David Jacoby

By: David Jacoby on February 27th, 2023

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Why AI Won’t Replace Your Salespeople Anytime Soon

Sales Enablement

In just a matter of a few months, ChatGPT has created a global frenzy. Ask it a question, and ChatGPT answers mimicking human conversation. Its amazing capabilities show how Artificial Intelligence (AI) has evolved from a futuristic concept into real-world applications that are changing how we live and work today. This raises the question: Will AI replace salespeople?

As AI evolves rapidly, it can transform the sales profession unimaginably. However, it also raises important questions about the role of human sales professionals in this rapidly changing landscape.

Will Technology Replace Millions of Sales Jobs?

AI and technological advances have always spurred speculation that human workers would disappear. For example, in the early 2000s, email marketing technology was introduced with the promise of replacing the need for salespeople to prospect. However, the inundation of generic marketing emails showed the importance of human-initiated authentic, and engaging messages that prospects would actually respond to.

In 2011, Selling Power founder Gerhard Gschwandtner predicted in a Sales 2.0 Conference keynote address that 15 million sales jobs would become obsolete by 2020 thanks to advances in technology. That didn’t happen. While many customer service jobs were replaced by self-service technology, many more sales jobs were added. Much of this growth in sales jobs has been fueled by the explosive growth in technology companies over the past decade.

Commenting on the recent advances in AI, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and other notable futurists have predicted that AI is a long-term threat to workers. And the World Economic Forum recently estimated that 85 million jobs will be replaced with AI machines by 2025.  

The Truth about AI Versus Salespeople

While AI seems different from other technological advances, Skynet hasn’t taken over yet — and we probably have a long way to go before it does. That same World Economic Forum Jobs Report estimates that AI will contribute to a work shift that’ll create 97 million new jobs.

AI will continue to evolve and improve, but these improvements will make salespeople more efficient, not replace them entirely. An important consideration is that the most successful salespeople are typically those who build strong customer relationships. That's a task that’s uniquely suited to human beings.

4 Traits Every Sales Team Must Have (And Why AI Isn't Enough)

There’s a high demand for salespeople with unique skills to sell in a complex B2B environment. Here are five important traits for a successful sales team that AI cannot replicate (yet).

#1 Human Interaction:

Sales has a high degree of human interaction and connection. While AI can provide personalization and customized solutions, it cannot replicate the level of human-to-human contact that builds trust and strengthens relationships.

#2 Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Salespeople need to have high emotional intelligence and the ability to read, understand and respond to human emotions. This level of empathy is difficult to replicate with AI, which does not have emotions.

#3 Complex Negotiations

Navigating challenging and complex sales deals requires a deep understanding of the customer’s needs, preferences, and budget. Salespeople need a level of nuanced negotiation skills and diplomacy. This is hard for AI to replicate, especially when the customer is not forthcoming with their requirements.

#4 Creative Problem Solving

Salespeople must deeply understand the customer's problem and develop creative solutions. This level of creativity is difficult to replicate with AI.

#5 Intuition and Judgment

Successful salespeople often rely on their intuition and judgment to make decisions. AI doesn’t have gut feelings, especially in situations that require more than just data analysis.

Human salespeople bring a level of emotional intelligence, empathy, creativity, and intuition that will be quite difficult to replicate with AI.

Salespeople and Technology Working Together

The idea that salespeople are doomed to become obsolete is based on narrow thinking about automation. Just because you can automate a single aspect of a job function doesn’t necessarily mean you can automate the entire job. This happens when people with advanced selling skills have leveraged technology to help them work more efficiently.

When it comes to AI, we’re at the early stages of a long journey. For example, large data sets in CRM systems combined with AI are helping salespeople target who is highly likely to buy and deliver meaningful insights to those buyers. So far, technologies have eliminated basic functions or tasks or made salespeople more productive and valuable. 

The Future of the Sales Profession

As technology-based sales enablement tools get better, salespeople have to get better. Ultimately success will be amplified for salespeople who have the best skills and understand how to use technology to enhance those skills.

Back in the day, for example, the difference between a top performer and an average performer might have been the number of calls a salesperson could make per day. With automation, the winning salesperson is not the one who makes the most calls but who can consistently lead high-valued conversations with customers.

If you’re a sales leader, you are probably already looking at new sales enablement technology incorporating AI. To maximize your investment in new technology, you need salespeople who can inspire trust, solve complicated problems, and build strong customer relationships.

We see renewed fears that machines will replace humans with each new technological leap. While AI can augment and enhance the work of salespeople, it is unlikely to replace them entirely. The salespeople who develop and enhance their skill set to leverage technology to their advantage will rise to the top of the sales profession—now and in the future.

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, 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.