People. Ideas. Technology. In that order. This is what the Air Force Col. John Boyd used to admonish the Defense Department with over and over again, as it pertained to jet fighters.
Last week a number of us who think, speak, write, and improve sales were invited to CEB (now Gartner) to talk about what we see going on in the world of sales, and to view their new research. The first day we were together, we spent much of the time talking about artificial intelligence and automation as it pertains to sales. No matter how the conversation shifted, it somehow found its way back to these issues.
My contribution to the conversation was an observation that the more we talked about technology, the more it was clear that what was most important was the human aspect. What was interesting is that the human aspect wasn’t absent from the conversation, it was underlying everything that we discussed, even when it wasn’t stated.
The reason this was so prevalent in our conversation is because so many technology companies believe they can improve sales without building better sales people. Mistakenly, they put things in exactly the opposite order of what Colonel Boyd insisted on.
There are more and more companies—and more and more people—who believe that automation is going to replace salespeople and all human interaction as it pertains to buying and selling. Some of the people who believe this to be true write about sales and put themselves forth as sales improvement experts, all the while berating salespeople for continuing to believe that they create value for their clients, and for continuing to prospect when all is already lost. Some of them believe that the Millennial generation is going to be so very different than their parents that selling is going take place exclusively over digital channels and that all prior forms of communication are dead.
They are incorrect.
Clearly, if a salesperson can add no value, that role will be disintermediated, and automation and artificial intelligence will easily replace them. That means if you are a walking brochure, or better stated, “a walking website,” you don’t create enough value so that you cannot be easily replaced by technology. The bottom half of the hourglass economy is going to be transactional.
At the top of the hourglass economy, however, the place where decisions are complex, strategic, potentially risky, and expensive, artificial intelligence and technology are going to augment salespeople. As a trusted advisor, you’re going to leverage things like big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, to create even greater value. Your ability to leverage the tools is going to be part of what makes you a trusted advisor, just as the illiterate Kings of old surrounded themselves with people who could read, write, and think.
If you want to play the long game here, it is people, ideas, technology, in that exact order.