For any salesperson, Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses a dual, but opposing threat. First, it could take away from their focus on their assigned mission to generate the sales and revenue that is the lifeblood of the corporation and, on the other side, it could replace them, making their jobs redundant and unnecessary.

In other words, it could be an impediment, which would hurt their ability to generate their commissions and, thus, lower their incomes, or it could work too well, which would mean they will be out of a job and, thus, eliminate their incomes. Neither option sounds appealing.

Both fears have merit and need to be addressed when introducing any AI tool into your company’s sales process. And how you address them could be just as important.

One Of The Biggest Objections To Artificial Intelligence

Venkat Nagaswamy, CEO and Co-founder of MarianaIQ, an AI platform for one-to-one social engagement, points out that one of the biggest objections to the adoption is that the AI doesn’t provide new insights.

And that’s partially true most of the time – AI enables insights to be generated faster, automating repetitive or routine tasks at a scale that is impossible for humans.

As a result, your salespeople can work more efficiently. On the other hand, salespeople are also correct that their old positions are essentially being replaced, but it’s leaving them with a new position that could actually be more rewarding.

So, with these opposing concerns and opportunities, what is the best way for preparing your sales team for the adoption of AI tools?

A Smart First Step

The first step would be to create a believable case study within your organization. And one way to achieve that goal would be to run a pilot with some of your key influencers in your sales department.

Then you can use their successes stories to fire up the rest of your team. Of course, be sure to include concrete numbers and examples when conveying the results.

Next, when introducing the platform, show empathy for the daily routines of your sales associates, understand their hopes, ambitions, and frustrations, and using these insights, show how the platform will improve their conditions and help them achieve their goals.

Additionally, when painting the picture, emphasize the components of the position that are stable and unchanging over time, an approach that Jeff Bezos employs when he creates his long-term business strategies.

Use The Fact That AI Is Not New

When introducing the tool, you should also explain AI, which has roots dating back to at least the 1950s. In fact, many digital tools that we take for granted today were once considered within the realm of AI’s brave new world, including optical mark readers and search engines (or Statistical Ranked Text Retrieval).

Mentioning its history and prior advancements such as these examples can make your new AI tools and platforms seem less threatening, which you can then relate back to your new tools. After all, just like being able to find sources on the web in record time, the new AI-based sales tools should ultimately boost their productivity.

In many ways, this is an empathetic, human-centered approach because you’re showing empathy by acknowledging that any kind of change is hard and scary.

The Three Types of People

But we also need to recognize that not everyone will want to make the leap or will be able to make it. As Marty Neumeier reminds readers in his book Metaskills that “whenever a paradigm shifts, three kinds of people emerge:

1) those who resist change because they’ve been so successful with the previous paradigm;

2) those who embrace change because they haven’t been successful with the previous paradigm; and

3) those who embrace change despite success with the previous paradigm.”

The same can be said for introducing any new technological tool, even if you don’t have a paradigm shift.

In most companies, people will fall into groups one and three. Those in Group 3 will lead the way to the successful adoption of AI tools and platforms in your sales team. Some in Group 1 will want or need to find employment elsewhere. But with enough preparation as well as an empathetic introductory process, many in Group 1 will be able to make the leap.

But Neumeier’s observation brings up an additional consideration: your organization as well as your hiring criteria might need to change as well. After all, there are people who are in Group 2 could find themselves wildly successful once the new AI tools and platforms have been deployed. Make sure you don’t rule them out as you make your transition.

Follow these steps and shortly after the implementation, you might not even have any salesperson willing to admit that they were once afraid of AI. Rather, they should be enjoying the rewards of increased productivity.


Laurence Minsky

Author: Laurence Minsky

Laurence Minsky is an Associate Professor, School of Media Arts, Columbia College Chicago; a consultant focused on developing effective cross-channel marketing programs; a contributor to The Harvard Business Review; and co-author of The Activation Imperative: How to Build Brands and Business by Inspiring Action and Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand, among other books.

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