Will Sales Survive AI Threat?

Artificial Intelligence is top of mind for influencers and those with a stake in reshaping the world and defining the future –not for the rudderless and the clueless who it may displace.

The world is coming out of its ivory tower and beginning to acknowledge that Artificial Intelligence will impact even white-collar jobs, not stopping at automating mundane tasks such as dish washing, tray return or floor cleaning.

Importantly, machines that could understand human emotions are in advanced stages of development with researchers in China contributing in a big way to the robotic revolution.

Welcome to my World

It’s a no-brainer that automation lowers costs while enhancing operational efficiencies. At risk are those excelling in dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s despite the meticulous attention they pay to detail. If strategic thinking and proficiency in value selling are anathema to you, with a steadfast faith in tactical extraneous elements, then you can count yourself also among the vanishing breed.

For Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, efficiency does not lie in just automating the old way of doing things. Relaying this message in an interview to Australian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday, he was clear that technology can make a big difference

Three Game-Changing Areas

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates asserts AI will be one of three areas he will consider honing his skills on if he were to start life afresh today and get his learning momentum going. The other two areas he will have been drawn to are energy and biosciences. That’s saying it with conviction and clairvoyance while hitting the bulls-eye, capturing the essence of the future.

Did Energy figure in his list of priorities because of the Smart Grid evolution that unfolded more than a decade ago and the accompanying IoT innovations? Hardly! Rather it is because “making it clean, affordable and reliable will be essential for fighting poverty and climate change.” That is fully aligned with his personality, focused as he is on philanthropy, poverty alleviation and making a positive impact on society.

Brain AI

Super-Intelligent Robots

The humanist he is, Mr Gates has also advocated taxing robots who replace real people. I do not, however, see any divergence in his thought stream. Learning is not to be confused with articulation of an opinion based on principles and impact of a development on society.

Always forthright, he had once even said that the world must fear the robot uprising, a sentiment also articulated by the likes of physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Tesla /SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

In the words of Mr Gates, “First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.’

B2B, H2H, E-Commerce and a Human Touch

Super-intelligent robots are certain to leave real people scrambling for jobs while bracing up for what could lead to a disaster for humanity, per Prof. Hawking’s warning.

The grim prognostications aside, one group of employees an AI sweep may leave untouched will be those in customer-facing B2B sales roles, unless prospects and customers are ready to talk to robots! Even here, Forrester has a dismal prediction – that one million B2B sales jobs will disappear by 2020.

The Costs Involved in Field-Based Selling

That’s a gloomy portrait, with other reports holding the Forrester figure as a drop in the ocean. This is not removed from reality, with cost-cutting being the mantra dear to businesses for profitability.

There can be no denying that field-based sales and presales personnel involve hefty expenditure for companies – with the biggest damage coming from failed prospecting. The cost of winning deals will raise no eyebrows. It is only when deals are lost the costs get noticed.

On the positive side, though, the significance of Human-to-Human (H2H) interactions will continue to sustain sales manager jobs in businesses delivering large infrastructural solutions.

That can be a possibility if sales personnel embrace a consultative culture, inspiring confidence and trust among prospects by demonstrating thought leadership and presenting them with a vision for their future in a true spirit of collaboration.


Armchair Soothsayer, Research Analysts and Chatbots

Whether the same can be said of smaller solution providers who may shift their focus to online sales amid the continuing surge in e-commerce is a moot point.

Without being an armchair soothsayer, I may have to rely on data from market research analysts. The only hitch is that research indicates the latter themselves are at risk of falling prey to AI, no thanks to chatbots for sales and marketing that deliver swift information by connecting to a wide range of tools for analysis.

Some tapering can be expected to happen, thanks to the power of human innovation through R&D resulting in AI sophistication.

Last year Mastercard ® launched a pilot for tapping the potential inherent in AI-based virtual sales assistant technology for advice on putting together and closing deals.

That may well become the norm soon!

G Joslin Vethakumar


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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Assistants

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