Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Sales Reps?
We are in a dynamic age of change with the explosion of artificial intelligence based offerings and the obvious question is how will these new AI-based offerings impact the sales profession?
With each technology advancement we hear the boo birds talking about the end of the sales profession, after all, big data seemed to come and go without much of a direct impact on the sales profession with the exclusion of offering better data, so maybe AI shares the same fate.
Numerous news agencies are already sinking the final nail in the coffin of Big Data with sensational headlines like “Is Big Data in Trouble”, Techcrunch, “Big Data is Dead- long live big data” – InfoWorld or Forget Big Data hype, says Gartner as it cans its hype cycle” – The Register, so does this mean that AI is just another hype cycle?
The point most of the headlines miss is that Big Data is certainly not dead, not at all, it’s actually matured into an offering that lets us leverage all the power data science offers us, and now is the fueling the for the artificial intelligence offerings that will have such a large impact on every area of business, including sales.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no fear that sales will magically disappear. Actually, I would say that sales are on the list of the two oldest professions and both will continue to have a strong need well into the future because people need people, but we will see some fairly drastic changes.
Sales, after all, is a people business, and AI is well, artificial which puts it at a huge disadvantage until it get’s much better. We are at the earliest stages of AI development and AI is still not very good at human interaction. Just imagine those late night prospecting robocalls you receive and love so much being directed at a CFO for a strategic offering. Yeah, I shudder to think about what his or her impression of the company would be and how any AI-based system could replace a human conversation.
How AI will change sales is more subtle and effectively more game-changing and scary than any sort of robocalling program. AI will sit in the background analyzing massive amounts of data and making recommendations to the sales department on who to call, what to say, and what to do, effectively managing the sales interactions.
And because AI will be able to analyze so much data so fast by utilizing historic and new data streams at near instant speed and making solid recommendations, AI will essentially control the sales process and outsource the human emotional engagement to you. This convergence of AI analysis will have a profound impact on sales because we will essentially follow recommendations from an artificial intelligence on the best methods of selling, but not actually utilizing it for selling itself in the initial stages.
Where AI will have a predictable and drastic impact to early sales are any smaller transactions especially if conducted online. I could see AI replacing the need for small business sales reps whose job it is to follow up on small business leads. In this case most of the heavy lifting would be done by the marketing outbound teams and the AI could effectively replace the need for quick interactions and upsell, because AI’s would never forget to ask you need fries with that and would have the data to offer just the right solution based on your buying habits and others like you, and would never get tired.
So the next online chat you have with a sales rep just might not be that kid out of college from Utah and actually might be an AI bot.
It’s going to take quite awhile for artificial intelligence to make any sort of in-roads into the corporate sales process because sales are still so heavily focused on human interaction and relationship building and we just enjoy working with people when it comes to strategic decisions.
AI will ultimately start with smaller micro-transactions where people won’t mind or would rather avoid working with a sales rep and then learn and grow from there into more sophisticated transactions.
A good example of this is Thumbtack.com, if you ever need an event or any sort of local professional the thumbtack AI seamlessly works you through questions, and based on your responses manages the entire sales process without any direct rep ever getting involved. An AI grows and learns this will be more of an accepted norm.
With these changes sales organization will have to dramatically change by adopting the benefits of AI and advanced data science and leverage their human strengths integrated with artificial intelligence data to grow into the new era sales professional.
So while I don’t see any sort of drastic change like AI replacing an Enterprise sales rep, the AI industry will have a profound impact on sales in the near term moving forward.
So your jobs safe, for now.
Sean Gately is the founder of Omniom Technology Group, a data driven sales consulting and services company.
You can find Omniom @omniomtech or on linked in on the group Data Driven Sales