Posted in Employers
Artificial intelligence – should your sales team be worried?
Much of the debate surrounding AI focuses on the loss of jobs. But AI could be more boon than burden for you and your sales team.
The topic of artificial intelligence is one hot potato.
Part of the problem is that the concept is so hard to grasp. Presented with the term AI, many people think of robots and the semi-apocalyptic events that form the narratives of Hollywood’s most popular sci-fi films. It’s confusing. And it’s a bit scary too.
Fear of the unknown leads to doomsday articles predicting the wholesale loss of jobs. Uncertainty prevails. And if there’s one thing the human brain dislikes above anything else, it’s uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds anxiety; anxiety breeds fear. Is it any wonder professionals across almost every vertical are worried about AI?
The one thing you can bank on is that the rise of AI is coming. In fact it’s already started. When you think less in terms of robots, and more in terms of automation, you can see that the AI revolution is already under way. You most likely have a smartphone in your pocket that can recognise your speech and answer everyday queries in a flash via spoken language. Self-driving cars are rolling tentatively onto our roads. Your favourite online retailers recommend products to you based on your historic shopping habits.
That’s AI at work.
And AI is only going to get smarter. Round up the opinions of experts who have devoted countless hours to researching AI (such as Nick Bostrom, Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge) and the consensus is that by 2040, there's a 50% chance that artificial intelligence will have surpassed the abilities of human intelligence.
So what does the rise of AI mean for sales professionals? While the far-off future is hard to predict, we can speculate on a few things happening soon...
The best sales professionals spend a good deal of time researching their target audience and prospects. As AI improves you will need to spend less and less time doing that. Automated systems will gather information on individual prospects - from helpdesk or customer service history, purchase history, social media data and so on - for highly targeted, deeply personalised sales interactions. Leads will be automatically scored and served based on their likelihood to convert. Sales automation software may even recommend the sales messages that individual prospects are most likely to convert on. The role of the sales rep will be to act on the data that AI serves them. Data analysis will become an increasingly important skill as long as AI lacks the facility for critical thinking.
Sales performance is intimately bonded to your business profits. With AI, it’s reasonable to assume that automated data analysis will crunch the numbers on your sales team and recommend ways to optimise performance - reinforcing the habits of your top performers and changing the techniques of the reps who aren’t converting.
Again, the ability to interpret and act on data will be crucial. Team leaders will need to use the tools available to them to improve team performance, measure progress and identify opportunities for micro-training to rapidly transform the results of their staff.
AI will reduce - or completely remove - the burden of admin from your sales team. Liberated from back office tasks, your team will be free to focus solely on interpreting sales data and closing more deals.
People do business with people. It’s an age-old epithet that looks set to withstand the AI revolution. While AI will improve fast, it is a long way off the ability to empathise, or interpret the nuances of human emotion. It’s reasonable to predict that AI will generate leads and analyse prospects, while humans close the deals.
The availability of reps - both to pitch new leads and respond to inbound queries - will be crucial. Automated screening of inbound interactions will drive customers into the most suitable funnels. But as customers become accustomed to automated profiling and the dawn of Big Data, they will expect speed and quality from their person-to-person interactions. Customer service will be as important in tomorrow’s world as it is today.
Like it or not, the growth of AI is here to stay. Yet by no means does that ring the death knell for sales professionals. Used properly, artificial intelligence will arm sales reps with all the tools they need to close more sales, while team leaders will be able to monitor targets and optimise performance in ways that drive immediate results. For businesses that flex with advances in technology, AI will be more of a business enabler than a business threat. Maximising this opportunity will require reps who are fabulous communicators and can think on their feet when it comes to interpreting and acting on data.