Artificial vs. Emotional Intelligence in SalesAug 25, 2023
By the DCMi Marketing Team
The hottest topic in tech right now is the implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) into business practices. From marketing to customer service, CEOs, CTOs and CFOs at virtually every company are trying to figure out how AI could potentially improve efficiencies, saving businesses time, and money.
As consumers we are used to engaging with AI-driven technology when it comes to trying to solve customer service issues — oftentimes whether we like it or not. But what about the world of B2B sales, where human interaction remains necessary - especially when it comes to addressing customer indecision? In this blog, we set out to offer some insight and predictions of how artificial intelligence may impact the emotional intelligence necessary for salespeople to help customers navigate the high-stakes world of B2B buying.
What Is AI?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how we think AI might impact sales interactions, first we must answer the question: What exactly is AI? In the simplest terms, AI stands for “artificial intelligence.” The “artificial” part implies that the vessel holding the information is man-made; in other words, a machine. The “intelligence” is not only the information being fed into the machine, but the machine’s ability to identify patterns, and make decisions. In the worlds of sales and marketing, AI is being used to do everything from analyze large data sets to help salespeople write an email. Without a doubt, it’s powerful stuff.
Tech’s Impact on the Buyer Journey
Powerful as it may be, the term “AI” can also be confusing to some. AI often gets used as an umbrella term to explain many different things going on between buyer and supplier. It’s important to note that technology has seriously impacted the relationship between buyers and sellers. Now you can do all the research on a product – browse a company website, follow their social media accounts, read blog articles, scour over online reviews, etc. – before even talking to a salesperson, all from the comfort of your couch. For instance, we can easily buy a new shirt on our phone in the 30 seconds it takes to walk down the hall for an important meeting, no phone call or brick-and-mortar visit required.
For people of a certain age, including Millennials and Gen-Z consumers, this type of tech-friendly buyer's journey is second nature. Are you concerned the new shirt you want to order won’t fit? Don’t worry; try it on virtually. Did you read 10+ positive reviews online before purchasing your new mountain bike? Those reviews typically have way more value than a salesperson telling you how great the product is. In the B2C universe, a human being isn’t often required to make a purchase.
The reason we point this out is because those same tech-forward buyers in the B2C space are also now a part of teams making large purchases in the B2B space. The person who just bought that shirt on their phone in 30 seconds is also likely to be the one reaching out to a software provider to discuss a significant, high-priced purchase. It’s not entirely farfetched to imagine those same folks who want a super-easy, click-of-a-button purchase experience for consumer goods would also want the same thing when it comes to making large, impactful B2B sales decisions.
Customer Indecision and the Need For Human Interaction
That said, is it really practical to make a high-priced purchase such as a software system—that might be used by hundreds or thousands of employees—from a machine?
Our research shows that B2B buyers are far more emotional than expected. In The JOLT Effect, we discuss that 87% of interactions have either high or moderate levels of indecision. Indecision is a set of emotions that buyers are feeling – whether it be frustration, confusion, etc. These emotions are real, valid, and something a machine or computer is likely to alleviate. Human beings (in this case buyers) need to talk to other human beings (salespeople) in order to address this inevitable indecision and gain comfort with the purchase decision.. When buying is getting more personal, and selling gets more complex, talking to a bot will not decrease indecision or ultimately make the sale.
Unfortunately, many sellers mishandle these situations. In our book The JOLT Effect: How High Performers Overcome Indecision, we discuss the concept of FOMU, or the “Fear Of Messing Up”. The worst thing a salesperson can hear from a customer is no longer “No”; it’s “I need to think about it.” The fear of making the wrong decision, wasting the company’s time and money, and ultimately risking getting fired, is enough to give any buyer anxiety. In our book, we discuss that the best salespeople aren’t the ones attempting to form a long-lasting relationship with the buyer, nor are they attempting to play into the buyer’s fear of missing out (that’s FOMO for those of you keeping track) by offering them deals or discounts that they can only take advantage of for a limited time. Instead, the top-performing salespeople are the ones that can tackle customer indecision head-on and address buyer fears by following the guidelines we lay out in the book: Judging the indecision, figuring out what’s causing it, and letting the customer know they aren’t alone; offering their recommendation; limiting the exploration and essentially steering the customer towards a decision; and finally taking the risk off the table by making sure the customer knows the salesperson is looking out for them.
What Role Can (or Will) AI Play?
We’ve established that customers still need to have human touch when making high-profile purchases, but will we ever see AI fully enter the picture regarding B2B buyer and seller interactions? It’s hard to say. It’s important to note that the role of the seller isn’t just to interact with the buyer. The seller is often responsible for connecting the dots, interpreting what needs to happen in the customer’s organization and their own, including configurations, product needs, support team handoffs, etc., that helps the buyer feel like they are making a fully formed, confident decision. With that said, there are certainly admin-level tasks that AI could help with, making that part of the seller’s job much more efficient.
Indeed, AI — including generative AI — could certainly make the job of the seller easier from a process and communication standpoint. Whether it be a command center with reminders, talking points, or discovery questions like the software created by conversation intelligence providers such as Gong, customer feedback analysis tools — made by companies like Momentive AI — that can help with training and inform future sales conversations, or simply using Chat GPT to help salespeople write better emails and communicate clearly and quickly with customers, AI tools exist right now that will help B2B companies sell smarter. What’s additionally interesting is the possibilities AI can bring to the table when it comes to mining conversations within emails and phone calls, suggesting actions to take afterward. It can even help with CRM adoption, automating tasks that used to be done by a human being, thus streamlining tedious jobs like data entry.
Will the Robots Take Our (Sales) Jobs?
That’s the million-dollar question, right? Ultimately, we think the answer is no. Given all of our research, we know that there is too much emotion that goes into massive purchasing decisions and there isn’t technology that exists right now that could ever replace a top-tier salesperson capable of erasing customer indecision. Instead, we see B2B sales companies continuing to invest in technology solutions that have AI embedded, including solutions within CRM tools, where the tech acts as more of an assistant or co-pilot throughout the process.
It’s tempting to think that technology can be a panacea, magically doing away with all our many selling challenges. But the best advice is this: Be careful. First, money and time can be wasted as the tech stack grows and your teams navigate a growing number of apps that are useful in isolation but potentially overwhelming in aggregate. But more importantly, in our view, more often companies are dealing with skill problems. If the seller doesn’t fully understand why they need to perform certain tasks, how to perform these tasks, and ultimately cannot help ease a buyer’s anxiety when it comes to large purchasing decisions, there is no amount of technology that is going to make a difference.