It's the end of the sales world as we know it... and I feel fine? Gerhard, Huthwaite and many other sci-fi fans have prognosticated that sales itself may face an existential threat from artificial intelligence (AI) as we move further and further toward the COMPLETE buying cycle. "Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of interactions between businesses will be executed without human intervention. It is likely that of the 18 million salespeople in the United States, there will be only about 4 million left."
Could human-based selling disappear all together? Are we at war with the machines?
Tibor Shanto wasn't sold that the death of the salesman 2.0 could really be upon us: it may be an inherently flawed argument as sales people paradoxically could actually become more of a necessary 'evil' than ever before with increased sector complexity. Andreessen put it best: "Software is eating the world." Soon the capital of Earth will be Silicon Valley as no industry is immune: complete and utter global disruption of 'everything' is predicted! But what if sales peoples' ranks explode in line with the population and Moore's law meets Sensor-Driven Cambrian Explosion of solution complexity?
Technology acceleration creates massive confusion that only a hand held by human guidance can weather. Aren't we going to need guidance for installing the Internet of Everything into our homes and workplaces? Won't human intervention always be needed to simplify a path forward from current state to future state – ever so Jetson?
It's a brave new world. In honor of Miles Davis' 8th studio album 7 Steps to Heaven 'featuring the Miles Davis Quintet in transition - this is the last of Davis' studio albums with standards rather than band originals' which I listened to while I wrote this in an iconoclastic mood - here are my 7 top predictions of how sales could either undergo a Singularity-driven Renaissance or 7 steps to hell where it could plunge into Orwellian medieval darkness like Van Damme's Cyborg (yes, a truly bad B action movie, if you know about this, I seriously hope it produced a belly laugh!).
Which camp are you in? Pray tell!
The Case for Dystopia
- Advances in Robotics allow for Android sales people in the field to deliver insights like Watson at Jeopardy.
2. Drones drop off customized white papers and contracts are signed by drone. Sales drones are an amusing but eerie concept to me. Robots could suddenly be everywhere eliminating field sales. Would they wear suits or have them spray painted on metallic? If you get sticker shock on that million dollar price tag could the defibrillator drone be close at hand?
3. Machine learning generates the key insights to help drive the self-serve funnel. Big data may at last become useful in selling if a technology allows a machine to become smarter than the human brain to parse it all. What paradigm shifting, curve jumping key insight could live in that big data meta-cloud to give your organization the razor's edge against the competition? If everyone is fed these insights won't there be an arms race for insight or insight parity reached to commoditize even the highest level of solutions at some dizzyingly outrageous higher level? Boggles my mind just thinking about it.
4. Search engines like Wolfram Alpha become so smart they can fully educate the prospect so they go 100% of the way through the sales process before ever needing to talk to a human. Again, the case for 100% decision and buying cycle complete. No humans needed???!!! But then again, who has the time? It's unclear if ERP firms even understand ERP and it's 2015.
5. Stealth B2B social lead-gen technologies chop off the top of the funnel so one able Chief Strategy Officer or Chief Customer Officer can automate all inbound marketing, traditional marketing and PR and move the entire sector in real time with a magic wand of DOMO-like beautiful #tech, uncovering and generating demand 24/7. With advanced stealth B2B technologies I'm aware of right now, essentially one person can do the work of an entire traditional inside sales team of 50 and the CEO can just fly in and seal the deal. No joke! Predictive analytics makes the sales process prescient and we can literally select our target in a Minority Report style dashboard that then triggers a proactive series of events. The perfect provocative insight is generated, deployed and brings her to us: convinced, converted and ready to collaborate.
6. Holography enables virtual reality walk-throughs and Go To Meetings on steroids where the executives float in the center of the conference room. This is very Minority Report meets Princess Leia! Help me Obiwan Kenobi You're my only hope.
7. Virtual reality allows for a company to solely operate remotely, a headquarters is not even needed. The entire technology stack front and back-end sits in the cloud elastically - burstable and on-demand, the entire team is distributed and all meetings are held in a virtual world. Security becomes a major concern as your competitors could be imposters impersonating clients to obtain secrets. Ooh goodie!
The Case for Utopia
- The Singularity occurs fusing our brains with machines allowing us to divine what people need by being able to use a larger percentage of our brains. Maybe not quite the level of Scarlett Johansson schooling Morgan Freeman in Luc Besson's Lucy. [Definitely see this movie if you haven't already!] A new era in consultative sales emerges in which we are able to perform the most advanced aspects of technology diagnosis and well as understand the strategic business factors with access to all human knowledge from smart chips in our brains or an up-link to the web via the neocortex - #instantaneously.
- Cambrian Explosion of specialized, qualified Sales People follows the exponential logarithmic curves of technology acceleration and Moore's Law to service new demand flying in the face of pundits. The law of divergence prevails over convergence. The complexity of solutions creates downward pressure on commodity and transactional selling below a certain dollar threshold of comfort and the anything over that watermark still requires meeting with sellers. Since these deals are less common, there is more competition for them which causes enterprise sales people to be even more valuable. Perhaps an Ender's Game like selling environment could train up the world's greatest sales people from birth. Will the Russians launch sales training schools like future ballerinas or Olympians? This leads me to my next outrageous prediction...
- Accreditation and training programs at a University Level spring up so sales folks can get Master and PhDs in their craft. There is a universal code of conduct and standards drafted; could you imagine? The argument I get is that's why we all love sales – people with non-traditional backgrounds can thrive. We don't need a college degree! Fun but becoming a sales person requires an interdisciplinary skill-set including technical factors such as coding, agile development and project management as we move toward 2020.
As Jason Jordan predicts: "There needs to be a meaningful body of knowledge about the profession of sales. Obviously there is not. Neil Rackham and a handful of others have done amazingly insightful research into best practices and frameworks for selling, but not many. Mostly we get anecdotal sales books that contain faint research and contribute little to our understanding of how it all works. And unfortunately, it's a bit of the chicken-or-the-egg thing here with regard to credible research... University researchers don't do much work in this space, so sales doesn't appear to be an academic discipline... So there is very little research done in this space. Mercifully, the universities that do teach sales are discovering that their sales graduates get amazing jobs... And give back. Which is raising visibility within business schools." Check out his work with The Sales Education Foundation and he notes optimistically, "All in all, we are making progress on all of these fronts. We're seeing more specialization in sales forces, more universities are integrating sales into their curricula, and researchers are starting to push into the space with enthusiasm. It will be interesting to ask this question a generation from now."
4. Specialization of sales functions transformed it into a bonafide 'profession.' Again Jason Jordan from a lively discussion in Smibert's Strategic Selling group on LinkedIn, "First, a profession needs to have specializations. Lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, and other 'professions' all have sub-specialties where they focus and hone their talents. For sales, there needs to be an acknowledgement that there are different types of sellers – inside salespeople, key account managers, territory salespeople, and other specialties that have unique skill sets. AND it's okay to remain in one role for an entire career. Inside sales doesn't have to be a career path to outside sales... Different skill sets, different professional paths." There are approximately 100 universities around the world now offering sales qualifications. Only about 80 of the 4,000 universities in the United States offer a dedicated sales curriculum.
5. Wearable technologies like smart contact lenses, HaloLens and Google Glass Part Deux [the fashion forward one!] simply make us that much more effective in the field. It's much like Terminator 2 with his heads-up display (HUD).
We could have readouts appearing in the distance with key vital signs on the account, LinkedIn profile identification and big data tying it all together to generate insights in real time - even as we're speaking with senior executives [sadly, the male brain can only do one thing at a time so this could drive a female domination of professional field selling]. The fusion of woman and machine even at a higher level of the Singularity could foster a renaissance in which real time big-data-driven insight is suddenly possible. This will allow for effortless translation of all languages [including code bases, Linux & GitHub] if both buyer and seller are hooked into the matrix. With stratospheric travel beyond the sound barrier or hyperloops, suddenly a small tiger team of sales reps could effortlessly cover an entire continent and correspond in 50 languages. I'm sure if Elon Musk gets his druthers we will have well-colonized Mars by then which will be the coolest territory to cover as Account Executives of 2030! The Sales Engineers could be replaced by virtual AI living in our ear, whispering the answer and the insight. CRM could at last penetrate every country in the world uprooting industries as technology adoption curves are kicked off simultaneously everywhere. With trillions of sensors in everything including your toothbrush, door locks, every system in a high-rise, who will service them, sell the configurations of them and tune them? Maybe the drone bot AI cyborg Watsons can pick that up too! Mobile phones will disappear as the clunky feaux-appendage that they are. Our chiropractors will thank us. Typing will not exist either as dictation occurs with SIRI-like impulses of the mind into word and picture concepts we can transmit over fiber optics.
6. Nostalgia itself could play a role almost like the vinyl LP of Miles playing that ascerbic bittersweet biting horn I'm listening to right now. I don't think a machine will ever produce that sound – even in the year 3,000! There could be a check-box on the site to have a romantic 'human experience' in the sales holodeck? A Sales Preservation Historical society might crop up almost like a museum with books from the 1980's and photographs of big hair and big deals! Slogans like, "Make a firm handshake" could wow visitors as they float in on hover boards...
7. Millennials decide to banish the machines and go old school like a tribe of Doomsday Preppers living like ewoks in tree houses. Will the young executives of 2020 insist on 10% machine time and hang out in the woods sipping Chai to have long philosophic discussions about strategy and present human centered solutions, waxing poetically into each others eyes about how it was better in the days of Willie Loman? Maybe the Eloctromagnetic Pulse will destroy all the circuits and suddenly Arthur Miller's classic will be discovered along with a screenplay of Glengarry Glen Ross and the madness will all start over again in the Mad Max (Road Warrior) of some faraway planet. Don't hold your breath!
Now it's your turn? What did I miss? What do you predict selling will look like in 2020? How 'bout 2050? Will the bots revolt and take our jobs? One CEO recently declared he'd never hire a sales person again? Is he Galileo or the inventor of Betamax?
If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website: www.TonyHughes.com.au.
Main Image Photo by Flickr: Tomás Fano