Sales is a stepwise process that can be automated
Like many disciplines, a lot of the day to day tasks of the selling process do not require much value adding thought. Over 50% of sales activities are largely functions that could be automated – administration, gathering data, recording it in systems, tracking progress, recording phone calls – and given that salesmen are fundamentally indisciplined and prefer to act in a way that feels unconstrained by systems, it is likely that a sales organisation could gain much in process efficiency by applying artificial intelligence to processes do the things that the salesmen don’t like doing anyway, and letting them concentrate on developing a sales strategy.
It is widely understood that over 70% of the buying cycle is complete long before a prospective customer actually picks up the phone to discuss product availability, pricing or delivery, or come close to placing an order. Much of that time is spent in product research that could easily become an automated process. This partly sits behind the drive for Marketing Automation Platforms (MAP). When the buyer is doing 70% of ‘the work’ before making contact, what is it that you expect sales reps to do?
Buyers don’t like being ‘sold to’
It’s a fundamental truism that people don’t like salesmen, or rather that they don’t like to feel pressured into buying something when they are not ready, that may be inappropriate to their needs, for too high a price, when what they really mean is that they want to retain control of the process and buy when they are good and ready. So arguably, it makes for an easier selling process to give buyers what they want – and you will gain the benefit in both increased sales revenues and a more consistent, cheaper selling process.
For these reasons, most of the leading CRM and MAP vendors are now investing in Artificial Intelligence technologies to sit within their applications, which they expect to revolutionise the industry. The main purpose is to harvest customer data through the interactions they make, applying algorithms and cognitive insights to assess sales strategies to sell with less human effort, concentrated on closing of high-end, value adding sales.
E-commerce does not require human intervention
However, for commodity type unassisted selling through e-commerce, the salesman consultant of complex high-end sales or solution selling is arguably not required. When was the last time you interacted with a sales rep when buying something from Amazon? Amazon buyers do not expect to interact with a person, and Amazon has put a great deal of effort into features and functions of the platform to provide all the information that would previously have been entrusted to a sales assistant. It is littered with Seasonal Sales, Best Sellers, Related Items, Reviews, Recently Viewed Items, but you never see even so much as a LiveChat function.
For e-commerce platforms, it is easy to think that automated Artificial Intelligence based processes can deliver a strong ROI through a combination of higher sales revenues for lower underlying cost than a human sales team spending too much valuable time on high volume, low value sales transactions, and the appeal of a cognitive engagement approach using software robots in various forms is strong. This can ensure that a degree of discipline is applied to the what is an unassisted selling process to ensure that opportunities for cross or up-selling on commodity items are less likely to be missed, and can do so without the costs of support staff in selling functions. AI can become automated into other Customer interventions through advertising, email / SMS and social interactions that might be extremely time-consuming for a sales rep to track.
It depends on what you are selling
The degree of human intervention in the selling process inevitably depends on what it is that you are selling. For e-commerce, where the business objective is often to maximise unassisted selling through price-driven competition, it might be prohibitively expensive to support the process through expensive human interventions, when the vast majority of sales can be made simply by providing the customer with all the information and allowing them to buy online as easily as possible.
Where the sale is more complex, where premium pricing of value-based sales is driven by a competitive strategy that relies on human intervention to demonstrate business differentiation, it’s a different kettle of fish. That said, there is no reason why your expensive sales resource should be occupied on 50% of non-value adding activities that you might not apply some artificial intelligence to help them, in Marketing Automation platforms or CRM systems.
Perhaps it’s time to extend the old adage from ‘people buy from people’ – they do, unless buyers are robots who don’t mind buying from robots! Either way, the robots are here and the best strategy will be not try to outperform the machine, but to make the machine help the salesperson perform. Let the machine mine the data and salesperson close the deal.
If you wish to share your thoughts on this article, you are welcome to comment below, or to contact the author through the Contact Form or by phone on +44 113 242 3795.