When will a robot take my sales job?

Is AI after your job? Or, is sales a job that can only be done by smart-talking human beings? Let’s find out.

It’s something we all worry about, well, I do anyway. As technology progresses, will there ever be a machine that can do my sales job better than I can? It’s difficult to voice an opinion on this without being called a Luddite. Plus, if you’re in SaaS sales, you’re in the business of disruption! Let’s see if we should be clearing our desks for a robot any second now, or if we’re safe, for the time being at least.

(By the way, I’ll use the term ‘robot’ in this article, but what I really mean is AI)

The argument for

None of us can stop progress. In fact there are already areas where AI is doing a job a salesperson used to do. Online chatbots have been around for quite a while now, programmed to talk to a prospect online, answering their questions and making them feel good about the brand. Didn’t a person used to do that?

Software giants like Salesforce and Microsoft are already operating in this arena. Salesforce’s Einstein program uses data to help salespeople say the right thing at the right time. Less well-known organisations like Wand Labs and Genee are also making great strides in AI predictive software for salespeople.

Some thought leaders see it as the start of a process that will eventually see us all replaced. Matthew King, Chief Business Development Officer at Pura Cali believes 95% of salespeople will be replaced by AI by 2037.

Finally, the big companies want it to happen, because it allows them to cut costs. When the giants want something, it usually happens.

The argument against

There are so many arguments against the idea that salespeople could be replaced by robots. Good salespeople are highly-skilled. They instinctively know the right thing to say at the right time. They think on their feet. Machine learning by definition is getting better at doing this, but will it ever beat a human brain?

A more persuasive argument involves something a computer will never be able to have, empathy. Good salespeople have a genuine desire to help their customers, to solve their pain. It isn’t just about the end result and the money that follows. No AI will ever be able to do that.

People buy from people. Until robots are doing the buying as well, people will always have the edge.

An expert’s view

At our 2nd Sales Confidence event last year, we were lucky to have Erinn Collier from Uber come and speak to us.

Erinn told us about a move towards more automation in the sales team at Uber.

‘We’d been having a really exciting conversation about how we can move our how we can move more of our SME sales through a self-service funnel. So where you have a more guided, intuitive experience on a website, you go in and you might see different sorts of prompts. Right now, we do that for companies with between 0–50 employees. In the next year, we could do that for 0–200 employee sized companies. I thought, ‘This is fantastic!’

Her team were not so sure!

‘My team though, very ambitious, astute, candid individuals. They said, ‘That’s great, but then you’ll go to 500, then 1000. At Uber, we make products that people inherently understand how to use. You’re just going to get rid of us. We’re an expensive resource. That’s the endgame, right?’

‘I felt bad as a leader because this was a massive disconnect. I should’ve made it more obvious. I said, ‘Absolutely not.’

The middle way

What Erinn had in mind is that her team would go and do different jobs. They would find what their superpower is and then go and do that.

That is the middle way here. You can’t stop progress, but human beings have a way of surviving. Machines have been taking human’s jobs since the Industrial Revolution, but we’ve always managed to find something else to do.

I believe salespeople will be able to work alongside the robots. AI can make the sales process reliable and predictable, which companies love. But there will always be a place for empathy, the desire to pinpoint and solve pain, the human spirit.

If you’re still worried, have a look at this website. Will robots take my job?

I’d love to know what you think. Please let me know down in the comments.

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