Unless you have been living under a rock, you cannot have failed to seen the video of Google Duplex AI assistant booking the hair appointment with a real person on the other end of the phone – quite staggering when you think about it. For those of you who are old enough, is this HAL 2000 in the making – if you have read Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, we may not be that far off this (distopian) future.
Will never work in B2B sales I sense you muttering under your breath. Let me share my thinking and then we can debate. I have been in sales my entire career, pre- internet era – 100 cold calls a day in the recruitment industry. I fell into sales, my late Father was in Software sales, so that is what I knew. I recruited sales professionals into the IT and Telco sector. Back then, early 2000’s sales roles were pretty simple – you were either New Business or Account Management, Field Based, Desk Based or Telesales. You ran the deals from cradle to grave, with the support of PreSales and/or TechSales. In my world of recruitment, we did everything, cold calling, meetings, pitching, placing candidates and start again. And it was bloody good fun. I was good at it. I was master of my own destiny.
Fast foward to today, we have the role of the SDR – I still haven’t got my head around why you need someone to qualify stuff, build a relationship with a client to then hand over to someone else, why disrupt the relationship that is already in play. If you sell, then sell all the way through to close. SDRs are typically phone/desk based roles, managing the MQLs (some of the time) making a ton of outbound calls, qualifying in or out opportunities to then hand over when they become an SQL. Simply put they are outbound lead generation tools. If we reflect on the Gartner Challenger data, one is led to believe that the purchaser is doing more and more of the self qualification themselves, using social, referral networks and digital content. Sales is becoming more inbound led – which is a good thing in my book. Research also shows that we don’t like being sold to, we start our buying journey on our terms and we are influenced by good, information rich content, ideally hyper-personalised to the audience in question (buyer personas). This for me means the role of the SDR will inevitably change, in some product verticals I would be as bold to suggest cease to exist all together.
Let’s pause here and take a look at what is happening in the B2C industry :
Pre Uber, you either hailed a cab, if you could find one, or had to find a number and call someone to book it
Post Uber – geolocation tech knows where you are in relation to the nearest Uber, one click and you are booked and paid for.
This means the dispatcher is freed up to manage more cabs, rather than deal with the calls.
Pre Deliveroo – you had to find the paper menu, call the restaurant, which was limited to those who were takeaway of delivery only, place your order and pay cash or give your card details over the phone
Post Deliveroo – you can now order from more restaurants, without having to consider whether you will get through, your orders are remembered and paid for securely via the app.
This means that waiting staff or front of house can focus on those in the restaurant, restaurants turn more covers, make more money, we the client have much greater choice, but will also remain loyal to your favourite ones.
I could go on, almost all major brands now manage their relationships through a mobile app of sorts, some well, some not so well. But this is ubiquitous of how we expect to interact with brands – we don’t actually want to talk to people, especially at what we see as the low value end of the market. Actually, people just get in the way.
My buyers don’t buy that way I sense you saying – I bet they would if you could give them the option to – everyone laughed at Bezos when he said would sell books on the internet.
Oracle research shows :
Are you familiar with Amy? She is an AI powered personal assistant who will schedule meetings for you, you just copy her in to the email, to the person(s) you want to schedule with. She (or he) does the rest. One of former colleagues experienced booking a meeting with Amy, so much so, they thought that Amy was an actual person and initially refused to believe she wasn’t.
Linkedin now has prepopulated replies, Gmail can help predict what you are going to write in your emails, chatbots on websites start to guide and qualify in or out prospects by guiding them through pre-determined questions. One would assume based on client feedback (data) on why and how they bought previously (learn).
If we then take into consideration where Google is at with its Assistant being able to converse with a human, what is to say that this cannot work the other way and it be used as part of the sales qualification journey before it is passed over to an Account Manager – if it even needs to get that far. Imagine if it were able to guide you through to making a payment – just look at at how WeChat operates as an online B2B market place.
Let’s take Dynamics 365 as an example of a sales relationship ecosystem Microsoft is building. They have LinkedIn data, populate with good CRM data, client feedback & engagement data, marketing automation data, social listening data. Layer this with their learnings from Azure & Cortana – all of which exists today – for me none of this seems so farfetched at all – and if this how the customer of tomorrow wants to engage, then who are we to argue?
The Luddites approach to technological evolution didn’t work out to well for them, don’t fall into the same trap. It is coming, just a question of when.