Graip.AI, as an example of artificial intelligence, possesses the capability to identify and handle a broad range of document data formats. It doesn’t matter if the data is structured, semi-structured, or completely unstructured, AI can efficiently handle it. Whether the data arrives in PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, or other formats, AI can capture and interpret it.

AI facilitates the reading and classification of this data, subsequently extracting, validating, and enriching it as necessary. It can also conduct human verification when needed, ensuring the data’s accuracy and quality.

Moreover, AI ensures that data generated during the process is usable in a company’s backend systems, including ERP, CRM, or CPQ. The system’s API-friendly nature allows data to be seamlessly integrated with various third-party systems. This flexibility in handling data ensures a smoother transition of information for business operations.

As you can see from all above, AI-driven automation is a game-changer in sales cycles, revolutionizing the way companies handle customer requests, product configuration, pricing, quoting, negotiation, and fulfillment. It streamlines these processes, accelerates decision-making, and enhances customer interactions, ultimately leading to increased efficiency and competitiveness in the business landscape.

How to Transform Sales with AI-Powered Intelligent Document Processing

“In sales, every moment counts, and the ability to streamline processes can be the difference between closing a deal and losing it. We’re here to demonstrate how an AI-powered Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) tool, Graip.AI, can transform the way sales departments operate,” says Karyna Mihalevich, the Head of Product at Graip.AI. 

Now, let’s explore real-life examples of how familiar everyday tools can work with higher efficiency and accuracy once an AI-powered IDP tool is implemented in the organization.

Graip.AI’ in email recognition

Email Recognition: Transforming Communication

Sales teams are bombarded with a myriad of emails every day, ranging from price inquiries and quote requests to purchase orders. Graip.AI steps in to help categorize and read these emails, allowing for rapid information extraction. Let’s take a closer look at a Request for Quote (RFQ) sample.

Within the email body, we can spot vital characteristics, their corresponding values, and the requested products. Graip.AI processes this information, yielding results that can be structured to suit your business requirements. In this case, we see materials, quantities, dimensions, and product types.

Another example is a purchase order. It provides references to orders and details about the products, including pricing. With Graip.AI’s data extraction capabilities, the information is revealed, encompassing the account, address, reference number, product details, quantities, prices, and currency. These demos showcase Graip.AI’s prowess in email recognition and how it simplifies the sorting of vital sales data.

RFQ Recognition and Sales Order Entry Automation: A Seamless Workflow

Now let’s take a look at RFQ recognition and sales order entry automation. Here, a sales representative can efficiently import a customer’s request for a quote in PDF format, thanks to Graip.AI. This document may contain a cover letter, commercial specifics, and payment terms.

To validate the recognized results, the document’s items, including configurable products with characteristics and values, are thoroughly reviewed. Thanks to Graip.AI’s integration with ERP systems like S4HANA, business partners can be selected from a dropdown list. Address and business partner function can be conveniently adjusted. The product details are neatly organized in columns, covering aspects like product name, standard, warehouse, material grade, thickness, width, length, quantity, and price.

Once the information is validated and material records are cross-checked with the ERP system, a seamless sales order creation process is initiated, efficiently facilitating the transfer of data to the ERP system.

Automated Requirements Clarification: Streamlining Communication

Now let’s take a look at automated requirements clarification, a vital feature that simplifies communication between sales departments and customers. Often, crucial information is missing in RFPs, RFQs, or purchase orders, requiring time-consuming back-and-forth exchanges. Graip.AI introduces a communication pipeline directly from the solution to streamline this process.

Returning to our RFQ example, a new message can be drafted to specify missing information related to the PDF document. Recipients are easily identified, and the email body can be customized or selected from pre-built templates. Graip.AI even allows the creation of new templates, saving valuable time. Information about missing item details is included, and attachments can be added for reference. Once the email is ready, it’s sent to the customer, and the entire communication thread is documented within the document for complete transparency.

Graip.AI’s automated requirements clarification feature simplifies the process, ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation during critical negotiations.

Maximizing ROI with AI in Sales: Real-World Insights

As businesses seek to optimize their sales cycles, AI has emerged as a powerful tool to accelerate various phases of the process. While the theoretical benefits of AI are promising, the real value is measured through tangible results. We present a closer look at the ROI derived from actual projects that leverage AI-powered Intelligent Document Processing.

ROI with AI - Graip.AI

5X Acceleration and Beyond: Real-World Gains

Our ROI study is firmly rooted in real projects that are currently underway, and the results speak volumes. The most compelling aspect of this study is the significant acceleration in sales cycle phases. 

In some cases, our manufacturing clients experienced an impressive fivefold increase in the speed of processes. But that’s not where the story ends. For clients handling extensive documents with thousands of line items, the acceleration skyrockets even further. In the field of customer requests, improvements of up to a staggering 100 times have been recorded.

You might think AI is just another expense, but it’s actually an investment that gives back more than you put in. Our real projects have shown that for every dollar spent on AI, you can expect returns of over 300%. But it’s not just about saving money; it’s also about being efficient. AI has cut costs in sales by 75%, allowing businesses to achieve more with fewer resources.

Time is a valuable resource, especially in sales. Our projects have consistently delivered 80% time savings. This means your sales team can focus on what they do best — closing deals.

The critical takeaway here is that these results are context-specific. The impact on your business’s bottom line is influenced by your unique circumstances, cost structure, and the volume of documents you process.

Endgame Insights

Today, it is evident that AI is already reshaping the world of sales. It’s optimizing the sales cycle, reducing costs, and accelerating processes. From customer requests to product configuration, pricing, quoting, negotiation, and fulfillment, AI is streamlining operations, saving time, and cutting costs. With ROI figures exceeding 300% and a 75% reduction in costs, AI is proving its worth.

Through the implementation of numerous IDP projects, we’ve come to realize that embracing AI’s potential is far less intimidating than it may seem. It merely requires determination and a commitment to the path of digital transformation. The sooner you make this commitment, the sooner your company will experience unprecedented growth.