Technology is not just changing the way we communicate with our business clients and customers – it is also changing the way businesses operate, and the way that industries are being run from top level positions right down to the frontline workers.
In the face of customer service representatives, fast food and retail positions, jobs are already being lost to technology – namely to AI (Artificial Intelligence) which works by automating services and streamlining both the business and customer experience. In this article we ask what’s next – and whether and whether AI could be useful in a sales environment
How does AI work in the world of sales?
The Sales recruitment process typically looks at both business operations and customer behaviours, in order to define each role and decide on the right kind of candidate for the job. In the past this has meant a focus on attitude and customer service, on experience under pressure, and on an ability to sell to cold, warm, and hot prospects. But now, in a world where customers are becoming more demanding and business operations are expanding both globally and in the breadth of service, finding real life candidates who can manage all the demands of a modern sales role is becoming increasingly difficult.
Let’s look at the role of a business development executive as an example. More businesses than ever before are now enjoying a global footprint. This means that they are working round the clock, often with employees and offices in different locations, owing both to international expansion and to remote working which allows colleagues to work from any location in the globe. It also means that clients can be much further afield and operating on different time zones, making meetings and conferences more challenging to arrange. With business development such a key area in growth both locally and internationally, finding a way to retain 24/7 touchpoints with these clients is crucial in delivering the kind of experience that they would expect.
Yes, AI Technology never sleeps, and presents a consistent communications system which can respond at any time, but is no match for the level of enthusiasm and charm as a real-life employee (especially just after their first cup of the coffee in the morning!)
A synergy between sales professionals and AI.
AI can offer a 24/7 support service to sales teams, for example collecting data and information on every customer or client it talks to (think web or social media chat bots), as well as help when it comes to lead qualification or diary management. As a busy, field-based rep, if you can do what you do best and leave some of the admin to a bot, you’ve got more time to nurture prospects and ultimately close deals.
That being said however, with all the technological advancements, we’re yet to see a machine learning program that has the complex skill set humans have when it comes to emotional intelligence; rapport building; building trust; or solving complex problems with creative flair!
Some other reasons that humans are superior in sales include;
- Understanding not just the words a prospect says, but the meaning behind them
- Reading body language, and being able to tweak their pitch or presentation appropriately
- Being able to dig deep to uncover REAL needs, if a person doesn’t quite know what they want (or in a lot of situations what they really need), it would be ultimately impossible for AI to uncover those wants/needs and desires.
- Many many people still don’t trust AI or machine learning. Or technology at all. Prospects want to see the whites of your eyes before they sign on the line and spend their money with a business, especially if their business deals in “high ticket” products or services. The role of the salesperson these days has gone past the merely transactional, it includes after care too in most circumstances, which is important as prospects need to feel looked after. AI doesn’t offer that “hand holding”.
What does this mean for sales recruitment and the role of the sales professional?
AI is not going away, in fact the likelihood is that its increasing implementation will open up a whole new set of doors for new sales roles and job titles. We will see more and more salespeople and their teams utilising it in order to supplement their activity. Time management is a crucial part of any sales role, so does it make sense to exploit AI to make the most effective use of your schedule? How long does it take to gather market intelligence, identifying the prospects with the right buying persona, benchmarking their propensity to buy, and finding opportunities to up/cross sell? Using technology to help with these tasks can streamline a rep’s overall performance, so AI is supplemental, rather than a threat.
The likelihood is that businesses will be able to solve many enquiries and complaints through the use of chatbots, however there will always be instances where technology does not and cannot provide the answer that a user is looking for. In these instances, that conversation will need to be passed on to a real salesperson for the human touch, and this is where high level salespeople will be crucial in delivering the experience that customers need.
In short, we’re not looking at AI takeover, but as sales recruitment professionals we could see an increased focus on how AI can be used to support and bolster the sales team in a business, rather than replace it completely.