Artificial intelligence in sales – what a hot topic. A hot potato, even, in some communities. Will robots ever ‘understand’ the nuances of human psychology well enough to sell effectively? Is it already happening? Opinions are all over the Internet, both pessimistic and optimistic. In this post, I’ve collected arguments from both sides so you can decide who convinces you more.
Kai-Fu Lee, the CEO of Sinovation Ventures, thinks that AI will replace millions of sales jobs – at least, a big portion of the repetitive tasks they do. The use of AI software in sales teams means that salespeople won’t need to spend a chunk of their time prospecting and qualifying leads anymore. The software can schedule follow-up meetings in their stead, too, calculating the best time for contact.
This could mean that fewer salespeople will be able to deal with the same number of prospects and customers. A team of two might perform as well as a team of five if the former use automation tools and the latter doesn’t. Especially if they combine different proposal tools to cover all stages of the sales funnel.
What does this mean for the average sales rep?
Therefore, it seems that low-performing salespeople have a good chance of either being replaced or pushed towards development. High-performing reps might be able to move on to more responsible tasks or sell to more customers as the business grows.
Matthew King says that within 20 years, AI will replace 95% of salespeople. He points out that CRM software is rapidly developing and will continue to do so. In a world where robots can easily beat humans in board games (Google’s AlphaGo is a curious example), why shouldn’t they win more sales as well?
Uber drivers were skeptical of the notion of self-driving cars, too. Now, there are more than 1,400 on the US roads. Matthew King is sure that employing a salesperson will soon be more expensive than training and maintaining a sales bot – and the latter will be twice as productive.
Many experts argue that since sales are such a relationship-driven job, AI will never be able to keep up. Customers want to connect with the brands they love. Even stores that work 100% online win people’s trust easier if there’s a human element to the process. And since AI doesn’t have emotional intelligence, other companies might try to outcompete it by delivering an even more interactive and personal experience to their customers.
What’s interesting, emotion seems to be necessary for the decision-making process. Processing and analyzing information is not enough. Buyers might have unspoken worries or desires that a salesperson will be able to detect by reading body language. And many services are solutions to pains – robots cannot empathize with them.
McKinsey estimates that 53% of salespeople’s activities are automatable. That might seem like a lot but it doesn’t mean that 53% of salespeople are to go. AI can take over taking orders but someone will need to program it and analyze its activity. It’s likely that sales jobs will change and cover a broader scope of tasks, including working with the automation software to make it even more effective.
On the other hand, consultant roles continue to grow, and AI probably won’t be able to replace them in the next few decades. Why?
Because a consultant doesn’t just sell a ready product. He or she needs to solve customers’ problems creatively. He or she has to make sense of complex needs and situations to tailor the service to the person in question. Being a consultant requires emotional intelligence and the ability to build rapport – machines are nowhere near as good at it as humans. They can’t even come up with good questions.
So what’s the conclusion? There’s probably always going to be a demand for salespeople. However, they can’t expect to do exactly the same job for the next 20 years. To stay in their roles, they should develop their consulting skills and learn to work with different kinds of technology that will automate many of their tasks.