AI in sales posts, articles and announcements are now part of my daily read, including the impact that it’s going to have on so many sales jobs.
I can understand the need to make transactional sales activities automated as much as possible, it’s easy for the customer and cost-efficient for the business. Plus, I can see that the more help we get in prospecting, engaging with the right prospects at the right time with the right information, pipeline management and so on will help us in our daily workload. The more basic functions that can be automated and enhanced the better.
But the tidal wave of AI biased thinking is getting a little carried away. Let’s not start thinking that Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio will be joining our sales teams anytime soon!
Now before all of the geeks among you start spitting feathers and preparing razor-sharp retorts to express your superior knowledge and understanding I want to state that I’m no techie, in fact, I don’t know the difference between my arse and my elbow when it comes to understanding how this stuff works.
I’m just taking a view from someone in the trenches who understands that complex B2B sales are complex because of us, the people involved. And as we all know there are now a lot more people than ever before involved in the buying decisions, Gartner’s latest research says that the typical B2B buyer team is between 6-10. Research is also showing that as an industry our overall performance is in decline, one of the key reasons is that too many are still seller-centric rather than buyer-centric. They are selling based on their needs rather than the buyers.
So I thought it’s time for me to understand a bit more about this hot topic called AI and how it may or may not impact my beloved sales industry in the near future.
AI wet blanket!
I was a little concerned when I found out is that AI currently has shortcomings in that so far it has never been able to outperform humans involving nuances in language, complex problem-solving, and emotional and social intelligence.
The reason for my concern is because these capabilities are pretty handy in complex B2B sales and are unlikely to be addressed by AI anytime soon.
I’m sure that there are plenty of places where boffins are doing some super cool funky stuff that will ultimately change the world in ways that we can hardly imagine, but don’t hold your breath for AI-driven sales tech to replace you or make you better at selling in the near future. It might just make you more efficient in managing your workload and activities. There’s still an onus on us to be competent sales professionals.
The buzz around AI could also be slightly misleading as well (boffins sharpen your machetes). It seems that some vendor announcements about AI advancements are more likely just Intelligent Automation (IA) which has been around for many years. From what I can glean this is when you inject a set of logic or rules by which a more complex decision tree is followed and results stored accordingly. It does not require any special learning but follows a predefined set of rules that determine ‘if this then that’. Unlike AI, IA assists rather than replaces people and enables them to increase their capabilities by leveraging its technology.
AI or IA
True AI is different to this. It’s a boundary-less environment where a computer learns, applies logic, knowledge, reasoning, and problem-solving to implement a solution to a problem. AI can make recommendations then reapply that logic, learning and expand its rule base as it grows. Some of those claiming to be based on AI today could be at the knuckle-dragging level of the evolutionary scale. This is fine, everything evolves and at some point, becomes a compelling choice.
Hold on, there’s also another IA in town – Intelligence Augmentation. Whereas AI generally refers to efforts to replace people with machines this IA aims to use similar machine learning technologies but to assist rather than replace humans. Some experts are predicting a greater contribution from IA rather than AI.
I’m more excited about sales tech with machine learning programmes that sift through data, find connections and note trends, activities where humans, in our society of information overload, are struggling. Combining machine learning with the existing power of the human brain means we get the best of both worlds. The smart guys working on IBM Watson certainly think so and they’re focusing on IA to boost human capabilities.
Upselling, cross-selling, forecasting, appointment setting and prospecting are just some examples of how AI will supposedly help us by using algorithms to calculate and execute. Excuse my ignorance on this matter but I’m struggling to see how this is the true essence of AI, how do calculations or data analytics on a bit of sales tech warrant the same tag of AI robotics and machinery, which are truly impressive advancements.
Before the calls to gather a lynch party begin, I am not some old dinosaur struggling to come to terms with mobile phones, the internet and the digital world in general. I’m just someone who wants a sense of context and reality and for the sales industry to embrace the evolution of sales tech not fear it.
Whatever the sales tech you decide to use within your organisation it should be on the same basis on which you sell your solutions to your customers, it’s there to solve a business problem that you’ve identified.
If there are some true AI sales techs out there already, or coming soon, I’d love to understand more about them, especially what problem they solve that couldn’t or shouldn’t be sorted by a competent well trained and organised sales professional.
For now, I’m going to sleep easy, AI will be a gradual evolution rather than a dramatic revolution within sales.
By Kevin Dixon, Founder at Boxxstep
Effective B2B selling is largely based on what and who you know and what you do about it. Check out my blog on what Salespeople and sales leaders don’t know