What do you think of when you hear people talk about artificial intelligence — robot overlords? The singularity? Or maybe… bots that take human jobs?
While we probably don’t need to worry about the first two just yet, the third seems plausible. After all, we’ve already seen intelligent bots do things like book meetings with sales reps, and answer basic questions from website visitors.
What’s next, total obsolescence of the sales rep? Not necessarily.
Look, I’m not going to lie, AI will definitely change sales–-but not in the negative way you might think. Instead of bots taking over our jobs, they could enable us to do them better, driving more value to prospects, and elevating the status of sales in the process.
The Massive Leveling Up of the Sales Profession
Sales leaders we spoke with say that AI could never replace humans in the sales process–just as long as humans are still buying business software. But bots could definitely takeover the tasks that most sales reps don’t like anyway–things like booking and rescheduling meetings, and related logistics.
But other experts see the impact of AI on sales in a much broader context. Sales trainer John Barrows, for example, says AI will provide a massive opportunity to level-up the entire sales profession.
“I think AI is going to make good sales reps great, great sales reps incredible, and average sales reps irrelevant,” he says.
With the help of artificial intelligence, Barrows says, reps will have unprecedented access to insight that’ll help them better serve modern buyers. Instead of going into a sales call prepared to ask a prospect about their business challenges, Barrows says reps will already know what they are, and use that information to build deeper and stronger relationships with leads.
In this way, AI-powered bots have the potential to enhance your sales funnel in three ways:
- Eliminate friction at the top. AI-powered bots can book sales meetings and answer questions from your website visitors at scale, driving leads to your sales team faster but without increasing the burden on their time.
- Accelerate lead velocity. If you want a better chance of connecting with a prospect who lands on your website, do it in five minutes or less. Sounds daunting, right? But it’s not if you’re using bots to initiate conversations on your site and route them to the right person.
- Provide information to sales reps for instant rapport-building. The more you know about a prospect, the faster you can help them find a solution. As Barrows points out, the future of sales could be powered by AI that delivers insight through multiple touch points. Sales can then close more deals by connecting with prospects on a deeper level.
Barrows’ view of how AI will impact sales is different from a lot of narratives out there. But when you look at how B2B sales has changed in the last decade, it’s evident how well aligned his vision is with the way people actually want to buy.
The New Way People Buy Is Changing the Way We Sell
To understand how AI is changing sales now and in the future, you’ve got to take a look at how we sold things in the past.
For the last ten or fifteen years, a certain type of salesperson excelled. They were the kind of person who Steli Efti, founder and CEO at close.io, calls the “the original sales master” — a hyper-aggressive, “Wolf of Wall Street” type.
“These people succeeded because they bullied weaker prospects into buying in a way that destroyed value for their companies, and for the marketplace. That was acceptable or at least feasible, in a world where you didn’t have transparency,” Efti explains.
Another reason reps like this excelled? Consumers had fewer choices.
Back then, buying decisions were in part fueled by who had the product you wanted–a supply-driven market. Fast-forward to today, when there are over 5,000 tools targeting marketing and sales teams, and you have a buying process driven, instead, by consumer demand.
Nowadays, if people don’t want to be sold to by an “original sales master”, they don’t have to.
And that’s given rise to an entirely different type of sales rep and a new way of selling.
“The ideal model–and I think the model of the present and the future–is the friendly and strong model of sales… They want to help the customer, they want to create value in the marketplace, they want to do what’s right, but they’re doing it from a position of strength,” Efti explains.
Meet the Buyer Where They Are, And Guide Them to A Purchase
For far too long, the B2B buying process has been about making prospects adhere to how we want them to buy:
Fill out this form.
Download this content.
Look at this email.
Wait to schedule time to talk to sales.
Wait to see our product.
Wait, wait, wait.
But people don’t want to wait. They want right now.
And AI-powered tools like bots can deliver that experience, without the demise of the entire sales profession.
The Future Is Already Here
The narrative around AI and its utility in the sales space will evolve over time.
But one thing is clear right now: The companies that are flexible enough to start experimenting are already seeing the benefits of using bots to drive qualified leads and growth. At the end of the day, those results will only pave the way for more AI-driven innovations that’ll benefit the sales process.
My advice? Don’t get left behind.