Every other day, I read a headline about the extinction of salespeople: "The future of sales is artificial intelligence" or "95% of salespeople will be replaced by AI within 20 years."
The craziest part isn’t even the prediction—it’s that so many companies buy into this BS. They want to automate right now.
Get us some bots!
Think of what AI can do for sales!
Here’s the problem: most AI-powered software offers lots of “A” but very little “I.”
Robots aren’t buying your product, so they sure as hell shouldn’t be selling it. Who makes purchasing decisions? People. And until that changes, you’ll need people to close deals.
Automation creates distance
It keeps humans from talking to other humans. Automated solutions may simulate personal interactions, but the conversations rarely provide context and clarity. As a result, sales teams make assumptions. They understand less.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: whoever understands their customers best will own them. So what are you doing today—not 20 years from now—to understand your customers? You can talk about automation all you want, but it’s not the answer. Not yet.
Here’s why ...
1. Bots are lousy prospectors
In the early days of your startup, you should prospect on your own. Don’t worry about automation.
The market for your product is constantly changing. Customers evolve. Their needs shift. New problems unfold.
It’s difficult to adapt to these changes when all of your processes are controlled by robots.
Even if you’re currently using automation, explore new tools, platforms, and strategies every two or three months to ensure that you’re still prospecting effectively. During this re-evaluation, carve out time to prospect manually, so that you don’t lose touch with changes in the market and your customers.
2. Bots don’t see what’s really going on
Reporting dashboards only give you half the story. Tracking clicks and conversions is helpful, but there’s a good chance you’re missing something.
Where do they look? What do they click on? What confuses them? What features are most exciting? What are their pain points?
You can learn a lot simply by observing potential customers in the wild.
Not sure how to go about doing this?
Walk into a coffee shop, shake a person’s hand, and say, “I’ll buy your next latte if you give me three minutes of your time. I built a website and I’d love to know what you think of it.”
No one likes talking to strangers at Starbucks, but if you want to make things happen, you need to hunt down honest feedback. Embrace the discomfort. Most people will decline your proposal, but rejection is part of the game. The good news is that you only need one “Yes” to learn something new about your product.
Too many companies conveniently “forget” about this step. They’re so busy reviewing survey results and analytics dashboards that they pass up opportunities to gain real customer insights. To really learn, you need to get out of the building.
3. Bots are shitty communicators
Call your customers. Send emails. Video chat. Be proud and excited to talk to them.
If all of your communication is automated, you’ll never truly understand what they want from your product.
Even worse, your conversations might look like this:
Take the time and listen to what customers have to say. Search for frustration, confusion, and enthusiasm. Explore solutions together.
Ask questions like:
- What do you think this does?
- What are you trying to accomplish?
- What do you like?
- What don’t you like?
- Which features are missing?
This is your chance to dig deeper, so ask follow-up questions.
Customer: “I want something simpler.”
You: “Okay, so what should be simpler? How could it be simpler?”
You don’t have have to communicate with every single customer, but you should always take the time to speak with a few of them.
4. Bots don’t bond with people
There’s no way your business can survive if people think you’re an army of avatars.
Want to prove that you’re human? Visit your customers.
Go out and meet them in the places where they use your product. Listen to how they talk about problems. Observe their body language.
What’s their tone? What do their faces tell you? Why are they doing that weird thing with their shoulders?
This is why we host customer meetups in different cities, so that we can network with the people who make our product successful. It goes a long way towards building intimacy, which helps us better understand customers’ wants and needs.
No matter the size of your company, you should always visit a few customers each quarter.
5. Bots are crappy coaches
Training opens your eyes to customers’ true struggles. You’ll often gain insights on what features to build, what additional products and services to create, and what you can do to serve customers more effectively.
Don’t hide behind support docs and FAQs. And don’t leave it up to chatbots. You have to let people help other people, especially if you’re looking to create a never-ending source of ideas and solutions.
6. Bots suck at consulting
This isn’t an easy thing to automate right now but, like everything on this list, someone’s eventually going to want to automate consulting.
As your startup grows, it’s important to consult with your customers about challenges unrelated to your product. Too many startups focus on the one thing customers pay them to do. Really great startups take a step back and ask, “How else can we help our customers succeed?”
If you really want to make a difference, offer your expertise as a professional, not just a salesperson. Find out how they do business, how they solve problems, and how they plan to grow.
Listen carefully and lend your advice. Prove your company has value beyond your product. Make the relationship more than transactional.
At Close.io, we offer sales office hours, where I talk to founders, executives, and salespeople, so that we can solve sales challenges together.
How can you go the extra mile to create value for your customers?
7. Bots aren’t supportive
The sad truth is that most startups provide horrible support. You send an email and wait forever for a response. Many times, the solution you receive doesn't even answer your question.
“We are very thankful that you informed us about this matter …”
There’s no technical knowledge. No personality. No intimacy. They don’t know anything about you, so they can’t offer valuable customer service.
You’re a ticket number.
Support is one of the best ways to see how things are actually going. You can identify common questions, analyze problems, and learn what to promise and not promise. The only way to investigate some of these issues is to give humans an opportunity to interact with other humans on a personal level.
I'm not saying AI is all hype. In fact, even back in 2015 people were often asking me whether my personal assistant Mary was a human, or some piece of cutting-edge AI tech, and I wouldn't be surprised if one day there's going to be a company that "certifies humans". But when it comes to sales, for everything but the very mundane tasks, we're still many years away from bots doing our jobs better than any of us.
You’ve heard of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, right? When I speak to founders and sales professionals, I hear a lot of people worry about missing out on the latest tech. “We don’t have an AI component. Our sales process isn’t automated. We need machine learning. The competition has a chatbot.”
There’s something that more salespeople should be worried about, however: FOMTO, the fear of missing touch.
When you automate sales—when you expect bots to do the hard work for you—there’s always a chance that you’ll miss out on a key part of the conversation, the part where you can gain a deeper understanding of your customers. You should always strive to gain deeper insights, and bots won’t do that for you.
What will never change
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said not to ask what’s changing, but what will never change.
I don’t care how many articles discuss automation and artificial intelligence. Sales needs salespeople. They won’t be obsolete any time soon.
So forget about the bots and ask yourself one question: what am I doing to close deals today?
To help you close more deals, we've created The Startup Sales Success Course. It's free and teaches you everything you need to create a predictable & scalable sales process. Click below to join.
Prefer to listen? Watch the video below where I explain why the "threat" of automation replacing salespeople is BS.
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