• August 16, 2014

Will All Sales People be Robots in the Future?

I’m starting to think more and more that all selling at some point in the future will be done by robots. We’ve already documented that all sorts of productivity enhancements like CRM are reducing the number of sales jobs, but watching CGP Grey’s new video Humans Need Not Apply, he (they? who is CGP Grey anyhow?) makes a powerful argument that all white collar jobs are threatened by extinction by robots.

The Economist in a special report on robotics from this past March also argued that while robots would undoubtebly create more jobs but “job destruction by robots could outweigh creation.”

(By using a great sales automation CRM, you can increase your productivity and compete more easily with the robots)

Think That You’re Special?

You’re special, I totally get it. You can do things that no robot can, of course. I mean, yes they can make a robot who works for Chipotle and makes the perfect burrito, but you really know how to listen to your customer and really understanding their needs.

Oh wait, I forgot about IBM’s Watson.

According to CGP Grey, Watson “destroy[ed] humans at Jeopardy.” Yes, that’s right the game show where Alex Trebek gives the answers to questions, and Watson needed to come up with the questions. Still think robots can’t listen and understand?

And not just listen and understand but instantly come up with the correct question to “in 1903, with presidential permission, Morris Michtom began marketing these toys.” (That’s an actual sample Jeopardy answer.)

People Buy From People

I love that old sales line. I’ll bet you $100 right now that if salespeople were to judge that statement true or false, the results would be like an election in the old Soviet Union. It would be judged true by 99.99%

I too tend to believe it to be true, but I know you’ve lost deals on price where you had a better relationship than the other guy. I also know you’ve lost deals where you had such good rapport with the prospect, but your solution just wasn’t cutting it.

If the “other guy” in these examples were robots would your prospect have changed their mind? I don’t think so.

Actually there are Robots Selling Lots of Stuff Already

You might not think of them as robots, but Amazon’s suggestions are powered by bots, right? They’re sophisticated software salesmen who seem to know your inner desires.

What about the scanners at CVS that replaced human cashiers? “Oh they’re order takers” you say. True, but somehow their cost advantage outweighed the value of a sales guy on the floor who would help you find your purchase or sell you a more expensive item.

United Airlines’ robots are always trying to sell me upgrades when I purchase tickets from them. (As if.) You get the idea.

The Good News About Robot Salespeople

There is some good news out there. A robot who can economically do the things that you do with customers seems to be a ways off. And in the interim, your company will likely arm you with tools and bots to help you instead of replacing you. Examples include a CPQ solution that helps you quote a deal faster, or software that can read an RFP and suggest some good answers.

But really the best news is that while robots might replace salespeople in the future, they’ll be replacing purchasing managers as well. They’ll start saying to each other “robots buy from robots.”