The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in sales — truthfully in any industry — requires a new level of strategic thinking for how we work. The obvious benefit is that AI, in some areas, can make judgments cheaper, faster, and possibly better than any human can.
Yes, that might sound scary to quite a few salespeople.
But what if you could eliminate the need for every single salesperson to do basic risk assessments? What if you took away their spreadsheets and left those assessments to AI? It means you could run them quickly, virtually for free, and in an automated way across your company. That shouldn’t sound half bad.
Think about the other bottlenecks inside an organization where highly trained salespeople make complex but fairly rote decisions — such as manually updating a CRM system. This slows everything down as they evaluate and document whether a person is a warm lead (or not) and which account is really going to lead to a worthwhile investment. AI can do that for you, and it’s an amazing value-add to the process.
AI does mean the nature of work must change — and it’s actually for the better. But it will require a new strategic view. Here are just a few areas where AI is transforming both the present and the future of sales.
You’re probably asking a pretty obvious question: "What does AI mean for those people who used to do that work?" I think there's a decision to be made — a big one — that isn't good or bad. But that has large implications.
There’s actually a race to the bottom if an organization thinks, "Wow, I don't have to have people like that on staff at all. AI can cover this work at a fraction of the cost and we realize a huge chunk of value.” Really, a company should turn this thinking on its head and ask, "How do we use AI to put value back into our employees? How do we turn the people who were doing a lot of this rote work before into creative components of my company?"
The future of global competition is about creativity and talent. Everyone will have access to amazing AI. This is an opportunity not to replace your current, incredible salespeople; it's an opportunity to make them better. But that's a choice. It's a choice a lot of companies have in front of them. I’ll say this blatantly: Build better salespeople. That's the way to win in the long run.
By virtue of my personal professional career, I'm an advocate for being multidisciplinary. Clearly we need people working in theoretical realms and advancing not just AI, but databases and data structures.
In that sense, I see the future of sales roles as “data salespeople,” too. It’s not because they themselves are designing these systems, but they need to understand what these algorithms are doing — at least in broad strokes. Salespeople need to be sophisticated about what data can do and what it can't do. This will require a fairly different background than how many people are trained today, but it’s something that companies could take ownership of.
Adopting AI or hiring a sophisticated data team won’t magically solve all of your problems. Data scientists have often spent — sometimes very brief — careers at elite schools studying statistics and machine learning and data pipelines. What do they know about hiring? What do they know about sales, about supply chain, about risk assessment, and anomaly detection? Same goes for an AI platform. Both really need you — the sophisticated, experienced sales team.
I work with companies around the world, and their frequent initial thought about AI is, "We just give it a problem, and it gives us an answer." But what's actually true is you have amazing and unique insights. You know your customer, market space, and competitors.
AI will never be in a position, at least where it is today and for the foreseeable future, to replicate that deep insight. That's your advantage. Don’t run away from data and AI: These are the tools that you can take advantage of for your own benefit and to change where you are in your market today.
“The future of global competition is about creativity and talent.”