The Coming Threat – Artificial Intelligence
“Will your sales job be eliminated by the upcoming technology
revolution being driven by Artificial Intelligence?”
You’ve likely seen this question splashed across the news media and may have wondered what, if anything, it means to you personally.
As a business-to-business (B2B) sales professional, you might believe that you won’t be impacted by current major advances in technology, including robotics, automation, and what is referred to as Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Many expect Artificial Intelligence to dramatically change the makeup of the workforce in the near future and to fundamentally alter how human workers are utilized—and even to determine whether they will be needed to perform certain jobs. But because you’re not working in retail or customer service, perhaps you’re thinking that AI won’t shift how B2B salespeople work.
If you believe your sales job isn’t vulnerable to this upcoming wave, think again!
During the 1980s and 1990s when our economy was fueled by the industrial sector, millions of manufacturing jobs disappeared because of automation, while production tasks previously performed by humans were overtaken by robots, computers, and other advanced equipment such as automated material handlers. Productivity soared, quality increased, and costs were dramatically reduced. But these technologies also meant fewer humans were needed to produce goods. Factories that previously operated with thousands of workers often required fewer than half of that number to manufacture at a higher level of output.
A revolution that draws parallels to manufacturing automation is poised to occur in today’s sales-centric, services-based economy. Simply put, Artificial Intelligence could eliminate half of the sales force in three years. Many current sales positions will become obsolete for the same reasons that technology enabled our economy to advance past the labor-intensive manufacturing base.
Why Is Such a Selling Revolution on Its Way?
Perceived Low Productivity and High Turnover of Sales Forces
Even though a company’s sales force generates much of its sales revenue, typically making it the company lifeline, executives often view salespeople as a necessary evil. Sales organizations frequently suffer from low productivity and high turnover. Companies habitually operate with an extremely short-term mindset of “deliver quickly or hit the road.” Executive management will welcome with open arms a solution that reduces the overall cost of sales while increasing productivity and revenue.
Social Communication Trends
Non-vocal communication is now a readily acceptable means of interaction and is often the preferred method with customers. Conversations that once required a face-to-face meeting or a phone call can now usually be handled through email or text messaging, and many even involve the use of symbols such as emojis. This can make the nature of a sales professional’s relationship with a customer increasingly impersonal and, of course, less effective.
Customer Buying Trends
It is now easier than ever for customers to buy without having a sales professional engaged every step of the way. Customers can learn a significant amount about products and solutions through web-based research. Many of these products and solutions can be ordered online. Even legal documents (such as purchase orders and contracts) can now be signed and executed electronically.
Emergence of Advanced Technologies
The following advanced technologies are available today and are converging to form the foundation of sales process automation:
- Smart communication between machines and humans that conduct conversations simulating human interaction.
- Cognitive reasoning that evaluates multiple alternatives and determines the best possible response to a question, an objection, or a situation.
- Advanced analysis of large volumes of data related to customers, sales processes, and sales activities that can predict the most likely outcome then make the best possible recommendation.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems having robust databases that implement each element in the sales process are already widely used today by sales teams large and small.
- Cloud technology, an environment that supports ready access to the above capabilities, corporate data, and sales applications from any device anywhere in the world.
These technologies are commercially available today, and major suppliers continue to invest heavily in advancing their offerings. Further, management consulting services organizations have been building expertise to deliver solutions based on the convergence of these technologies.
This transformation of sales functions will not happen overnight, but many corporations are already implementing early phases of such a transformation. The progression of automated capabilities will advance in phases of increasing functionality, complexity, and, of course, impact on the sales force.
How You Respond to the Onslaught of Artificial Intelligence Is Crucial
There will always be a need for talented sales professionals to drive customer engagement and win lucrative business. However, if you spend most of your day working on tasks that are amenable to automation, your career in the sales field is vulnerable. If you don’t pay attention to this threat, you could be relegated to lower-paying positions or be forced out of your sales career altogether.
You might be responding with skepticism, believing there is no way your job will go away. Those were also the words of the highest skilled welders, machinists, and equipment operators in the 1980s and 1990s who were shocked when robots phased them out of their well-paid factory jobs. Do you really want to take a chance and ignore the obvious signs?
Though a Selling Revolution is clearly on its way, the intent here is not to fan your fears but to help you as a sales professional survive and even prosper during this transformation. It is a call to action, sounding the warning cry for two critical reasons. First, you need to be aware that changes are coming. And second, you need to sharpen your skill set, embrace the technologies that will increase your productivity, and become empowered to achieve even greater success.
Those who survive will need to have a laser focus on continuously developing and retaining elite skills. As a result, you will strengthen customer relationships, win more business, and be well-positioned to achieve your career and financial goals even in the face of some turbulent times ahead.