From Philip K. Dick’s “Do androids dream of electric sheep” (1968) to the recent “Black Mirror” (2016) sci-fi series on Netflix, authors have been postulating different life scenarios impacted by technology. This same artificial intelligence responsible for rogue computers and robots on TV shows are now capable of mastering real world tasks through refined repetition. Today, it goes by a less ominous term: machine learning. Thanks to vast collections of datasets, a turn toward software-defined (and controlled) systems, topped with a peppering of geekism as the cool culture, the key ingredients of this primordial digital soup are complete. Commercial applications of artificial intelligence are here –used currently to triage inbound calls, identify fraud, and aid doctors with diagnosis. And these machine-learning enabled apps do so with four decimal points of confidence.Is this new tireless and always-on technology here to aid, augment or replace?
Death of a Salesman – circa 2017
You don't have to look far to see the impacts of artificial intelligence. In 2015, SoftBank Japan backed a humanoid android called Pepper that was designed specifically for a sales role. During a test run, Pepper's learned product knowledge became so advanced that it carried on discussions with customers and made product recommendations. Since Pepper's commercial debut, an estimated five hundred robots from different makers have taken on customer service, sales and even restaurant service roles in Japan. These advancements changed the fundamental question not from “if”, but “when” robots will replace their human counter-parts.
The rapid pace in which eCommerce toppled the brick and mortar retail model may serve as a good indicator. In its constituent pieces, the new robotic sales corp is made of the same intelligent logic as eCommerce systems. Add a voice interface augmented with natural language pleasantries and pipe it to a sales platform complete with product specs and user accounts. Extend with purchasing and payment integration (not unlike Apple Pay or Google Wallet) and you have just assembled a robotic sales guy.
The pressure is on at all levels of sales, and arguably across most verticals – especially those with finite and specific knowledge domains (think auto-parts). The Bots are coming. And they will soon better optimize margins, discovery new buyer profiles, and close sales orders faster. The connected cloud and social networks ensures this phenomenon will occur at the speed of Internet business.
Automation through AI, orchestration through CRM
This scenario may sound hyperbolized, but the component technologies are here. In this digital age, artificial intelligence threads our lives together via online profiles, connected presence, and social activities. Machine learning algorithms correlate the data and set the groundwork for engagement. Ready to use information is housed in sales platforms born out of customer relationship management (CRM) software, ready to be interrogated by sales bots.
In these advancements, the future is bright for new sales professionals as well as veterans in the field. What if, as a sales professionals, you were suddenly relieved from long and laborious meetings, mountains of paperwork associated with each order, and monthly management reports? What if your CRM “auto-magically” completes half your quota by the fifteenth of each month, and fills out all the paperwork to boot? And what if you now own an army of these sales-Bots that execute your plans with ruthless efficiency? What would you do with all the free time you just gained?
Future ready your sales organization
Bye bye sales guy, hello sales strategist. In this leap forward, three pillars will separate the successful teams from those that perish in the jump. Data, platform and training (collectively: mastery). As any information professional will tell you – Garbage In, Garbage Out – isn’t just a saying. It’s a truth. Clean data is happy data. A solid CRM platform houses the data, and processes govern the ingestion, storage, access, and deletion of every piece of data. The last pillar to mastery – is knowing how to manipulate and extract insight from the pool of data in hand.Mastery comes from training, and practice.
Like it or not, in the new sales era, sales-Bots scale instantly, and inefficient teams (humans or otherwise) will be squeezed out. Automation-powered organizations will scale to dominate their industry. If there was ever any doubt, just count the corpses left in the wake of Amazon’s online sales transformation.