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Conversational AI in sales: A beginner’s guide

Conversational AI
What is conversational AI?
7 AI statistics you need to know
The business benefits of conversational AI
4 conversational AI use cases
How to sell more with conversational AI: 6 sales applications you can use today
Conversational AI FAQs
Final thoughts

It may sound like a buzzword but conversational AI is here to stay.

The versatile artificial intelligence technology is gaining new adopters every day. Businesses of all kinds and sizes are enjoying benefits like increased productivity, reduced costs and stronger customer relationships.

In this article, you’ll learn what conversational AI is, why it’s so appealing to businesses and how to use it to increase sales.

What is conversational AI?

Conversational AI refers to artificial intelligence technology that enables computers to process and respond to human language naturally, similar to how people communicate.

Think of how online virtual assistants (like chatbots) process internet users’ basic questions and generate helpful, conversational responses – that’s conversational AI.

Businesses can use these apps to replace human agents or direct queries to the right team members.

Conversational AI, like all forms of artificial intelligence, can be a complex topic if you dive deep into all its technicalities. However, its key components are:

  • Machine learning. Conversational AI solutions use machine learning algorithms to learn from huge volumes of data, allowing them to improve over time and provide more helpful responses.

  • Natural language processing (NLP). NLP allows computers (and conversational AI platforms) to interpret human language by analyzing grammar, syntax and context. It’s also known as natural language understanding (NLU) or natural language generation.

  • Large language models (LLM). LLMs are trained (through machine learning, deep learning and NLP) to understand and generate human-like language. Popular LLMs include GPT, PaLM 2 and Gemini (formerly Bard).

  • Automation. Conversational AI automates interactions between humans and computers, removing the need for manual intervention and allowing smooth, real-time communication.

You may also hear people refer to conversational AI technologies, apps and products as being “smart” (e.g., “smart speaker”) because they mimic the intelligence and capabilities (i.e., smartness) of people.

7 AI statistics you need to know

Conversational AI is part of a broader field of technology that involves many other types of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Seeing how fast these technologies are growing makes it easier to justify experimenting with applications and buying subscriptions for AI services.

Keeping that in mind, here are seven facts to drive home AI’s power and potential:

  1. Conversational AI will help drive the worldwide contact center market to 24% growth in 2024 – Gartner, Forecast Analysis: Contact Center, Worldwide

  2. 61% of B2B marketing organizations plan to spend more on conversation automation – Forrester, Forrester Marketing Survey 2023

  3. Chatbots will become the main customer service channel for around a quarter of organizations by 2027 – Gartner, Customer service survey (press release)

  4. Global spending on AI will exceed $301 billion by 2026 – IDC, IDC Infobrief 2023

  5. 64% of marketers say AI is either “very” or “critically” important to their marketing efforts over the next 12 months – Drift, 2023 State of Marketing AI Report

  6. 58% of marketers say they’re still learning how AI works – Drift, 2023 State of Marketing AI Report

  7. Senior sales and marketing executives expect generative AI to impact lead identification, marketing optimization and personalized outreach (e.g., chatbots) more than any other business areas – McKinsey & Company, McKinsey Analysis

Although most adopters are still early in their AI journeys, it’s clear that many companies are already benefiting from using the technology to support their operations. Joining them now is the best way to stay competitive in your field.

The business benefits of conversational AI

Business interest in conversational AI and closely related technologies is growing fast and it’s easy to see why.

According to McKinsey, commercial leaders who invest in AI are seeing a revenue increase of 3–15% and a sales return on investment (ROI) increase of 10–20%.

So, how is it making a difference?

If you’re wondering how one technology can be so beneficial to your bottom line, here are four key advantages of adopting conversational AI solutions and integrations.

Save time

Businesses can use conversational AI technologies to automate repetitive tasks like answering common questions, collecting customer data and scheduling appointments.

The resulting time savings let employees focus on high-value tasks that demand human attention, such as:

  • Addressing complex customer needs

  • Building sales strategies

  • Crafting marketing content

Saving time is a major selling point for many companies.

IDC found operational efficiency and employee productivity to be two of the top three drivers of AI adoption, next to improving customer experience (CX).

Q. What are the primary business objectives for using AI for your products/initiatives

AI Business Objectives (global responses)

Inspire creativity

Automating repetitive tasks to free time is only one way that conversational AI helps creativity.

Team members can also use AI tools like ChatGPT, Gemini and Claude to generate ideas for creative content and then adopt or tweak the best suggestions.

Say you’re writing new cold email templates for your sales team but can’t settle on a structure. You could ask ChatGPT for ideas and refine the messaging to suit your needs.

If we ask for a simple cold email template for a healthcare sales team offering protective equipment, we may get the following response (or something similar).

Pipedrive conversational AI Chat GPT

While the result isn’t perfect, it may be enough to kick off your creative process.

Other creative uses for AI include content marketing topic generation, cold calling scripts and sales decks.

Note: Conversational AI works better with detail. Without submitting any sensitive information, always be clear and direct about what you want your tool to generate.

Increase accessibility

Conversational AI makes information and services accessible to wider audiences by providing more user-friendly interfaces.

For example, translation capabilities built into chatbots let users interact with businesses and services in their preferred languages.

People with visual impairments can also navigate content and services using voice assistants that understand and respond to spoken cues.

By bridging communication gaps without hiring extra team members, businesses can reach more people at less cost and streamline customer journeys.

Serve customers at all hours

Conversational AI tools never stop working. They can serve customers around the clock, often at no extra cost, allowing businesses to engage prospects and customers outside working hours.

Always being available helps you meet demand and capitalize on sales opportunities. In a CM survey, 64% of consumers said they expect to be able to reach brands at any time of day. The same study found “long wait times” to be the top customer service annoyance.

Support automation suits various kinds of customer engagement, including basic product inquiries, support conversations and account management.

For example, Zoom automates basic customer interactions using a conversational AI chatbot, like upgrading plans or finding out about products.

The chatbot allows buyers to get answers at any time, regardless of whether Zoom’s agents are unavailable due to being in another time zone or busy handling more complex queries.

It means Zoom can keep building bonds with prospects and customers rather than weakening their relationships by leaving people waiting. CM’s consumer study revealed “long wait times” to be the top customer service annoyance but the chatbot makes them avoidable.

As a result, users are more likely to sign up for or keep using Zoom’s service, increasing the company’s recurring revenue.

Note: Recurring revenue isn’t the only helpful sales metric for measuring an AI application’s effectiveness. Automating essential contact center functions can reduce customer acquisition costs (CAC) and boost customer retention rates.

4 conversational AI use cases

Conversational AI can do so much that it’s often difficult to pick out the most immediately helpful applications, especially if you’re new to the idea.

Here are four ways that any business can improve its operations with conversational AI.

1. Collecting customer data

You can use conversational AI to collect customer data to nurture deals and inform market research.

Names, contact details, buying preferences and feedback are all valuable for sales and product development but take lots of time and effort to source manually.

Automating the process lets you focus on applying the insights to improve user experiences and grow sales, rather than collecting and organizing.

For example, Pipedrive used Chatbot to collect contact data from over 1,000 new leads.

Pipedrive conversational AI

Part of the LeadBooster add-on, Chatbot recorded the website visitors’ information in our customer relationship management (CRM) system so our sales team could follow up quickly.

Account manager Fabiana Barbosa explained:

If they are new to Pipedrive and don’t have an account created, they will follow the steps, book a call either with me or Patricia and we will receive the booking confirmation. Then I do a search in Pipedrive to find that lead in the Leads Inbox and the contact information that’s been created.

As a result of the sales team’s efficiency and faster follow-ups, 30% of the qualified leads converted to customers after enjoying a free trial.

2. Supporting content creation

Conversational AI can help you generate sales enablement and marketing content through natural language conversations.

Automated transcription tools like Otter can process human speech in real time to highlight key themes and moments from conversations and feedback.

You could use one when interviewing a subject matter expert to build a blog article outline or collect suitable quotes.

Other creative uses for conversational AI include:

  • Simplifying complex topics

  • Formatting and proofreading text

  • Generating accompanying images

  • Suggesting engaging headings

  • Summarizing customer reviews

Amazon uses conversational AI to collect key themes from customers’ product reviews, then presents a summary (i.e., AI-generated marketing content) to speed up shoppers’ buying journeys.

Amazon conversational AI

However, it’s important to use AI only for support when crafting content for publication, not to handle entire editorial processes.

While some AI models will readily produce entire pieces of content, their reliance on existing web pages and data severely limits their creativity. It means you’ll likely end up with unoriginal content that doesn’t speak to your audience’s precise needs.

The most engaging (and search engine-friendly) content always showcases human experience, examples and expertise in a way that computers can’t replicate.

3. Forecasting performance

While AI tools lack human creativity and experience, their algorithmic nature makes them ideal for predicting future outcomes based on large datasets.

You could feed ChatGPT with historical sales data and prompt it to forecast product popularity for upcoming months or quarters. Having a data-informed idea of what’s likely to sell simplifies inventory management.

Other tools work in real time to streamline your operations.

Pipedrive’s Sales Assistant uses AI to continuously analyze your deals, contacts and emails. It then makes immediately helpful recommendations.

Here’s an example of Sales Assistant predicting a deal’s win probability and recommending actions to push the deal forward.

Pipedrive sales assistant conversational AI

Sales Assistant’s insights on deal progress, email opens and useful sales tools help reps work more efficiently and close deals faster, ultimately making your sales team more effective.

4. Accessing and recording information

Voice-enabled AI assistants, like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri, can make accessing information, recording notes and managing tasks much more efficient.

These tools use automatic speech recognition to answer questions, making them particularly useful on the move and when multitasking.

Many software companies incorporate AI voice assistants into their products to improve accessibility and deliver better user experiences.

Think of how Netflix lets you search for content with speech commands or how you can dictate speaker notes in Google Slides.

Google dictate conversational AI

Salespeople can also use voice search to record ideas on the move, improving productivity. The Pipedrive mobile app has voice-to-text capabilities so you can log your notes straight to your CRM for future use.

How to sell more with conversational AI: 6 sales applications you can use today

Companies of all types and sizes are already reaping the rewards of chatbots, virtual assistants and large language models.

Sales is no different. Apply it in the right way and conversational AI will help you increase productivity, develop your team and wow your customers.

Here are six simple conversational AI applications you can start using today.

1. Build training programs based on real feedback

Conversational AI supports sales coaching by giving sales reps personalized feedback and guidance based on their interactions with prospects and customers.

AI-powered chatbots can analyze sales conversations in real time, finding strengths and room for improvement in:

You can use what you learn to build sales training programs that address specific skill gaps and improve sales performance.

For example, when we gave ChatGPT a sales call transcript and asked for pointers, it offered the following advice.

ChatGPT guidance conversational AI

What’s more, conversational AI systems can simulate sales scenarios and role-play exercises to let sales reps practice and hone their skills in controlled environments.

2. Eliminate scheduling frustrations

Conversational AI can streamline appointment booking processes for sales reps and prospects by automating scheduling tasks and simplifying communication.

Chatbots integrated with scheduling software can interact with leads and customers in real time, offering available time slots, confirming appointments and sending reminders.

For example, a virtual assistant embedded in a company website can engage visitors, qualify leads and schedule meetings with sales reps based on their live availability.

By eliminating the need for back-and-forth emails or calls, conversational AI reduces scheduling conflicts and improves the overall customer experience.

3. Generate and qualify leads on autopilot

AI-powered chatbots can engage with website visitors or incoming leads, asking qualifying questions to determine their interest and fit for your product or service.

Based on the responses, a chatbot can route qualified leads to the right sales rep for following up.

Pipedrive Live Chat conversational AI

For example, Pipedrive’s Chatbot integrates with your CRM system to identify high-potential leads based on predefined criteria, such as budget, timeline and buying intent. You can tell it how to store qualified contacts in Pipedrive and who to assign each one to.

Routing qualified leads to the most relevant reps for fast action increases your close rate and shortens your sales cycle.

To create a Chatbot playbook in Pipedrive, go to Leads Inbox > Chatbot > “New playbook”.

Pipedrive conversational AI Web Chat customization

The app will walk you through the configuration process, with settings (e.g., theme, profile and templates) on the left and a preview of your chatbot on the right. It looks like this.

Note: Not all sales chatbots are the same. When choosing one for your business, prioritize customizable conversational flows, rule-based lead qualification and CRM integration.

4. Extract valuable insights from your sales data

AI-powered tools can analyze large volumes of sales data, including emails, call transcripts and CRM records to find trends and opportunities.

You’ll get deeper insights into your sales processes so you can make more informed decisions that drive revenue growth.

NLP algorithms can analyze sales emails to extract key information such as:

  • Customer preferences

  • Competitor mentions

  • Sales patterns

  • Action items

Here’s an example of the conversational AI tool Claude predicting sales trends for 2024 based on data from the previous year.

Claude Conversational AI

Extracted data like this makes for a much better-informed sales strategy. It’ll help you manage your inventory, prioritize the right leads, develop reps’ skills and tailor your sales pitches to specific buyer needs, ultimately improving customer satisfaction.

5. Have a personal assistant in every sales meeting

AI transcription tools can accurately convert audio and video recordings into text so you can analyze meeting discussions within seconds of the sessions finishing.

Even more useful, the conversational AI algorithms of tools like Otter, Fathom and Fireflies can identify important topics, sentiment trends and follow-up tasks mentioned in your meetings. Having these valuable insights immediately means you can act on them sooner.

For example, a virtual assistant integrated with a meeting transcription tool can summarize meeting notes, highlight action items and send personalized follow-ups to attendees.

Automating meeting analysis like this ensures everyone knows their responsibilities and important information can’t fall through the cracks.

6. Automate personalized after-sales services

Chatbots and virtual assistants can engage with customers post-purchase, answering questions, resolving issues and providing helpful information based on preferences and past interactions.

Say you run an e-commerce business. You might use a chatbot to offer personalized recommendations based on users’ previous transactions, helping them find new products and relevant accessories.

In the short term, you could use a self-service chatbot to provide order and return updates. For example, here’s how Amazon handles the return process for a recent purchase.

Amazon AI Chatbot Conversational AI

Giving customers an easy way to get order information, even before delivery, enhances the customer experience. Plus, it saves your business on the costs of human call center staff.

Conversational AI FAQs

  • What’s the difference between conversational AI and generative AI?
  • Are chatbots and conversational AI the same thing?
  • Which tools use conversational AI?
  • How do I configure a chatbot for my website?

Final thoughts

The first time you learn about it, conversational AI can be daunting. After all, there are many elements to consider and technical terms to understand.

However, the best AI sales and marketing tools use the technology to simplify your workflows, not complicate them.

Pipedrive’s Sales Assistant and Chatbot features automate lead generation, task management and more to make selling faster and easier for your team.

When choosing which technologies to implement in your business, consider what you want to achieve and whether conversational AI is the right fit. Then use reviews, demos and trials to ensure you make a solid long-term investment.

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