Robots – The new age salesman?

Robots shall slowly take over the world!

Seems like a line from a Hollywood sci-fi thriller? Hasn’t Elon Musk already opined that “Humans are underrated”?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has started making its presence felt in almost all the walks of our life. Everything today has become ‘smart’ with the dint of our, that is ‘human’ intelligence, hard work and skill. We have smartphone, smart cities, smart cars, smart healthcare system, smart banking, smart garbage disposal system and even smart voice assistants! All of these either have no human connection or human connection is minimised to an extent that it is almost invisible. Robots, of course, are our model of ‘smart’ being, one which is not ‘human’. Though it has been devised by humans and undeniably supersedes natural intelligence, it surely falls short of emotional intelligence. Robots can deliver the best result in less time and no effort, but can they lend an empathetic ear to the customers’ pain points? This, I say is at the core of all the sensationalism on the topic.

Alienating Human

Sales have made much progress since the dawn of the digital era. Machine Learning (ML), Data Analytics, AI and automation have together spearheaded this progression. Sales technology has evolved, and it has made lives of salesperson easy! Selling is increasingly being oriented towards technology with the continued focus on incremental revenue.

Right from identifying the next new customer, prioritising probable buyers, identifying purchase propensity of probable buyers, generating sales qualified leads for profitable growth and last mile visibility for quick sales closure – the entire process now witnesses close interplay of technology and people. Smart CRMs with an ability to automate lead quality validation, smart Assistant within the CRM and speech recognition decimating the need of manual data entry effort of the salesperson are some of the key areas where sales motion is being optimized by more than 20%-25%.

Artificial Intelligence, with its incessant expanding circle of impact, it has stimulated the phenomenon which is nothing short of Sales Renaissance. This intelligence which is assisted by numerous data points is being leveraged to peek into the future so that we can prepare sales teams in advance and help them to make better and skilful sales moves. AI provisions are a 3D blueprint of the scenario rather than a single faceted view based on which sales decisions are taken and tactics are planned earlier. Lesser transactional tasks, scientific lead generation process and thus, shorter sales cycles – the benefits are umpteen if the understanding is correct and application is right.

Dose of Reality

True, a robot shall answer the call at midnight and a human may not.

But then is the robot emotionally intelligent enough to understand the context and urgency? Will it be able to process incomplete information intuitively, take decisions and proceed accordingly?

Salesman personifies the brand’s ethos, values, and culture. He comprises the frontline force that delivers the first human touch to the prospects. Any technology or tool, to date at least, is unable to provide these fundamental elements of the sales process. The sales rep is pivotal to the brand’s relationship with the customer and the customer’s perception of the brand. Empathy is a human trait and not technologies – at least not yet. This is crucial for understanding prospects’/customers’ peeves – the first step towards successful sales. Trust between a brand and the customer is built by human efforts, though may be supported by technology. In the long run, this helps add business value.

Just a thought – would you prefer to buy from a robot or from a real person?

No wonder humans are critical pre-requisites for AI-driven sales process and not vice-versa.

Co-existence or Replacement

Forrester predicted that one million B2B sales jobs will be eliminated by 2020 as salespeople will become obsolete.

But then, research from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), shows that more than 70% of B2B buyers want to engage with salespeople early in the sales process2. Yet another recent B2B research showed the power of the human interface in client value realization and relationship satisfaction.

These survey results and umpteen others if pondered over, delivers only one insight. While salespeople will continue to steer sales revenue, technology will get them into the avatar of new age salesman and consultative sellers. Technology shall enhance sales processes via innovation but innovation itself shall become stagnant if there is no human intervention!

Trust, relationship, decision-making, feelings, engagement are some of the key elements of the sales process and a complete replacement cannot be a possibility at this juncture. The human touch will continue to be indispensable.

Final words

Let us not get trapped into sensationalism which seems to be gripping every industry and technology meet. Maybe at this point who knows what does the future hold? Robots are our creation but not equipped to build trust and credibility. Only we, humans can do it. Till then we evolve, we innovate and watch the progress of our fruits of labour and skill. Coexistence is the way forward and surely not the replacement.

About the Author

Prashant Rohatgi, Global Head- Technology at Denave

With over 20 years of experience in architecting Enterprise Solutions, Prashant has the mandate to digitally transform Products & Services at Denave. His focus is to progressively build technology-enabled processes, support revenue, and business growth drivers and enrich service/product offerings.

Under his guidance, the team is focused on creating a centralized database offering on the cloud, identifying whitespace with statistical intelligence, building propensity platforms, enhancing Sales Motion Products & Services and automating internal functions.