The workplace is changing, and technology is the catalyst. The shifts are widespread, impacting everyone from those in the C-suite to the sales team. The sales process is so different today than it was a decade ago. Not only is there an entirely new set of rules, it’s almost an entirely new ballgame. Why? Customers are in control, they know how to find the information they seek and they are super far along in the buying process before they are ever interested in sitting through your online demo. Add to that the fact that social selling wins over cold-calling almost any day of the week, and now there’s even more to complicate the mix. AI and automation loom on the horizon in a profession already so steeped in change, can salespeople adapt and thrive? Yes—and here’s how.

A Changing Profession

According to Harvard Business Review, by 2020, customers will manage their interactions with a business without interacting with an actual human a staggering 85 percent of the time. By analyzing data from McKinsey, HBR also found 40 percent of time spent on sales activities could be automated by technologies currently available—which, of course, get smarter every day. Naturally, these projections aren’t exactly good news for salespeople who focus heavily on the traditional method of sales—i.e., personally nurture leads and move prospects through the funnel, preferably to close.

At the core of this digital shift is the tech dream team: AI, machine learning, and automation. They’re all part of a suite of technologies meant to simplify and streamline processes, saving companies time and money while bringing extra value to consumers. And they can. In fact, AI already takes the sting out of scheduling, fuels B2B lead generation efforts, and answers customer questions through the likes of chatbots.

There’s clearly a lot these technologies can do in the world of sales. Smart sales pros (read that: sales pros who want to still be around in five years) will embrace change at every turn. More importantly, they’ll adopt the mindset that their jobs will be replaced within the next several years and adapt their sales strategies (and their career paths) accordingly. Don’t fret, though—it’s far from the end of salespeople as we know them! In fact, focusing on what technology can’t do (and getting really good at it) is a solid starting place to staying relevant. Let’s think about that a little ….

How Salespeople Can Stay Relevant (Even When Sales Go Digital)

The importance of the human touch isn’t decreased by the advancement of technology. If anything, it’s heightened. In a world powered by technology, reputation, personal relationships (and a strong network) are the most valuable currencies of all. For many salespeople, having a reputation as a credible subject matter expert (and problem solver), forming solid relationships—especially those with high-level decision makers—will be the keys to thriving as the profession shifts. In fact, for salespeople looking to increase their income even as traditional jobs inevitably dwindle, those networks will increase the speed-to-market and speed-of-sale, making them an invaluable part of the sales process rather than a dispensable one.

What’s a sales pro to do? Sell less, and listen more. Instead of focusing exclusively on pushing products and meeting sales quotas (both of which are still important), make time every day to work to build a personal brand and expand a personal network. Focus on finding a point of professional expertise and building knowledge, and a reputation around it. Think like your customers, understand the challenges they face. Write about those things, talk about those things in video or on social channels, present on those topics at industry events—make a name for yourself in the industry you’re immersed in. It’s really not all that difficult, you’ve just got to want to do it. I know, I know. I can hear the objections as to how much time that will take already. You bet it will take time. But investing that time could mean the difference between having a viable sales career in a short few years, or opting for Plan B in that career path.

Finally, it’s important to distinguish between technology replacing the role of a salesperson versus technology enhancing the ability of an indispensable (see above) salesperson to skyrocket their performance. As I discussed as part of expert panel about AI and the future of the sales industry, How AI Will Impact the Sale Industry in the Future, much of the value consumers want from brands today comes after the sale is closed. You read that right: Customers want personalized and customized experiences before, during, and after they make a purchase. If salespeople can learn how to leverage the power of big data and AI to help them deliver on all fronts while never losing sight of the importance of the human touch, they’ll not only adapt in the digital age—they’ll thrive.

What’s Next?

Are you in sales? What impact is technology having on the sales team in your organization? What do you predict will happen to the role of the salesperson in the future? What are the biggest challenges you think sales pros face? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Additional Resources on This Topic

Artificial Intelligence and Automation: Predictions for the Future
How Traditional Salespeople Can Stay Relevant in the Age of Automation

Photo Credit: Alan O’Rourke Flickr via Compfight cc

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