Thursday, January 12, 2017

Will AI Replace Sales People?

With the surging popularity of AI as a method for leveraging vast amounts of data and providing recommendations, it’s only a matter of time before the sales function in most organizations is completely automated

Sure.

And of course, who needs buyers, with their imperfect knowledge and flawed processes? It’s only a matter of time before the buying function is automated.

Right.

And as long as we’re improving corporate functions, why does the CFO have to come to work in her autonomous vehicle? Sure, she’s getting a lot of work done on the way, reading email, catching up on the latest issues in The CFO Daily News. But why don’t we automate the CFO process too. Wouldn’t that be more efficient? Our AI CFO, with instant access to all internal company and external market information, will be able to make far better decisions than its predecessor.

So what’s left for us meatheads? Customer Support? Nope. Marketing? Already covered? Manufacturing? Robots are doing it. Delivery? Drones are in the air.

Here’s the thing…computers and machines have taken on some of these functions, typically where repetitive tasks (both physical and computational) can be (should be?) automated. AI, or more precisely expert systems, can give us better (higher confidence) recommendations on what to do in a given situation.

None of this is new. AI technologies have been around for a long time. For example, I prototyped an expert system to diagnose manufacturing problems for Mead Paper in the mid 1980s. Since then, these technologies have been implemented mostly as helper or advisor tools.

So…

Either you believe that computers (and robots) are going to take over the world, allowing humans to focus on leisure, or you reject that dystopian view, believing that we will continue to employ technology as enablers and boosters rather than replacers.

And buyers need sales people. Good sales people. Corporate buyers find significant value in those sales people who play the role of trusted advisor.

Companies that equip and position their sales people to play this role receive multiple benefits – higher average deal size, higher deal profitability, better customer retention, more repeat business, lower sales turnover, higher lifetime customer value and more.

So…what are you going to do? Replace your sales people with software? Or enable your sales people to do the job your prospects and customers need?

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