Will salespeople be replaced by machines?
The digitalisation has already put an end to some professions - or at least functions - and threatens a few others. The sales assistant is often held up as an example of being at risk of extinction.
But is that really the case? Will machines replace salespeople, making their existence in companies unnecessary?
To answer this question, let's first look at the main forms of sales and the approaches that salespeople can adopt:
Its main characteristic is that the customer takes the initiative to make contact. It covers all sales channels: direct, retail and distance. In this type of sales, the customer expresses their need and it is then up to the salesperson to try to understand the best solution for their specific situation.
These result from a process in which the salesperson takes the initiative to make contact. Increasingly, it follows a lead generated by the various marketing systems, but often still through a pure "cold call" approach, simply because the customer appears in a particular contact database.
This is characterised by a process in which there is less support from the salesperson to the customer, even though it is essential for making the purchase. Mostly, the customer knows what they want, but they need the salesperson's help to support them in decisions associated with the form of purchase and not so much with the need to buy. Although, in some contexts, the salesperson's role still involves specialised knowledge to answer technical questions about the product or service (How much do I need? Which of these options should I choose? When can you deliver? etc.), the salesperson's job is often reduced to confirming that the product is available for sale (stock) or carrying out the service (it can be debated whether we are dealing with a salesperson here, since it was the customer who bought it).
In this type of approach, the focus is on identifying "why the customer needs to make this purchase". In the sales process, the diagnosis of the need is highly relevant, and it is often necessary to start by awakening this need in the customer. The salesperson's role here is to ensure that the solution presented to the customer meets their need. In order to do this, it is necessary to ensure a set of specialised techniques both to explore the need and the customer's context, as well as in-depth knowledge of the product/service being sold.
Where is the risk of sales people disappearing ?
Now that we've got there, it's possible to create a heat map associated with the risk of salespeople disappearing, cross-referencing these factors to create four contexts:
Transactional Inbound has a very high risk of seeing the disappearance of its salespeople, since the complexity of the purchase decision support is low and there will soon be digital processes that can make the customer comfortable with the decision. This explains why we are increasingly seeing the growth of operations centred on a "service to sales" approach, with cross or upselling objectives.
Transactional Outbound may also see a reduction in sales force size as the aim is to gain notoriety. Furthermore, other ways to successfully reach sales targets are increasingly available. Transactional Outbound will be very much associated with small companies, with a local scope of intervention, where the decision for this type of strategy is the best alternative to the unavailability of technological investments.
Inbound Consultancy is under pressure from the quality of human resources, particularly relational skills (building trust, active listening, empathy, establishing emotional connections) and technical skills regarding the consultative approach. If organisations manage to develop their salespeople in this way, they will continue to achieve better results than with purely digital models, even those based on Artificial Intelligence.
Finally, Outbound Consultancy has the lowest risk of disappearing, mainly because it is the way in which organisations can condition their results without being solely dependent on demand. This brings together various skills intrinsically associated with the human element: proactivity, resilience, trust, emotional rapport, empathy and communication.
So, what's the answer?
To answer the title of the article "Will salespeople be replaced by machines?": "yes, it's very likely" if the context is mainly transactional; "not so much" if the context is consultative.
The key is therefore to maximise the human side of salespeople, to use skills such as active listening, "reading" the customer, anticipating their needs and mitigating their difficulties. On the other hand, creating connections with customers and generating emotions that will boost empathy with the product/brand.
This is why the human element is the differentiator in the sales process. Let your protagonists (salespeople) know that they are not mere robots. In this sense, the acquisition or reinforcement of certain soft skills, through apprenticeships, appears to be a decisive means of social sustainability (maintaining a trade) and economic sustainability (increasing the resulting sales).
This article was originally written by Filipe Luz, Head of Sales Strategy & Team Performance at Cegoc.