Death of a Salesman – or perhaps not?

It’s true that the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a lot of people worried about the future. But, should salespeople be part of that group who are wringing their hands and wiping the sweat from their brows?

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Artificial Intelligence (AI), as the term was coined back in the 1950’s, is a catch-all definition describing the simulation of human intelligence by means of machines – computers. This simulation includes learning, reasoning, and self-correction.

As we’ve mentioned, the term has been around since the 1950’s but until very recently it has been almost exclusively reserved for use in science-fiction movies, reflecting dystopian futures where mankind has been enslaved by computers, robots and other forms of AI. But now, in the modern world of the twenty-first century, AI has become part of our everyday lives, most especially in the world of business and commerce due to the vast amount of big-data we are now collecting and consuming right across the globe in all spheres of life.

Tasks may now be performed much faster, and far smarter due to the knowledge resources available on command. But this newly found speed and access to quantum amounts of information comes with a price – job loss.

AI has the ability to analyse mountains of information, identify patterns and behavioural traits – far faster and more critically than whole teams of humans could – and reward fewer humans and businesses alike with greater insight, greater productivity and the possibility of greater profitability.

AI in the real world

AI for use in the real world, in real scenarios, can be labeled in a number of different ways, the most common of which are listed below:

Strong AI – This form of artificial intelligence is imbued with a sense of human cognitive ability enabling AI machines to discover solutions to problems when presented with a new or unfamiliar tasks

Weak AI – Refers to a system which has been designed for a specific task. A good example are computer game characters who can negotiate task believably within their environment, but are unable to cope further beyond their boundaries.

Other means of labeling AI abilities are the following:

Reactive Machines – Programmes like IBM’s Deep Blue, the chess playing software which famously beat Gary Kasparov over two decades ago. Deep Blue could identify chess pieces on the board and make predictions as to moves. However, Deep Blue had no memory and could not use past experiences to assist in making future ones.

Limited Memory – Unlike Deep Blue these systems are equipped with benefitting from past experiences to assist in future ones. This is one of the core elements designed into self-driving vehicles.

Theory of Mind – This term refers to AI systems which are based on the notion that individuals have their own beliefs, wants, and objectives which form the decision making process. This type of AI does still not exist.

Self Awareness – In this model for AI software the systems have a sense of self and possess consciousness. These machines ‘understand’ their existence and their current state of being, and can process this information to infer the feelings of others. This type of AI also still does not exist.

Jobs and the future of your sales team

At the supermarket’s automatic check-out you interface with AI, at the bank ATMs have replaced the human tellers, at the fast-food restaurant you place your order via an AI touch-screen, your social media pages suggest movies, books and events selected designed specifically for your own personal tastes; thanks to AI it has learned from your past interactions and now predicts your needs.

The dark side of the spread of technology and AI has made the need for many lower-paid workers redundant. But that’s only the beginning, and it seems inevitable that the spread of redundancies will grow apace with the development of new technologies. But what about the future of salespeople, are their jobs safe or will AI also render them and their roles obsolete in the tech-fuelled future?

Many of the best salespeople feel that they are priceless and irreplaceable to any business. They feel that the company will go under without their vast knowledge of the product or service, without their bulging contacts book, without their network of influential people and friends, and more importantly without the revenue they have consistently returned year after year.

The bad news for this particular brand of salesperson is that by adhering to such a redundant attitude they are unwittingly signing their own death warrant. Change is coming, whether they like it or not. As the Borg of Star Trek Voyager are apt to repeat incessantly, “Resistance is futile”.

Using well worn sales cliches like ‘The customer expects service, and I can give them that service’ just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. The sad fact is that people – your customers, want results – and they want them now. Are you going to sit up all night sending emails to clients around the world? Probably not, but your AI friend will. Are you going to answer a sales query at 2am? Again, probably not, but you know who is.

So, if you want to stay in the sales loop, you’d better listen up and get wise.

Can you future-proof your sales team?

Sales people, especially the good ones, realise that the more you understand your sales prospects, and the more you know about them the better your chances for success. In the past getting your hands on this information was a slow and arduous process. It involved many lengthy meetings and phone calls, cold calls, introductions, networking and referrals to reach your targets. With the onset of AI, and augmented intelligence, life has gotten a lot less complicated, and yields greater results, faster.

Using a Sales CRM, such as Teamgate, targeted information gathering, marketing strategies, identification of leads, and geographic connectivity have all been vastly simplified. On its own the use of advanced sales CRM software makes the life of your sales team more efficient and streamlined. Add to that equation the experience and face-to-face knowledge of your sales people and the game has just changed beyond recognition.

In addition, it won’t be long before every salesperson will have access to technologies such as AI assistants which will assist them through every step of the sales process, including the pre-sales marketing and lead identification.

The future is here, the future is now – are you ready?

The future is here, the future is now. But, sales teams must also confront the reality that the technologies which we use at this point in time are probably not the same ones we will be using in five years time.

Future experts agree that within the next five years every member of a sales team will own, or have access to an intelligent assistant, intuitive to your needs through each stage of the sales process. And, through that intuitive gathering of specialist and keenly targeted information sales teams will build ever more intimate pictures of their sales targets, their needs, pain-points, and future trends. Say goodbye to generic selling.

It might sound like the once futuristic movie Space Odyssey but it is envisioned that in the not-so-distant future your virtual assistant – sited within your company’s sales CRM – will be on hand to offer you the day’s schedule, proposed calls, leads, marketing analysis, state of the pipeline, personal messages, reminders and outlooks, and handle all files and communications between the salesperson and the client. Surely, such an innovation can only improve your productivity – but, only if you are ready and willing to embrace it.

How you can ride out the change?

The knee-jerk reaction for salespeople is to run scared – but wait!

Most sales people’s first reaction is to become concerned about their future, about their replaceability by this new wave of ‘smart technologies’. The truth is, yes, many will be replaced, but not because of the advances in AI, but because of their unwillingness or inability to cope with these advances. Along with this, there will be the natural wastage of sales staff, people leaving their roles for a variety of reasons – this has always been the case, and always will be.

Salespeople – the real ones, the dedicated ones, the true professionals who believe in their role as a vocation rather than a mere job – need to stay abreast of the changing technologies, and master them at every turn.

And here’s the nub! The skills you have always brought to the table are still valid, if not more so, when augmented with these new advances in AI and other areas of technological advancement. You, the salesperson, has now been granted a whole new arsenal of stronger, smarter weapons to complement the hugely valuable skills which you already possess. Leaving you more time, and more freedom to do what you’ve always done – sell.

There was a time when salespeople roamed the countryside, from village to town to city, cold-calling prospective clients. More often than not spending excessive amounts of time on the road rather than engaged in the actual sales process. After a time, customers in different locations came to know the salesperson’s calendar of calls and when they might be expected to arrive. The advent of the telephone and the improvement of the postal system further enhanced the sales process. It was then the turn of email and other technologies to improve the process further. And, now it is the turn of AI and augmented intelligence to bring your sales process to the next level. It’s your job to be there, open to change, willing to embrace that change and prepare yourself for the next step up the sales ladder. Going backwards is not an option.

Finally, there’s one last point you might like to remember when contemplating the advances in artificial intelligence; and that is the fact that you still have an advantage. Your intelligence is real, you can read a clients face, hear a tone in their voice, be empathic with their personal lives and be aware of their personal situations. You are human, they are human.

You see, your intelligence is real, and always will be.

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