As history tells us, the more you know about the person you’re selling to and the more you’re able to tailor your offer to his or her circumstances, the higher likelihood of sales success. This is not rocket science. And I should know. In 1968, I helped get the Apollo capsule to the moon and back.
The question is, how do you get a deep understanding of your customers? There’s good news on that for sales professionals of today. The introduction of intelligence is now underway and will play out for quite some time. This means that within five years, basically every salesperson will have an intelligent assistant that will use intimate computing to deliver rich context around every step of the sales process, from initial contact to closing.
Personal computing is when you know your computer. Intimate computing is when it knows you. What we're already beginning to see is that ability to capture a great deal of information about our customers, and out of that, develop a very intimate portrait of them and their needs. Selling to people is becoming a function of what’s happening to them, their company, and their industry at the time, as opposed to using a generic sales pitch.
While today’s sales assistant is a device, such as a smartphone or a laptop, within 10 years it will become something you can talk to, similar to the Amazon Echo. Intelligence will be embedded into a system that lives in the office. You’ll come into your work environment and say, “Show me my prospects. Is this a good day to call company X? How is their stock doing today?” It will be as if you have someone whispering real-time sales intelligence in your ear.
Farther off, say 20 years from now, one can imagine commercial sales interactions taking place in virtual reality (VR). At that point, we will have to think about what it means to engage a customer in VR and create a great experience there, and then configure the whole sales process for that. But I don’t believe the salesperson has to seriously think about that yet.
What many salespeople are concerned about today is being displaced by all of these advancements. That’s why my preferred term is not artificial intelligence but augmented intelligence, because this technology actually makes the human salesperson much more capable by augmenting them. I'd be more worried about being replaced by another salesperson who is empowered by intelligence than by a machine.
This is also why I recommend that salespeople master the technology now available. And quickly. It wasn’t that long ago when salespeople were hesitant to use email to connect to their customers. But now that’s the status quo. People are not writing handwritten letters to prospects anymore. They actually moved on to typewriters and then eventually to email.
Intelligence is in the same continuous line. It’s simply an inevitable progression. Yes, we took the Apollo capsule to the moon with slide rules. What we would have preferred to use was modern electronic calculators and computers to do what we did, but they didn’t exist. Now that they do, nobody’s saying let’s go back to slide rules.