If there’s one thing that can be said with certainty about artificial intelligence in the field of sales, it’s this: It’s coming.
Solutions for sales leaders, account executives and business development reps tout various AI-enabled features and the benefits they offer to sales. Writers breathlessly forecast the loss of millions of jobs due to AI, including the decimation of most professions, sales included.
Beyond the hype, what is true? What are the real positive and negative implications of AI on the sales profession?
To separate hype from reality on a topic like artificial intelligence, we need to get beneath the Hollywood view of sentient robots taking over the world and understand what AI truly is and what it’s capable of. With that understanding, we can begin to break apart the discipline of sales and identify the areas where AI likely will have a profound effect.
What Really Is AI? What Truly Is Sales?
So what, really, is artificial intelligence? Fundamentally, it’s a set of software tools that can be trained to recognize patterns. Whether we are talking about self-driving cars, image recognition, or natural language processing, each is all about recognizing a pattern — even if the style of the tool might change. Once trained, an AI system can recognize examples of a pattern quickly and easily.
When applied to the real world, AI is good at tasks that can be carefully trained once, and then repeated many times. As with all software, it scales astoundingly well when compared to humans performing the same task. However, it does poorly at tasks that are new, unique or unprecedented.
From a sales perspective, we can identify pattern-oriented, repetitive tasks that might be replaced by AI. However, this is harder than it seems, as some tasks that appear to be repetitive and pattern-oriented are actually quite complicated when viewed more closely.
Sometimes we might sell more effectively if we could repetitively perform a task that is too burdensome when done manually. Only when we break down what it means to sell can we tease out the positive and negative implications of AI on the sales process.
To get buyers to buy, we need to do two things: inform them that a new approach is possible, and convince them that the new approach is what they should do. This, of course, is much harder than it sounds, as anyone in marketing or sales knows well.
Buyers are bombarded with information relentlessly and have equally rich access to information that they can look for on their own. Gone are the days when information on a solution was enough to secure interest or even a meeting. Attention from the buyer, not information, is the rare commodity.
Similarly, everyone peddling a new approach, service, supplier or solution is trying to convince the buyer that their option is the best. The competition includes different options for solving the same problem, as well as different problems that are fighting for prioritization.
Convincing buyers to deal with the problem you solve — urgently, right now — is often a more difficult task than convincing them to use your solution over another competing solution.
A Human Model of Excellence
So how do great sales people cut through this noise? They focus relentlessly on two things.
First, they deeply understand what the solution means for the specific buyer at that specific company and in that specific situation. Using this insight, they can deliver a message that truly resonates.
Second, they focus on building the one thing that cuts through all the noise: trusted relationships. Sometimes they build relationships with…