Ask the Experts: Selling in an AI World

In case you haven’t noticed, a shift in the profession of selling is underway. This shift – the digital empowerment of buyers – has been rumbling for a while but, thanks to developments in artificial intelligence, it has really hit hard over the past year.

To help you prepare for a selling landscape where buyers now have another tool at their disposal, here are three nonnegotiable takeaways for selling in an AI world.

1) Adapt or Die

AI has already changed the selling profession and some positions are simply no longer viable. The classic business development representative position, as an example, is largely going to be replaced by technology. That job won’t exist anymore. Neither will sales jobs that are, essentially, taking orders from willing buyers. Technology can do most of those tasks now. 

Going forward, the field of sales will be dominated by people who commit to developing, and deepening, human-to-human communication skills and who continually expand their fluency with the new tools and platforms. Many of those technologies will be driven by AI. 

If you are one of those adaptive people, then yes, you can expect to succeed in sales. On the other hand, if you try to hide behind the technology and don’t build up the behaviors, attitudes and techniques necessary to engage in the ways your buyers are engaging, you won’t.  That’s the reality. 

2) Cold Calling is “Out” – Dating is “In”

The classic “cold calling strategy” may not be quite dead yet, but it is dying.  Ask yourself: When was the last time you chose to accept a call from a number you didn’t recognize? When did you last reply to an email targeted at a couple of thousand people who clearly weren’t you?

Successful sales teams, today, are focusing on more of a “dating strategy” – a strategy that’s far more relevant, and useful, to both buyers and sellers. As professional salespeople, we should always be dating a certain number of prospects, as opposed to talking to as many strangers as possible. (Let’s face it, there are tools that keep people from having to interact with unknown salespeople and those tools are only going to get better.) Instead, think of prospecting as dating and creating quality interactions with people we get to know better, over time. 

3) Work the “Triad”

Today’s buyers have ever-escalating access to new levels of information that they once relied on salespeople to provide. Lots of these buyers are less likely to meet, or interact, with traditional, pushy salespeople. How do we know this? Because each of us is such a buyer.

We all have easy access to AI via applications like ChatGPT, Bing and Google Bard, just like the people we want to sell to. Each of us uses one, or more, of those systems to arm ourselves with information before making, or influencing, a major purchase.

It’s absurd for us to pretend that our own potential buyers aren’t using those tools to circumvent interactions with pushy salespeople because we, ourselves, are using them. ChatGPT and the other tools give us all kinds of potentially relevant, highly accessible information. What these tools don’t give us, however, is a relationship with another human being we trust.

The “triad” consists of three venues: LinkedIn, email and text messages. In each of those venues there’s an opportunity to move from a “first date” to a “second date” to a “third date” and beyond. Your personal LinkedIn brand figures prominently in this, as does your ability to create emails that connect to people as human beings. LinkedIn is the first point of the “triad” and it’s imperative that sellers employ a strategy that connects them with potential buyers who genuinely have an interest in doing business.

In a world where buyers are holding more cards than they held yesterday, it would be a critical mistake to pick and choose only one or two approaches that would likely leave you vulnerable to the competition. Consistently addressing all three of the “triad” will go a long way toward adapting to a world in which your buyers seem to be holding more of the cards.

Jim Marshall is founder of Sandler Training of Tampa Bay, which provides sales and management training to high-achieving companies and individuals. Contact him at 813.287.1500 or [email protected].

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