Will Bots Replace Salespeople?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has generated much interest, including much concern about which workers could be replaced by AI bots.  The Wall Street Journal warns, “The stakes for people in sales, as in many fields, are clear: Keep doing your jobs better than a bot could do it – preferably a lot better – or risk replacement” (Callum Borchers, “In a Worker vs. Bot Battle, Humans Outsell AI,” WSJ behind a pay wall, April 13, 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/artificial-intelligence-sales-jobs-workers-127289f3).

The optimists speak about how AI can make people more efficient, handling the routine tasks so people can make the judgment calls.  The programs are not by any means perfect.  The WSJ quotes one executive, “You do need a person to watch over and make sure the machine is reading the data correctly.”  But he goes on to say full automation is coming: “We’ll probably be able to get there.”  One company which uses AI to manage its $200 million marketing budget argues, “Why pay [a human] to divine what customers want when a computer can analyze their shopping habits and set an advertising strategy?”

Well, maybe AI can help, but we at Mobus Creative Negotiating are skeptical they can close sales as effectively as people can, because it is hard to make an AI program creative.  Some of those quoted by the WSJ refer to the personal touch which drives sales.  We would be a bit blunter: humans are better at sensing what matters most to the other party and what are the ways in which a deal can be crafted to meet their particular needs.  To be sure, AI can be useful for reminding the salesperson what are the possibilities to explore for ways to craft a more creative deal with higher profits for both sides.  But feeling out the other party, finding out what they need when even they may not realize what really matters to them, and then coming up with ways to make their needs fit with your company’s strengths is a skill that is hard to program into a machine.  Those are the kind of skills we at Mobus Creative Negotiating teach.  Armed with those skills, salespeople can readily outperform AI.