Forrester’s 2020 Prediction: Death of the B2B Salesman

Why great B2B salespeople have no need be afraid of AI

In Forrester’s 2017 report, “Death of a (B2B) Salesman”, it was predicted that 1 million sales reps will lose their jobs to technology by 2020.

Two months into the year, every country in the world is wrestling with concerns over the Coronavirus, but an AI fuelled pandemic resulting in the loss of millions of B2B sales jobs is unlikely to break out.

Of course, as with any new disruptive innovation there is fear – and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no different, with lots of the debate dominated by the impact of artificial intelligence on jobs instead of the positive impact it could have.

For some, AI represents a doomsday whereby collaboration with machines means they could lose their jobs, that automation will exacerbate economic inequality, and that eventually AI co-workers could dominate the better-paying roles.

I disagree. I don’t think great B2B sales people need to be afraid at all.

Perhaps the same cannot be said however for the not so great, those using outdated outbound tactics such as cold calling – tasks which very realistically could, and arguably should, be replaced by machine. So let’s delve deeper into AI and the future of B2B sales.

Embracing technology is the answer not the problem

B2B Salespeople that haven’t embraced technology and still spend the majority of their time manually prospecting and qualifying leads, scheduling meetings, sending follow-up emails and building reports, are the own enemy in many ways. The most practical application of AI is after all the elimination of repetitive, mundane tasks.

Lots of talk of job losses centre around the displacement of roles by AI co-workers.

But when machine joins the team it actually works in favour of the best B2B salespeople, taking over the thankless, repetitive and laborious tasks and leaving them free to focus on the core competencies of their job – building relationships and solving client problems with creative solutions.

But to really survive the AI revolution, B2B salespeople need to not just hand over the laborious but learn to use technology to their advantage.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence illustrates the surge of technologies within the AI landscape which could eventually lead to disruptive new tools and services for sales teams.

Augmenting skill sets

Gartner, in their 2019 analysis of the Hype Cycle refer to Augmented intelligence – “a human-centered partnership model of people and AI working together to enhance cognitive performance. It focuses on AI’s assistive role in advancing human capabilities“.

AI co-workers offer the potential to augment a salesperson’s abilities. Here at Artesian we like to talk about the marriage of art and science.

Just as a masterpiece by any of the greatest artists of the world requires talent, it also requires a genius for innovation. Artworks are built using perspective, symmetry, structure, light and shade, and a comparison can be made here with the work of the salesperson. Creating B2B relationships and solving customer problems requires insight, context, relevance, authenticity, perspective, and no small dose of creative flair, and it also requires innovation.

Thanks to advances in technology, B2B salespeople have the opportunity to apply science brilliantly to every aspect of their role and future-proof their skill sets. AI can help:

  • Prioritise customer needs – insight immediately moves the seller towards a more relationship-based sales approach. Insights into the personality and behaviours of buyers improve real time understanding of what’s driving them at any given moment, and therefore, a seller’s ability to prioritise their needs.
  • Improve relevance, authenticity and credibility – B2B salespeople can not only improve engagements and craft more targeted campaigns that resonate with customer agenda, but also make their sales outreach more relevant to the customer – fortuitously timed and contextualised within their marketplace, demonstrating genuine credibility, authenticity and trust.
  • Gain first mover advantage – we’ve all heard the famous saying “strike when the iron’s hot” but waiting while things warm up is wasted time and important moments could have already passed by. New sales tools provide the opportunity to strike without delay by surfacing engagement triggers and propensity to buy sentiments – events, situations and circumstances. Opportunities to engage before the competition.
  • Get ahead of customer needs – buyers expect B2B salespeople to anticipate their needs and make relevant suggestions. AI can construct predictive models based on patterns of behaviour, event types, market changes and customer attributes so that B2B salespeople can proactively suggest solutions before the buyer needs it.

Instead of worrying about what you can’t control, shift your mindset to what you can create

Algorithms are shaping the world right now, it’s happening! McKinsey predicted that by 2020, 85% of sales-related tasks could be automated.

But this doesn’t have to mean jobs will be lost. It means B2B salespeople will spend less time researching and analysing data and more time exploring their true capabilities and making a real lasting impact on customers.

Realistically, some may not survive in a world more heavily reliant on technology. But the B2B salespeople that focus on harnessing its potential and the opportunity for self-improvement most certainly will.

There’s little question that technologies such as AI will continue to change the B2B sales profession, but great sellers will always play a prominent role – there are some jobs that AI can’t replace.

The key to ensuring a bright future is transitioning to the more consultative, relationship-based sales approach that today’s buyers crave.

B2B salespeople still offer human relationship skills that no machine can match, but harnessing technology can make sellers better at fulfilling their roles – spending more time on higher-value activity and less on repetitive, time-consuming work.

Targeting better and finding the right people more quickly and most importantly gaining valuable real-time insights about customers for better and smarter engagements, improved relevance and timing, and increased credibility and trust.

Still worried? Start reskilling

Artesian loves nothing more than helping B2B salespeople put technology to use to change their behaviours for the better, forever.

We help them prospect intelligently, understand their customers better than ever before, create moments of connection that truly engage, uncover new opportunities, and shape new sales behaviours that make sure they always look awesome.

Don’t fear machines, embrace the opportunity and get in touch.