"Hey Siri...sell me this pen."
While this vacuous question has become synonymous with sales, artificial intelligence (AI) today is nowhere near selling anything. But make no mistake, with 75% of business execs saying their business will actively implement AI by 2020, and what seems like a new AI product being released every day – we’ve only begun to see the potential of AI in the sales process.
One of the most prevalent and growing capabilities AI has demonstrated is in engaging with prospects through email, social, and text/chat. You’ll find this today in LinkedIn or Gmail where potential responses will show up at the bottom of the message, or with a chat bot communicating with website visitors. The technology is far from perfect, and often sales people are skeptical today of letting AI perform sales communication for them (see example of Microsoft’s Twitter bot gone wrong). That said, this technology gets smarter every day, and eventually the AI-written messages will become indistinguishable from that of a salesperson.
This may sound disheartening if most of your sales activities focus on researching customers, writing emails, and reaching out on social media. Don’t worry, there’s a simple way to ensure that you won’t lose your sales job to AI: focus on the conversation. Heightening your ability to speak with customers and prospects through the phone, face-to-face or via video will help to solidify your role at your company. If you are adept at interacting with other humans, robots won’t be able to compete.
Some may argue that one day, AI will have the ability to have an indistinguishable conversation with a person. While this true, the one thing AI will not be able to replicate is what I call authentic conversations. Authentic conversations consist of three skill sets that AI will not be able to replace: empathy, context, and situational awareness:
- Empathy: Scientific evidence proves that humans are wired for social contact and we do better physically and mentally when exposed to others. As a salesperson, connecting with the prospect on a personal level, caring about their challenges and being able to put yourself in their shoes will help to build a meaningful relationship that can't be replicated by a computer. Trust develops based on the intention behind your questions and the value the other person receives from your interaction. In conversations, this is expressed not just by tone of your questions but when and how you react and transition to other topics.
- Context: Robots can scour the internet for information, and sort and prioritize the findings. They can send mass emails following the Predictable Revenue model: “can you refer me to the right person?” What robots can’t and won’t do is place calls into accounts to talk to gatekeepers, or lower level people in the departments you serve. One small comment from someone who actually works at the organization you’re targeting may outweigh 20 facts about the company, when it helps set specific context for the problem you want to help your customer solve.
- Situational Awareness: Buyers tend to ask similar questions and want to see similar information from deal to deal. They’re still people: at the end of the day, they don’t always act “rationally.” Salespeople can observe when a buyer is starting to go down a path that won’t result in the best decision for their situation. A salesperson with integrity will raise this concern regardless of whether or not it’s going to lead to a closed deal for themselves. Would a “perfect” AI bot masterfully handle objections to the point where the prospect signs on the dotted line, but then regrets it? Isn’t that the sales stereotype we’re trying to run from?
Even if AI can’t replace an authentic conversation that a seller would have, AI will have a tremendous impact on sales productivity and the big picture – some of which we are already seeing today. This includes: knowing when a prospect is most likely to pick up the phone or answer an email, scoring leads, predicting which opportunities will close and which won’t, helping find the right accounts, conducting pre-call research – the list goes on and on.
In short, what can you be doing today to avoid losing your job AI? Pick up the phone and call your prospects. Call them when you are first trying to score a meeting and call them throughout the sales cycle for clarification when you’re preparing for meetings or writing proposals. Call others in the organization to get their perspectives and additional context. Continually hone your conversation skills and when you find yourself writing an email to a prospect, stop yourself and think: am I better served to pick up the phone?