Will Sales People Be Replaced By Robots?

In 2011, IBM’s computer Watson made national news after defeating former Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Not long after, IBM teamed-up with Memorial Sloan Kettering and the Cleveland Clinic to increase Watson’s medical prowess. This ultimately gave the robot the knowledge of a second-year medical student; it became a tool that physicians could use to check their hypotheses and gain recommendations. In January of 2017, IBM signed a 5-year deal with the Cleveland Clinic to help physicians speed up and improve the accuracy rates of their diagnosis and prescriptions. In this case, Watson augments the skills of physicians. It’s fair to theorize that if a computer can quickly learn to assist in performing medical functions, it’s possible it could rapidly learn the skills of a sales professional.

But, will the computer ever replace sales personnel? Teachers, drivers, travel agents, and interpreters, have all had “smart machines” infiltrate their ranks. If 53% of salespeople's activities are automatable, and by 2020 customers will manage 85% of their relationships without interacting with a human, does that mean that robots will be taking sales positions?

On the high side of the prediction scale, Matthew King, Chief Business Development Officer at Pura Cali Ltd, says that 95% of salespeople will be replaced by artificial intelligence within 20 years. The Washington Post has a lower estimate in a recent article where they cite a 2013 University of Oxford report which states that almost half of those currently employed in the United States are at risk of being replaced by automation in the next decade or two -- marking administrative positions as one of the most vulnerable. And even former Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, recently said that until a few years ago, he thought the Luddites were on the wrong side of history and the supporters of technology were on the right. But, then went on to say, “I’m not so completely certain now.” So, wait! Should salespeople worry?

Hopefully, it’s a matter of working with and not against. Salesforce Einstein is an artificial intelligence (AI) program which is connected to every interaction with customers and also with customer record keeping, so that salespeople know when to say the right thing at the right time. Salesforce has purchased five AI companies including, TempoAI, MinHash, PredictionIO, MetaMind, and Implisit Insights.

  • MinHash has developed an AI platform and smart assistant to help marketers develop campaigns.
  • Tempo AI has a smart calendar tool.
  • PredictionIO is working on an open source machine learning database.
  • Implisit Insights has a product which scans emails to ensure CRM data is accurate and helps predict when buyers are ready to close a deal.
  • MetaMind is creating a deep learning program that could answer questions related to a selection of text and images in a manner that closely approximates a human response.

Salesforce isn’t the only one in the AI game. Recently, Microsoft acquired SwiftKey, a maker of an AI powered keyboard that predicts what to type, as well as Wand Labs, a developer of AI powered chatbot and customer service technologies, and Genee, an AI powered smart scheduling assistant.

As Matthew King said, “These are all tools which can analyze customer sentiment in an email or phone conversation, so that salespeople and customer service agents can know how their clients are feeling and how they react to certain questions or prompts. This allows marketers to get insights into how to make better campaigns by targeting people at the right time with the right message based on that user's unique preferences and habits.”

But, will all this technology replace a sales person? The Washington Post reminds us that labor benefited right alongside productivity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries with advances in technology. So, maybe it will be a matter of salespeople working alongside the robots in order to do the job better. Please remember “people buy from people” unless buyers are robots who don’t mind buying from robots. But, certainly the robots are here and it’s best to work with them and not make the same mistake John Henry made: Don’t try to outperform the machine, make the machine help the salesperson perform. Let the machine mine the data and salesperson close the deal.

Learn how AI is currently helping sales efforts by visiting ConnectLeader’s Adaptilytics page. page.

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The ConnectLeader B2B Sales blog is written to share productivity tips, tools, news, and other information relevant to managers and senior executives interested in B2B sales productivity, demand gen, inside sales, sales operations, and business development issues.

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