Will Machine Intelligence Change Sales Forever?

In this article in the Harvard Business Review, Thomas Baumgartner, Homayoun Hatami, and Maria Valdivieso all ponder the future of the sales role in a world filled with smart machines.

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From the article:

As we learned from researching our book, Sales Growth, companies that have pioneered the use of AI in sales rave about the impact, which includes an increase in leads and appointments of more than 50%, cost reductions of 40%–60%, and call time reductions of 60%–70%. Add to that the value created by having human reps spend more of their time closing deals, and the appeal of AI grows even more.

But the larger questions is: will sales ever be truly automated? Is the salesman job one of the jobs to be taken over completely by machines?

The article continues:

We analyzed McKinsey Global Institute data on the “automatability” of 2,000 different workplace activities, comparing job requirements to the current capabilities of leading-edge technology. We found that 40% of time spent on sales work activities can be automated by adapting current technologies. If the technologies that process and understand natural language reach the median level of human performance, this number will rise to 47%.

Fear not, sales people of the world: there’s still room for the human touch:

The “human touch” will need to focus more on managing exceptions, tolerating ambiguity, using judgment, shaping the strategies and questions that machines will help enable and answer, and managing an increasingly complex web of relationships with employees, vendors, partners, and customers.

Machine learning and automation tools, for example, will be able to source, qualify, and execute far more sales opportunities than reps can keep up with. Sales leaders therefore need to develop clear escalation and exception protocols to manage the trickiest or most valuable situations, making sure a sales rep keeps a robot from losing a big sale.

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