Everywhere you look, artificial intelligence, automation, and technology are replacing interactions we once used to have with other human beings.
Some of this we cheer – such as self-guided drivers’ license kiosks, bots or algorithms that predict which wine, books, or music we would like, or cars that guide you back to driving in your lane.
Some of this we loathe – phone trees, unsympathetic chat bots, or unmanned parking garage exits.
It wasn’t so long ago that The Jetsons, set in 2062, with their flying cars and robot maid (and, PS – George Jetson was born on July 31st, 2022!) – seemed like nothing we would see in our lifetime but now – automation has nearly completely permeated manufacturing and other industries based on repetitive tasks. And artificial intelligence is growing in use by leaps and bounds with virtual assistants translating and transcribing conversations and billions of bits of data.
So for sales pros, what’s YOUR future?
Could YOU be replaced by a robot?
Short answer. “Maybe.”
Long answer, “It depends.”
You may have seen or read this stat where, in 2015, research giant Forrester predicted that by 2020, one million B2B sales pros will lose their jobs to self-service or e-commerce functions – that represented 20 percent of the B2B Salesforce.
I’m still searching for the end result of that prediction but we know that many sales roles have been transitioned to automated interactions for customers.
Which type of sales positions are being replaced?
Transactional sales, and exchanges where customers can research all options on their own, online, or low-risk sales – these will continue to move to a more “self-serve” model of purchasing.
Technical sales and complex sales processes with “high consideration” and expanded buying committees will still require skilled salespeople – but only the BEST will make it. Not order takers. Not quota bakers (I just made that up – sounds like a thing, right?)
Relationships and emotional intelligence will still be the drivers that collaborate and coordinate the forward momentum of buying teams and influencers making complicated decisions. As more products and services across business silos, more players enter the game. That’s more personalities, more specialists, more stakeholders – and they all have different experiences, points of view, objectives, and filters through which they entertain a decision or a purchase.
Exceptional sellers excel at being perceptive and reading subtle and even subconscious actions of buyers and reacting immediately. Reading emotions and body language to understand group dynamics, authority, leadership, and veiled clues – these emotional intelligence skills allow sellers to be agile and adapt to real-time shifts.
In high-stakes purchases, buyers’ careers or reputations may be on the line. That level of risk makes people hesitant, uneasy, and cautious. Selling to buyers still depends deeply upon empathy and trust – two complex emotions that machines have not yet mastered – along with language and emotions.
Sellers that help coordinate and guide buyers through their process and make them feel informed, secure, confident, and comfortable, will advance sales and earn opportunities.
It’s more likely that Artificial Intelligence will enhance and help improve the lives of highly skilled sales pros rather than replace them. AI will supplement or assist in repetitive tasks such as scheduling, administrative notes, and leverage data to make more informed moves based on buyer behavior or predictions.
That Forrester statistic is alarming. Could a greater percentage of the B2B Sales workforce be replaced in just a few short years?
Are you at risk?
Assess your sales skills and performance:
- Are you an order taker or a skilled consultant driving opportunity?
- Are your sales transactional or deeply relationship and value-based?
- Do you process quotes for your quota or sell solutions and services?
If you’re freaking out right now, ask yourself if you can change. Are you willing to learn harder than your peers? Will you invest in developing those “soft skills” that will keep you relevant and in demand?
Adapt. Evolve. Or be replaced.
Until next time, stop hoping, start SELLING!
PS – If you’re curious about your position or others – check out this website, “Will Robots Take My Job” and see what the likely hood of extinction is. And then ask, “What are you going to do about it?”
Great post! Check out the article on AI in sales that Rob Peterson and I co-authored: https://salesfoundation.org/SEFAnnual/
Right in alignment!
That’s a FANTASTIC article, Mike! I think so many organizations are TRULY behind the curve of understanding the impact of AI and how quickly it will make its way into the buying/selling cycles of their businesses. Thanks for sharing!