Author & Sales Expert
We’re in the age of AI — some interactions with conversational and generative AI systems rival human conversations, cutting through knowledge gaps, available 24/7 and becoming more and more reliable.
Marking the launch of Season 2 of Ungated Conversations, we dive into one of the most important questions revenue leaders can ask themselves:
How do we harness our potential for meaningful connections to reach customers, address their needs, and meet sales goals?
This week, our hosts Rachel Ann Kreis, VP of Marketing, and Jiaqi Pan, CEO and Co-Founder at Landbot are joined by Jeff Kirchick, author and sales expert. Jeff brings a fresh perspective to the evolving landscape of sales principles in the age of AI.
A unique blend of experiences in tech sales and creative writing—and rampant polarization during the start of the pandemic—led Jeff to write “Authentic Selling: How to Use the Principles of Sales in Everyday Life.” Jeff joined us to share how the central takeaways from his book can be applied to AI-driven sales.
Will AI Take Human Jobs?
Having written his book before the groundbreaking ChatGPT was released, Jeff has a unique insight (and foresight) into the state of AI. With the world initially panicking in fear of being replaced by computers, algorithms, and robots, the impact of generative AI has been different than many expected.
Rather than the immediate replacement of truck drivers, manual laborers, and hands-on physical jobs, AI has broken into the traditionally human role of customer service, replacing many necessary roles in call and help centers. However, according to Jeff, this doesn’t mark the end of all human customer service — it just requires a shift in roles and skills.
Customer service isn’t the only sphere this conversational AI is beginning to take hold in — AI-driven sales are on the horizon for the technology for many reasons. But don’t turn in your SDR resignation letter just yet, there’s more to it than potentially being replaced.
“We’re going to see AI start to handle a lot of low-hanging fruit,” Jeff says. “Too often we think about AI as a replacement for people — they’re mutually exclusive. That's not the case at all.”
Rather than replacing human sales professionals, AI is set to take a lot of work off their plates. From lead qualification to data entry, SMB opportunities, and answering questions, AI clears time and space for sales teams to focus on higher-end, qualified leads.
But to do this successfully, you must lean hard into your humanity and provide better relationships, insights, and connections than AI can.
Standing out in Sales in an AI-Forward World
Not every customer needs a human touch. Sometimes sales, particularly in B2C and SMB, are relatively self-sufficient. Today’s customers are more informed than ever before, having done significant research before ever reaching out to a business. For sales that may be an easier close, and injecting a human in the buyer’s journey may only slow down velocity.
However, the human touch is still vital in many sales processes, particularly in B2B and enterprise solutions. In these environments, capitalizing on your humanity will be the golden ticket to keeping your job, catalyzing your career, and outperforming your AI counterparts.
“If you're really going to stand out from the crowd in an environment where there's a lot of AI, you need to lean into your humanity to be successful,” Jeff says.
But how do you determine where this human touch is needed?
With booked calendars and overwhelmed sales reps, it’s essential to determine exactly where human touch is needed and where AI is a good fit. Without proper execution, you may lose sales and test the patience of your SDRs.
To start, try breaking down your customer base into two categories — active and passive.
Active buyers are already well aware of their problem and are actively seeking a solution — they need something quick. These sales cycles are often short.
Passive buyers, on the other hand, aren’t completely aware of the problems they’re facing. That’s where authentic human interaction comes into play. These buyers need the help of a sales professional to identify and understand their problems, recognize the need and potential of a solution, and then translate the benefits of the product or service.
“There are various sales motions, inbound vs. outbound, different levels of engagement — these factors impact what you need to do as a seller,” Jeff says. “There are some cases where being overly deliberate can actually be getting in your way, but in other cases, it’s completely needed.”
Rather than considering AI as competition for their positions, sales professionals should embrace the technology as a partner to help close the gaps, lighten their workload, and place their attention where it matters most.
What it Means to Be Authentic in Sales
Despite quota expectations and sales objectives, at the end of the day, it is your job to help people. Remaining authentic in a sales environment can mean balancing the line between genuinely helping people, gauging and addressing their needs, and closing deals.
One way you can embrace authenticity in the sales process is by understanding individual prospect needs and adjusting the linear cycle to meet them.
For example, when a customer is ready to buy, has already self-qualified and simply requests a few questions answered or to see a demo, it’s unnecessary to inject them into the very top-of-funnel with a discovery call. However, in many scenarios, these initial calls are critical for both the prospect and the business.
Assessing customer needs and adjusting the sales cycle to be personalized isn’t something AI is quite geared to do — at least not yet. A genuine human touch and concern for the prospect’s needs is necessary.
“If you're really passionate about helping people, you also have real anxiety around disappointing people,” Jeff says. “That is a motivator in terms of how I'm going to behave around them. I have a motivation that is tied to success, but not at the expense of disappointment.”
Balancing Detachment and Outcome Focus in a Sales Mindset
In sales, you can never completely divorce outcomes from the day-to-day work. While you may be motivated to help people, there will always be a quota to meet at the end of the day.
But if sales professionals can detach from outcomes while still maintaining an outcome-oriented mindset, the results can be game-changing.
“If you're able to adopt the mindset you can place less importance on outcomes, it will allow you to get into the behaviors that will actually increase your chances of success,” Jeff says.
When stuck in an outcome-based focus, sellers can fall into the habit of pushing each prospect through the same funnel without considering their individual needs, losing trust and velocity in the process. By shifting focus from the outcome to the customer, sellers begin to naturally engage in a way that makes them better listeners, ultimately increasing their chances of a closed deal.
In the end, it should be the seller's goal to build a long-term partnership with their customer, rather than simply close a deal.
Building a System that Leverages AI and Human Authenticity
When integrating AI into your sales process, you may wonder how you can strike the balance between retaining human authenticity where it’s needed and balancing automation where possible (and ideal). Choosing the right systems to work with is essential in striking this balance.
When businesses can prompt engineer systems to act according to what they need, adapting the system to fit their precise business case, it becomes far more valuable than an open generative AI model like ChatGPT.
When AI is used as a partner or a tool to shape the sales process by helping answer questions, do certain types of discovery and categorize potential customers, sales teams can use their time to better address customer needs.
With endless possibilities for applications and uses, be sure to assess your business and customer needs to establish valid use cases before deciding on an AI implementation.
Want to learn more about striking the balance between AI and authentic selling? Tune into Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts, or listen to the full episode below where Jeff shares specific tools, applications and success stories.