Are you afraid of Artificial intelligence killing your Sales job? How to use it to enhance your sales value
“Our intelligence is what makes us human, and AI is an extension of that quality.” — Yann LeCun, Chief AI Scientist at Facebook
Product hunt´s most voted product of last week was a page that produces machine generated human faces https://thispersondoesnotexist.com/. They are so real that it is both amusing and scary to look at them. The humanity transmitted by their eyes makes you shiver. The PH community polarised quicky into advocates envisioning cool uses and doomsayers warning of potential misuses. In the very few days that have passed, I have already seen designers services build on top of it.
The auto-created photo service is not only a warning for Fashion Models to look for a job but a sign of one tech trend that interest and dive the society.
Bestseller author Yuval Harari goes even further in Homo Deus when talks about how algorithms will know us better than ourselves.
We are almost there right now examining just our social activity- what we like and share. However, once they get direct access to all our data online and offline as well as sensors in our body and devices around us, the algorithm will be able to predict what is better for us. So we will relay more and more in them and hand over the decision every time in more task. That will imply many changes in our society including the way companies sell their products, making obsolete some professions. Yuval goes on developing the implications for Democracy and even talking about a new race that may supersede the homo sapiens, but we will jump off to analyse just the effects for professionals.
In a similar way to the Product Hunt Community, fear of the future or seeking opportunities divide most of us — including high tech professionals.
Digital transformation across all sectors paves the way for the rise of Artificial Intelligence. But the Sales world has been already impacted by another tectonic force, the internet.
Sales professionals are as everybody else worry by the human race extinction, but as what matters in sales is hitting the number, they are more worried about the implications of AI for the way of selling and thus the future of their job.
As in every transformation, what matters is who can adapt and how to evolve to not only survive but prosper in the new environment.
We are going to analyse three scenarios to help salespeople not only keep their jobs but to elevate their role in the value chain of their business.
AI: who uses it and who gets the value
We all know that when we get a product recommendation, a personalised news feed, a traffic jam alert and many other useful services is not only us getting a benefit out of it- the platforms are also getting more data, better and thus more valuable every time.
That is ok for most of us as long as certain minimum privacy is provided. What most of us don´t find so fair is that the ownership of our data is just not ours, but exclusive of the platforms. Also, their interest is often misaligned with the user ( aka advertisement).
Governments are scrutinising their use of personal data making it less compelling even to offer the service. Google recently announced it will shut down G+ for individuals, mainly for data privacy issues. ( gosh, what would you do with 300 mill users ¡ )
Enterprises get it even harder. With GDPR they can not have the data even less use it.
For me, the individual holds the key to unlock the undeniable value of the data.
The point is to make each person owner of the data and the potential uses and benefits.
In the form of applications, utilities and personal assistants that help each of us with the overwhelming amount of information around. A bridge across isolated services and platforms.
For our own sake, with our control, privacy and any other required guarantees.
Would be then useful to know who should we meet at an event? Of course, also arrange the best moment checking everyone’s agendas. Why not use Amazon-style recommendations for our professional needs, like find out who in your network can help you with a current issue. Thinking in sales, why not use it the other way around- to find who can I help.
These are the questions that make the future of salespeople look dubious.
So why are Sales people required for anyway?
In the past salespeople were almost “cashiers” -guardians of the product information — that any customer interested in the product was forced to pass by.
Now, customers like to do the initial research by themselves at their pace -most sources agree that between 60 to 80% of the buyer journey is done by themselves before any interaction with a sales rep.
An intelligent chatbot capable of understanding natural language ( eg intercom ) with access to the business knowledge base will be much better suited to assist the self-serving customer -24 by 7.
This type of functions are likely to go to machines, but what about attracting new customers?
Businesses have been using systems like Marketing Automation for a while. Luckily for us in sales is not the ultimate solution to generate demand, not even close. Even the most sophisticated inbound marketing system require the visitor to leave their email. Less than 2% of the ones who visit do so.
Moreover, not all of your potential customers visit you, especially in B2B. Neither the ones who visit are the ones with real potential.
To get those, you need to use targeted selling — the outbound.
The outbound part of selling has been in crisis long before the arrival of A. I. Cold calling is a very unpleasant exercise, both for sales and for the interrupted customer. Also, it is very inefficient- 98% of executives never respond to a cold call or cold email.
This situation is not a machine vs man problem. Both will perform poorly in a cold call situation.
The problem with cold calling is not the calling but the cold.
However, there are two critical improvements that machines can help humans to change the game dramatically;
To scale the reach and to increase the quality. So more and better. Let’s see how in action
Exoskeleton to enhance salespeople
The traditional tradeoff between the laser quality of sales pitches Taylor made for an individual customer and mass reach achieved by broadcasting is about to change.
First -a quick note- broadcasting works less every day (advertisement blindness and saturation)
The massive adoption of social and professional networks have created the critical mass for the medium to become a personal tool of mass scale.
Social is personal. Advertisement — even in the form of social updates (sponsored), tweets or inmails will only go so far.
It is the authenticity of a person what gives the value to the peer recommendation.
Thus Social has become the most influential channel.
There is a space where the value of the people is above any machine. Ai enabled or not.
However, people alone are also lost in the chaos and saturation of social channels. It is physically impossible to be on top of the never-ending social feed. To follow just a few key customers is often so unproductive that sales disregarded it as a sales tool.
But here it comes the machines to the rescue of the limited humans. Let´see how they can expand our capabilities in 3 key areas, as an exoskeleton does for the factory worker or the soldier ( whatever image you fancy more to picture yourself in)
1.Build your professional brand and audience
Modern selling is not about spamming people to generate leads. Also, the traditional relationship building account manager that sells on the golf course or over lunch is also mostly out. Not that relationships don´t matter. However, the buyer now seeks to answers questions raised after their research. That requires a specialisation that cannot be provided by a single source. The “trust-me-for-all” does not work. You have to be seen as a subject matter expert at each of the problems/benefits of what you sell.
The next generation salespeople are social savvy, build a personal brand and uses a stack of mark tech tools to help them do so.
Salespeople are not required to become writers of books for each of the products they sell.
But they do have to have an opinion on how the products can help their customers business ( or life). And share it ¡.
Not sharing equals not exist in the social feed. The point to translate these insights into the digital word.
One essential factor in building a brand is regularity. Most people -especially busy salespeople- tend to use social media in spikes follow by long silent periods. A few tools can help us to be more regular- for example, finding and scheduling content curated for our domain topics which you can add your personal touch either commenting them or creating topic-specific pages or newsletters
The idea is to share your own unique view, not the official version from the corporate web.
Where are we heading?
You can already track how your content helps your goals- visits & conversion. The next step is to make it personal, share with each of your target prospects something that is uniquely designed to interest them. The tracking will also give sales a critical insight to prioritise who is ready for a call — killing once for all the cold calling.
However, just before jumping to celebrations, a question; how are we going to “know” what the interest of our prospects is?
2.Find who is interested in what you sell
In the past Salespeople have been working on prospect´s list selected by too simplistic criteria; Company size or even revenues are poor indicators of the actual need for a specific product. That was all that was available, so that’s why prospecting calls (cold calls) were born.
Now the internet is full of all kinds of data, many of them can be a proxy to indicate a likelihood of interest for our products; from the technologies and tools that they are using up to the enriched profiles of the people in charge of buying and even what they care about ( e.g.Sidetrade). You can see what they share or like — although regarded as superfluous- could be a proxy for interest thus a great way to prioritise. With all of this, you can have a pretty good picture of who is the customer. The problem is not to access the data but to process it in a time effective way.
It is humanly impossible to be on top of the social feed (pun intended). Even to follow just a narrow group of customers would be commercially inefficient. People share all kind of things. So what about doing it the other way?
Just get alerted when someone does talk about something that is relevant for you.
There is where your artificial intelligence assistant can be of great help to monitor 24/7 all of your connections and prospects so you can react in a timely, efficient and relevant way.
However, even if you know who has a pre-disposition or interest in what you sell, the job is not done; you have to find a way to get in touch.
In the noise-saturated world, we live in, that is something more challenging every day, so is AI of any help there?
3.Personal interactions that scale up
Relationships are hard. They take time to maintain and are not easy to create. They require our personal attention to cater to the personality of each connection. Artificial Intelligence can help not to replace us but to allow us to focus. Not to reach more people but to reach in a better way.
Of course, you could use it for mass messaging or amassing followers with basic auto-responders. That would be like using your iPhone to crack nuts-yes, you may get something out of it, but you are missing the point of the tool.
The idea is to combine all the elements we have discussed before to craft unique interactions that maintain the level of personalisation as if you were doing the job.
State of the art is right now limited to some base level where you can monitor the activity to keep the relation going with interactions and tailored messages.
With www.sequences.me you can create a sequence that will comment or give a like to what your targets share, then follow them on Twitter or connect on Linkedin and then wait until they talk about a specific topic (that you define) to send a related message.
You can, of course, define templates for each of the topics that matter you ( and thus for the people related). These templates can automatically adjust to show the recipient variables like the name, title, company or even the post they shared.
That creates engagements that are truly unique for each person but scale to the size of a modern professional network of connections and prospects.
It is even possible right now to analyse the personality of the recipient ( based on the way they write and what they share )so the templates could also be fine-tuned to the style of each connection.
Is the sky the limit?
The system can -and will- evolve to learn what it works best. It will track how people are responding to your messages and to the content you share. Do they read it, do they convert and become a customer after a time? That will slightly modify the algorithm signals and improve the next suggestions.
A few companies (e.g. insidesales.com, salesforce.com ) are already working on Customer Benchmarks, analysing “all” data to predict who is more likely to become a customer. It sounds to me like the “pre-crime” of Tom Cruise´s Minority Report; They will uncover customers before the customers know themselves.
The problem with “all” data is that most of it is dispersed across isolated platforms and sites. However, you could connect your personal assistant to any of the services and platforms where you interact with your network; sites like Medium, Quora or specific forums and communities. Your assistant could alert you, or it could do the first interactions by itself.
Since smart chatbots have been proved to be comparable to humans chatting, could these systems go a step ahead and facilitate not only the opening of opportunities but also the closing?
Could AI systems close the sale?
We have been talking about assistants to help humans to prioritise, so why not replace them all the way?.
As commented earlier that will be the case for many customer service roles, one-off transactions or sales that are about matching products to customer segments.
However, B2B is a complex sale. Anyone involved in enterprise deals nows that most of the time is about aligning agendas. Humans are political animals and just relying on “specs” is a sure way to lose. Sales is about helping the customer to figure it out what is best. So that is — or should be — a creative piece of work. That is where salespeople should focus on- Sharing the value accrued in their experience with other situations.
So, what to do this fiscal year?
Until the moment that Alexa, Siri or Google assistant runs your customer business, sales professionals will be around. So the best bet is to enhance yourself.
We have seen that is not about humans doing low-level jobs that machines can and will do better. But neither it is about bots & automation taking over all customer relations and fire your sales department.
Almost every day a new tool appears aiming to get something done. Instead of just wait and see what is “corporate approve” go and try it yourself . See what works for you, improve it and share it. There are many other people like you, looking to improve
I will write on this page and at www.getsalesdone.coach about tools that help personal productivity and processes to generate growth for startups or new projects.
The key to the success of the human species has been the transformation. Our capability to adapt to new situations and use or create the tools to do it. Technology evolution will imply challenges but will also open opportunities. For sales, there is an opportunity to reclaim a central role in the business generation. To work in what makes us valuable professionals. The creativity to deal with personal relationships.
For closing a quote of a growth hacker
Automate to scale reach, be human to build relations
Illustrations by https://absurd.design/