Can sales reps be replaced by Robots?

June 4, 2017


 There is no shortage of psychologists, scientists and other noted authorities confirming that, we humans aren't always the rational beings we believe we are. Part 1 of Jonathan Haidt's book, "The Righteous Mind is titled, "Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second." In study after study, it has been proven that decisions are made on an emotional level, with data and logic only used as tools to validate our predispositions. With that said, I am writing this post to convince the world that robots are not going to (completely) replace salespeople. 


It's the Media!


Like you, I have seen the never-ending flow of news articles, blog posts and books being written about the impending doom for workers. To be fair, there is a distinction made about the types of workers whose livelihoods are most at risk from technology. Lower wage jobs that involve repetitive tasks and don't require a lot of nuance or imagination are probably going away. I think that would seem to exclude B2B  salespeople. 


In doing some basic web research, I typed the phrase, "robots replacing sales jobs" into Google. What I got back is probably what you would expect, numerous articles with predictions of anywhere between 1 Million and 5 Million jobs being lost to technology in the next 5 years. One other rather ominous note,workers making less than $20 per hour, have an 83% chance of having jobs replaced according to one article. 


The Eternal Optimist


Given this gloomy outlook, you may ask, why am I so confident that salespeople won't be replaced by Artificial Intelligence? For me, it really boils down to the uniquely human aspects of sales. Again, I am talking primarily about B2B sales, where the sales cycle is more complex. There are obviously some tasks that have already been greatly automated. Think about email work flows as just one example. Where things get difficult for "machines" is where emotion and empathy are needed. Remember I began this post by citing the work of Jonathan Haidt, human intuition comes first, logic and reason second. Commodity products, okay, there isn't a lot of need for emotion, but when there needs to be collaboration and consensus, a human will be needed. 


Be too good to ignore


Before you leave this post thinking I am out of touch with reality, know this, I love technology. I look forward to owning  my first self-driving car. But I also want a second car that I drive. I am anxious to see what Apple, Google and Amazon do next. But I also enjoy a good intellectual conversation with some of my favorite vendors, over a beer. Here is the key takeaway as I see it, it is incumbent upon salespeople, now more than ever, to work on their skills and commit to constant improvement. What will be required of salespeople in ten years will certainly be different than what is required today. The need exists to raise the bar on capability and performance.


The folks that will thrive will be those that relentlessly work on their craft and their personal brand. Branding is another topic that probably warrants some investigation, stay tuned for that. In the end, the key to prolonged success in sales is the same as always, you must continuously prove your worth by delivering unparalleled value. That is one trend that won't change. 

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