When talking about Artificial Intelligence and Automation taking jobs from humans, most people think autonomous drive cars and trucks, maybe some cashiers and manufacturing line workers are at-risk. Asked to identify which jobs will survive, I hear people point to sales as a job that will survive machines. When I hear that I scratch my head and wonder if those theorists are familiar with a little company called Amazon. Sells a ton, doesn’t really have sales people. Now why is that? Why can their sales be automated and yours cannot? Here are are few reasons ALL sales can be automated:
- Many sales are recurring, but not resold
- Automated sales can be effected at all times of day, fitting better into a buyer’s schedule, automated sales work 24/7
- Increasingly buying will be automated and the machine doesn’t need to see the salesperson
- Automated sales can be demonstrate features and benefits perfectly with corporate-wide delivery and consistency
- Automated sales can be relentless, more than humans, they can be programmed to be as relentless as the company would like
- Automated sales don’t need commissions and incentive bonuses, it’s a one time capital charge
- No benefits
- No holidays
- No sick days
- No friendly discounts, cutting into the margins of management
Those are a few things that automated sales can accomplish. There is nothing “human” about the selling process, unless the buyer and the seller demonstrate an express interest in dealing in-person, which I grant, some people will continue to do, in the short run. But salespeople beware, it takes two to tango, so if your client gets automated or begins to prefer to transact in an automated fashion, then your job will not linger.
The point of this post is to highlight further that many of the collective tasks which combine up to create “a job” are easily done by machines. This is true in all jobs, from the most technical to the most compassionate. Each job may require vastly different skill sets and vastly different mixes of technical expertise versus emotional expertise, but in the end, they are still a sum of tasks. Machines are very, very good at tasks. They are getting better and acquiring more skills exponentially.
The Insurance industry has long been considered the domain of sales experts. It’s insurance after all, it’s not fun to sell, people aren’t excited to buy it, clearly it takes the tenacity and technical expertise of the salesperson to get those policies signed up, right? Technology is the number one capital investment of nearly every insurance company today. Why? The ACA has created numerous regulations and procedures, and companies require the ease and assistance of technology to manage the frequent enrollments, the government reporting, the processing of claims. Once you introduce some decent chat bots into the servicing equation, then only the strongest producers will survive. Producers and brokers on the margin, won’t demonstrate the valued-added to compete. Then watch the chatbots and electronic communication begin to take over the canvassing and the direct contact with prospects. This process is no different in other kinds of sales.
It is important for those in sales to realize early in their careers to see these changes occurring and to continue to identify where their humanity gains them value, makes them indispensable, but in an honest way. AI and automation will take every aspect of your job, your full list of tasks and each year they will shrink, so it is challenging to find where your humanity provides an edge. Each year, the technology will do more and more of the tasks that were included in your job description. Bosses notice when jobs become easier. Hiring decreases, you are expected to cover more accounts, because technology increases the amount of accounts you are able to cover. The company may not be firing people yet, but they are hiring a lot less sales people. Each year technology will making buying easier. Each year you will have more technological sales aids and tools including home office created features and benefits videos, chatbots for customer service, online ordering, electronic canvassing, automated emails, automated direct mailings. Remind me again what you did as the salesperson?
If this makes you uncomfortable as a salesperson, you aren’t alone. There has been a significant amount of research done identifying many at-risk jobs. Some analysis believes that as many as 40 -50% of all jobs will be eliminated over the next 10 to 20 years. Invariably, a few new jobs will be created, but not in the quantities required to offset the destruction of jobs. Unfortunately, as machines get smarter they are simply better than humans at more and more tasks. So the issue isn’t really your specific sales job, but rather what will we all do in order to cover food, clothing, shelter and to enjoy our lives? Unfortunately, that massive question will have to wait for another day and many other blogs, but if you can’t wait, I have written a number of pieces on Universal Basic Income, which may be one possible solution.