Artificial intelligence (AI) enhances an online retailer’s ability to engage with customers, says Peter Thomas. The technology that is now redefining retail enables algorithms to make the same complex decisions a human could, sifting through the data, but much faster and at volume. It means the customer experience (CX) becomes more tailored and personalised; the customer journey more comfortable. When used well, the tech helps both retailer and consumer.
The stereotypical salesperson – smartly dressed with their Rolodex of contacts – is an image of a bygone era. Even interacting via phone and email is starting to feel outdated, thanks to advanced communication methods.
Video collaboration software like Google Hangouts and Skype reduce the need for physical interactions. Social media and messaging apps also afford an instant line of communication. The ways to interact with each other seem endless, yet somehow it feels as if personal relationships are becoming more distant.
Why pick up the phone and have a conversation if you can fire off a quick message? Who needs to arrange a face-to-face meeting when you can do it with a video call? We are finding ways to get closer together while simultaneously drifting further apart.
RIP sales reps
Technology has played a major role in increased communication – and one of the most interesting aspects comes in the form of artificial intelligence (AI). Chatbots, virtual assistants, image recognition – these traits have felt AI’s impact in some capacity.
The tech is evolving at breakneck pace and we are facing the very real prospect of jobs becoming automated. Many professional roles carried out by humans are evolving, including that of the sales rep.
I know everything
We live in the age of information, where everything is instantly accessible. If a customer is already well informed about a product or service, why do they need a human to convince them to make a purchase?
The introduction of chatbots has made the sales role even more precarious. A chatbot is on hand to answer entry-level questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You might be forgiven for thinking that human salespeople have run their course – at least from an entry-level perspective.
Take Google Adwords, for example. When you purchase keywords, there are no humans dealing with the sale – the entire process is automated. Which means we are already in a space where physical forms aren’t necessary for some sales tasks.
There is the trust aspect, too. At face value, perhaps customers will be more trusting of AI than they are humans. Especially with some of the stereotypes reps are labelled with.
However, let’s not write salespeople off just yet.
A sales profile
The unequivocal role of a sales rep is to sell, increasing customers and revenue in the process. Sales stereotypes involve selling at all costs. But good reps know that key traits – listening, understanding, persuading and negotiating – are imperative to becoming a successful seller.
The profile of a modern-day salesperson is evolving, to the point where they are becoming like consultants. AI might be able to automate straightforward A-B transactions, but it can’t build relationships. Nor can it understand specific pain points.
Sales reps who understand human complexities can use this to their advantage to beat the machine. It’s time to forget about ground-level deals and evolve to become an all-round consultant and solve larger customer problems.
AI robots – machine limitations
Reps might find that some rudimentary sales jobs succumb to automation, but that shouldn’t be too much of a concern. AI can wear many hats, but it can’t find context. The tech doesn’t haven’t empathy or emotion – at least, it doesn’t yet.
It might be able to understand the words coming out of someone’s mouth, but deciphering the meaning behind them can be something else entirely. This is where reps still hold clout, as people will often come to them looking for a solution to a problem they don’t fully understand.
AI can’t dig deep into complexities – if someone doesn’t know exactly what they want, it will be almost impossible for AI to help. Humans, on the other hand, can understand complex concepts and find solutions.
Tech can’t build relationships and, most importantly, it can’t shape a culture, brand voice or ethos of a company. All of these aspects are innately human. For that reason, salespeople are still at the top of the sales ecosystem.
If the tech is here to stay, and salespeople still provide value, the only result is for a world where both coincide. One of the biggest fears around artificial intelligence is the idea that it will replace humans, making some jobs obsolete.
Look past the sensationalism and it’s more than likely that AI and automation will aid in the same way current set-ups allow. Lead management software and SaaS provide salespeople with an efficient way to track their sales process, removing the days of jotting down leads on paper.
The same could be said for future technologies that should allow reps to work at a faster rate. Imagine having a tool that scales social sites and selects the best leads, at the click of the button. Or having the ability to automate accurate pricing, discounts and process – elements that can take up thousands of hours.
The results could see reps closing more deals and maximising their time, removing many of the arduous tasks they are currently stuck with.
Hello from the other side
Artificial intelligence isn’t solely entrenched in the sales side – virtual assistants are evolving to the point where they can make enquiries on behalf of customers. Google Assistant recently showcased a virtual assistant calling a hair salon and restaurant to make bookings – watch the video below:
With this type of evolution, it’s entirely possible to see a situation where the AI assistant makes an enquiry on the customer’s behalf to the AI chatbot on the company side. Once the need has been established, human interaction will take place between the buying and selling parties.
It may seem like a long-winded way of connecting people. Yet it removes the clutter when initially speaking to a salesperson and not knowing if they are the person to help with what you’re looking for.
Complicating the process
The excitement around the technology boom paints a picture of forgotten humans – at least, that’s what the media might have you believe. But even tech innovators like Elon Musk recently spoke about the importance of using real people.
In the sales world, such sentiments couldn’t ring truer. Much of selling and buying is based on trust – and trust comes from building relationships. A sales rep is the embodiment of a brand; they are the frontline, the first human experience potential clients have.
AI might be seeping its way into the process, to the point where machines are taking queries from customers and understanding their basic needs. But for later-level sales, the human touch is still required.
It’s at this point sales reps show their worth and the tech needs them more than they need it.
Please register below to unlock this article.
An email will be sent to you with your membership details.