The Role Of Sales People after the Emergence of AI
With each passing day, it seems as if there is a new advancement in Artificial Intelligence (AI). Last week I saw the future: a sales consultant demonstrate how she is using ChatGPT to write prospecting emails. I was blown away by how relevant the email was and I’m a natural skeptic. So what are the implications for the role of sales professionals?
Is AI Finally Catching Up with the Sales Function?
Not so fast. Flashback to the early 2000s when I also thought I saw the future. I was working with a technology company on a comprehensive sales consulting project. The director of marketing was excited that the company had just implemented a new email marketing system. Imagine, he rhapsodized, you could now send out thousands of marketing emails and track the results! I also got carried away with excitement. Sales reps would just have to sit back a wait for the leads to come pouring in—the ROI will be staggering.
Then reality hit.
Many of the leads produced from these email campaigns were unqualified and ended up wasting the sales team’s time. Email open rates started to decline as prospects’ inboxes were getting flooded with generic-sounding emails from numerous other companies adopting similar sales technology. Furthermore, prospects started adopting defensive measures to block these emails including new spam filtering technologies as well as getting the government involved (i.e., CAN_SPAM Act).
Today, for most sales organizations, email marketing is one part of an overall lead generation strategy (i.e. allbound) that includes numerous approaches and a significant amount of human intervention.
So, What About AI?
As I have previously blogged, I don’t believe that AI is going replace the role of sales reps, although it will likely replace or enhance certain selling and customer service functions. For example, one function in AI technology that can be a major “force multiplier” is in content creation (i.e. inbound marketing to support lead generation) and routine follow-up emails. Imagine how productive an account executive can be working together with an AI-powered assistant that could create emails that are relevant and sound customized.
But just like my email automation example from the early 2000s, the payoff for this new AI technology may be lower than people think. If a human salesperson can send out 20-30 customized emails a day, why can’t an AI-powered virtual email writer send out 200-300 or 2,000 to 3,000?
At first, aggressive sales organizations will push the limit of these technologies; after all more customized emails are better than fewer emails. But soon, new email screening and blocking technologies will emerge to protect prospects from the coming AI-powered deluge of customized emails. The net effect will be to blunt the advantage of these new technologies.
The internet is full of stunning examples of what AI is capable of today. Over the next several years, sales organizations will deploy a whole array of AI technologies, looking to improve sales performance. Nevertheless, the reality of implementing new sales enablement technologies (including unforeseen consequences) frequently produces lower-than-expected ROIs.
Ultimately, the sales profession shouldn’t fear AI. The role of sales reps and AI will most likely live side-by-side with AI replacing certain routine selling functions. This will free sales reps to focus on what they do best, applying insights and problem-solving skills to buyer problems.
AI in sales is gaining traction, but it's not a guaranteed game-changer. AI will enhance certain sales functions like content creation and follow-up emails, but it's unlikely to replace human salespeople entirely.
Similar to the early 2000s when email automation was hailed as a sales breakthrough but failed to deliver the expected ROI; AI may face similar challenges. Organizations that push AI-powered email to unprecedented limits may find that new screening technologies emerge to block the deluge of customized emails. However, the use of AI in certain sales functions will help reps work more efficiently but will not replace them entirely.
About David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.