Guest Article by Reese Jones

Sales today look wildly different than they did just ten years ago. You can use augmented reality to test furniture in your living room. You can one-click purchase from online retailers on the other side of the world. You can even buy from ads specially chosen for you by fancy algorithms.

As awesome as this technology is on the consumer end, the newfangled efficiency and increased productivity also come with the inevitable fear that artificial intelligence will eventually replace human salespeople. So . . . will it?

A handful of thought-leaders worry that yes, traditional salespeople won’t have a place much longer. But the reality is, artificial intelligence can’t come for salespeople's jobs just yet. Some basic human skills that we often take for granted--which we like to call “superpowers”--are why real-life salespeople will have a seat at the sales table for the foreseeable future.

Without further ado, here are three “superpowers” salespeople have that AI can’t replace.

1. Empathy

As any successful salesperson can tell you, a high EQ goes a long way. While statistics are obviously very helpful in persuading a prospect to buy, they aren’t usually enough in and of themselves to close the deal.

When you’re able to imagine yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can envision their wants, desires, pains, and frustrations and tailor your pitch to address these needs. People want to feel heard, understood, and respected--and that is achieved through empathy.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Now, we could get into a long discussion on whether or not AI will ever be able to “feel” anything, but that would be irrelevant if they can’t even understand.

So, can AI understand humans? Not yet. At this point in time, AIs are a ways off from being able to identify what other people are feeling--and even who they are, which poses a significant challenge.

According to Tech Crunch's article on the future of AI, robots still haven't developed the ability to fully comprehend natural language and understanding, let alone the many nuances that surround emotions.

Furthermore, you probably are familiar with a big controversy right now at Amazon. The tech gurus over there created AI facial recognition software, which they are selling to governments, which in turn use it to surveil citizens.


Source: USA Today

Ignoring the freaky doomsday implications, many people (including the ACLU) are upset because the software is notoriously bad at correctly identifying the faces of women and people of color. So, it’s not reliable for identifying more than half of the world’s population. Long story short, you can’t understand who you can’t even identify.

2. Effective judgment

It’s not enough to be able to process words, sounds, and movements. Salespeople are required to pay close attention to their clients so they can make intelligent decisions that effectively close sales, retain customers, upsell, and more.

To make smart decisions, salespeople must understand who their specific customer is and what their intentions are. Based on that information, they then render a judgment of the situation and determine an appropriate response. Humans do this every single day. But are AI’s up to snuff?

Though technology can detect a person's basic body language with relative accuracy, it isn’t yet at the point where it can evaluate many gestures at once and combine the information to get a more complete picture--which is what humans do all day, every day, without even thinking about it.

An example of this is the technology controversially used in Japan to identify “potential shoplifters.”


Source: Analytics Vidhya

In the photo above, you can see that the machine learning tool is trying to analyze shoppers “poses” in order to flag potential criminals. However, this tool fails to take into account things that humans could recognize in a heartbeat. Does the person look sick? Sad? Agitated? Are they with small children? Do they have a disability? There are a million possibilities.

At this point in time, AI cannot effectively judge everyday human situations, which gives us flesh-and-blood salespeople a significant advantage.

3. Charisma and communication

Charisma is a “compelling charm that inspires devotion in others.” And while robots are definitely making some headway in this area, we’ve yet to see a truly charismatic robot.

Charisma in conversations is important because it builds trust and motivates action. Today, consumers are particularly wary of being taken advantage of--they’re constantly on the lookout for exaggerations and false claims. Credibility has become the gold standard.

So, can robots be charismatic? The answer is a resounding “not yet.”

To have charisma, you should be able to continuously evaluate the emotions of the people you’re interacting with (which we established that AI can’t really do), make decisions based on these evaluations (which AI also can’t do) and then communicate that decision in a way that is “pleasing” to the other party.

Additionally, on a more superficial but still important note, to be charismatic, AI can’t freak people out. Case in point, the picture below.


Source: The Next Web

Conclusion

AIs are wonderful at many things. They’re great at looking at wildly complex data sets and finding patterns. They’re excellent at identifying trends based on numbers. But when it comes to the basic human skills absolutely essential for selling, AIs are lacking.

What other uniquely-human superpowers do you think AI will have a hard time replacing? We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments to join the conversation.