“Too many cooks in the kitchen” is a well-known idiom, but “zero cooks in the kitchen” is an apt description of Spyce, a new restaurant in Boston. The four founders of Spyce were mechanical engineering students at MIT when they set out to solve a problem: there were too few options for fast, healthy, inexpensive meals.
“The goal was never to eliminate jobs,” Spyce co-founder Michael Farid told xconomy.com. “The goal is to provide value to consumers. We do that by being as efficient as we can with costs.” And so the “robotic kitchen” was born. Nothing personal, chefs – you just aren’t needed anymore.
As we think about the future of sales in the B2B world, we can see the emergence of a similar view among some buyers: There is a trend toward a self-service model of B2B purchasing, and we can imagine a growing number of buyers at some point will say, “Nothing personal, salespeople; it’s purely about efficiency.”
However, if we take a closer look at current trends, we can form a clearer picture of where technology is heading. And where technology leads, markets and jobs follow.
First, consider robotic machinery preparing food or performing similar tasks. This example of automating a well-defined series of steps continues an established pattern of finding enterprising applications for existing technology. Robots are only going to continue to take work away from humans in retail, factories, hospitals and any number of industries.
As the cost of robotics goes down and new uses (e.g. robotic kitchens) are found, robots will find their way into more and more companies. In some cases, “taking work away” will mean eliminating jobs, and in others it will translate to “helping human workers by assisting with the most tedious parts of their jobs.”
Second, robots and AI are two separate developments – albeit two developments that may seem scariest when they intertwine. Pessimists may see this road leading to The Terminator, while optimists are counting on benefits like in-home healthcare workers who happen to be machines.
Third, there is more than one type of AI. Futurism.com offers concise definitions: There is “purely reactive” AI, like IBM’s famous chess-playing program; “limited memory” AI, like chatbots; “theory of mind” AI, which understands thoughts and emotions – and does not yet exist; and “self-aware” AI – also not here yet, but very much present in movies and popular culture. Development of a “conscious” machine has been, and remains, an elusive goal.
Meanwhile, in the sales profession, the future of sales remains a topic of keen interest. In sales, change is a fact of life. Barry Trailer, a CSO Insights Independent Research Fellow, observes this in his white paper, There’s Never Been a Better Time to be in Sales, stating, “in the world of professional selling, we’ve already made our transition to digital, and more recently, to social. Yet we know that further change is on the way.” How extreme is that further change likely to be? Does a sales career path today lead only to a retirement home staffed by robots?
CSO Insights’ Jim Dickie says no. In fact, a golden age of selling could be just ahead. Dickie has been conducting sales research on AI applications that exist today, and says that, “companies developing AI capabilities for sales organizations see sales professionals being empowered with a whole new level of knowledge and insights that set the stage for the salesperson to become more valuable than ever.”
Not all salespeople will be along for the ride. Individual sellers, like the sales organizations they work for, must be willing and able to learn, adapt and meet the buyers where, when and how they want to be met.
In There’s Never Been a Better Time to be in Sales, Trailer asks, “Who will rise to the challenge of new tools, new ways of working and new buyer expectations? We’re betting on two kinds of people: The best of the best – the people who have always been learning, always finding creative solutions, always doing more than making the sale. [And] the new ones, who are starting now or will soon start.”
As longtime thought leaders in the sales performance improvement space, Trailer and Dickie predict that AI will save sales – not eliminate it – by “augmenting” the sales role, and allowing salespeople to help customers “in deep and enduring ways.”
And for the coming generation of new salespeople, integrating AI into their jobs will seem as natural as getting lunch from a robotic kitchen.