artificial intelligence

Will Artificial Intelligence Protect Sales Jobs?

I've written about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to create a sales career apocalypse but not everyone agrees with me. I took the time to meet with Matt Michalewicz who is a global leader in applying AI to create opportunities and drive the productivity of sales people. His perspectives are thought provoking and profound.

Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation is going to displace many people in current jobs, including white collar professions,  AI can also make certain jobs more productive. Matt believes that AI can actually make some jobs so much more productive that they will be protected from becoming extinct. I asked Matt to elaborate in the context of business-to-business (B2B) sales roles and here is his response (in italics).

The 'salesperson' job category is predicted to suffer significant job losses in the decade ahead but these predictions are based on a number of factors:

  • The growing sophistication of AI technology
  • The continuing move by consumers to online, self-service consumption models
  • The deteriorating return on investment metrics of many sales jobs (especially “in field” jobs)

Just look at what happened to the salespeople that sold vacuum cleaners, insurance, and encyclopedias on a door-to-door basis. Their demise stemmed from too much cost (salary, travel expenses, commissions, etc.), and not enough yield (too few sales to justify the cost). The same also happened to B2B sales people selling fax machines, radio paging and other technologies that became common-place.

Sales roles in B2B selling are at risk, especially with commoditized products such as liquor, food, carpet, electronics, paint, hardware, among many others (where the average sale size is low, but the costs of keeping reps on the road is high). Unless these companies can increase the yield and sales effectiveness of the in-field reps, they will suffer a similar fate as those that sold vacuum cleaners, insurance, and encyclopaedias. In other words, these sales job types need to become more productive to stay viable from a business (cost/benefit) perspective

But then Matt took the conversation in a surprisingly positive direction.

"Imagine if you had a digital assistant who did your research and created the insights you can take to customers to create value."

All B2B sales people need to lead with insight as their key point of differentiation. I've been following IBM's Watson closely but Matt has founded his own company,  Complexica, focused on the application of Artificial Intelligence to help organizations capture both profit and productivity gains. The application of his technology can change the game for those in B2B selling, especially where there are huge amount of data that can be analyzed. Matt and his team of AI “lifers” have worked in the area of Artificial Intelligence for more than 20 years, written dozens of books on the topic, and Complexica is their 3rd AI company (with their previous being acquired by Schneider Electric in 2012).

Complexica’s core product – an AI-based software robot called “Larry, the Digital Analyst” – has been specifically designed to make sales people more productive. How? By using advanced AI to automatically capture and analyze countless data sets (both internal and external), to determine:

  • The most promising customers and prospective customers to visit (where the wallet share potential is the greatest)
  • Value-adding insights that can be shared with the specific customer or prospective customer (such as “businesses just like yours are doing/buying/selling xyz at the moment” or “this is what’s selling well in your area” and so on)
  • The exact offer to be made to each customer or prospective customer (based on analysis of similar customers and transactions)
  • The exact price (again, based on analysis of similar customers and transactions)

Where IBM's Watson is currently focused on medical diagnosis (after winning Jeopardy against the best people on the planet), Complexica began life with a different approach.

Matt explains that Complexica's Larryhas been designed from the very beginning to enhance the value that sales people provide their customers while dramatically improving their efficiency. “We observed that huge productivity gains could be achieved if we could just tell sales reps where the most promising opportunities are, arm them with research and value-adding insights for each visit, and suggest the best combination of products, services, and price for each sales conversation. If we provided this information automatically and simultaneously to hundreds of in-field reps and telesales operators, they would immediately become more productivity and their yield would increase, because they would be targeting better opportunities, with the right products at the right price. From that initial observation, the idea of building an AI-based software robot was born, so we could automate all the complex data analysis to provide right the insight, to the right person, at the right time, without any of the complexity for the end user. That was the moment Larry, the Digital Analyst was conceived.”

Matt Michalewicz is a global leader in AI and the video interview with Sky News makes for fascinating viewing (Click this or the image below to view)

While technology and automation can destroy jobs it can also enhance sales careers and the value being provided to customers. Those sellers who embrace technology to create the necessary value to fund them in their roles will be the ones who prosper.

Matt Michalewicz is co-founder and Managing Director of Complexica.  

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Main Image Photo by Flickr: Sean Davis