One of the recurring themes I notice recently as I peruse social media is a fear of AI or artificial intelligence. Will Chat GPT take my job? It writes blog posts as good as a human! It passed our interview tests, etc. As tech salespeople, I think we should not be fearful, but rather that we should seek to understand these tools. More importantly, I don’t believe that AI can replace the very real and human process that is B2B technology sales. I wanted to share 5 reasons why. This will be part of a series of posts I will write on the subject.
1. Lead capture and lead generation is difficult
Generating leads, organizing, and capturing them are all difficult tasks. With the advent of enrichment tools and the prevalence of CRM software, lead information is still often incorrect. This is partly because as humans we are often responsible for providing our own false information. Think back to a time someone asked you for your email and to fill out a contact form. Chances are you didn’t do it, or you used a fake name, fake company, or even your ‘burner’ email. Humans are incredibly fickle and before Ai can start taking lead capture and generation tasks from humans, we’d first need to start by inputting the right data. There are so many disparate data sources and teams that need to be organized when it comes to managing even a small organization’s CRM. I’m not very optimistic that an AI chatbot will suddenly come in tomorrow and clean up all of the world’s leads everywhere in every CRM ever. Maybe someday, but not today, or even tomorrow. This will still be a partly automated, very manual, very human process for a while.
2. Lead scoring and qualification is nuanced
Sure an AI can serve up pre-conceived answers in the form of a logic tree as a chatbot. But buying things, really expensive things like software is much more nuanced than that. To an extent, a robot, at least not yet, cannot read emotions, determine intent, ask probing questions based on context and situational awareness, have anectodal + factual stories and testimonials to back things up that are relevant and specific to the customer’s problems, etc. An AI won’t know when to pause, how to discern the next steps, how to multi-thread and gather stakeholders and influence internally. More importantly, an AI cannot qualify a lead and walk it through a complex buying cycle where tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds) are at risk as well as the health and wellness of an organization. Perhaps AI will thrive with smaller transactions that require a credit card. But even still, I don’t believe that AI can replace the element of human connection and trust. Moreover, with all of the errors it has made, AI has proven to be a source that needs verification before one can take the outputs as facts. The act of peer-to-peer verification is a refined practice that humans have practiced since inception. We’ve only just started learning how to verify AI recently.
3. Contact and Account Management is high frequency and unpredictable
So, you’ve sold the product, now what? Well, you now have to manage that relationship with your customer for as long as you’re at the company. Sure, if you’re lucky there might be another team that handles that, but in most cases, account management rolls up to a salesperson. Account management often involves unpredictable requests, unorthodox solution implementation, and more importantly lots of critical thinking and team collaboration that goes beyond the information that a generative AI model can hold in its database. Again, AI, is great, but I just don’t see it being able to handle the myriad of problems that arise when a customer is actively using your product and the account needs to be managed.
4. Sales forecasting is done by a human
Just like most of the previous parts of the equation, forecasting is done by a human as well. An AI can’t accurately call (nor can a human) the likelihood of a deal closing. Again, too many nuanced inputs as well as the fact that ultimately it comes down to both tangible milestones, results, etc, that you have generated in your deal as well as a gut feeling. To my knowledge, AIs don’t feel, can’t feel, nor can they discern emotions in others, as of yet. Still, to this day, most humans can’t accurately do this 100 percent of the time..And ultimately, a part of the salesperson’s job is to have good instincts and gather information about where deals stand currently, as well as influence the direction that it goes in. This requires a constant “finger on the pulse” so to speak. Today that is a thing that only living breathing human beings can do. Again, AI is impressive but I don’t see it handling a sales cycle nor calling the likelihood of said cycle being ready to close. Most tech sales reps are still going on gut feeling and sales methodologies, all while trying to predict the general chaos that is human emotions. No AI is doing that anytime soon.
5. Pipeline management is like tending a garden
Similar to the above, before you close a deal and it becomes your ‘account,’ it is in your pipeline, hence it is still in the sales cycle being managed by a person, or, more accurately, a team of people (Sales Managers, Sales Engineers, Account Executives, etc.) A sales cycle can last a week, a month, years, or several of each. This is not something you can code away with a generative AI model. Who will send the email follow-ups? Who will gather all of the relevant technical documents? Who will ensure they are sent to the correct parties? Who will thread themselves across multiple contacts to improve their connections to the buying groups and spheres of influence? Who will push for the next steps, and concurrently run POCs while handling commercial conversations with executive stakeholders around budget and licensing agreements? A salesperson, that’s who. Certainly not a chatbot. Walking a deal through a sales cycle is a complex affair, no matter how short. Walking a business through a sales cycle is a very human and collaborative experience. We’re light years away from coding this into a chatbot.
With that being said, to recap, I don’t think that AI will take the jobs of tech salespeople for the following reasons: 1) Lead capture/Lead Generation 2) LeadScoring and Qualification 3) Account Management 4) Forecasting and 5) Pipeline Management are all very difficult and human tasks that require the synthesis and collaboration of many humans. It will all be difficult to, in coordination, hand off these tasks to a generative AI model.
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All the best, TJ