Will AI Destroy Sales Jobs or Create Them?

In 2015, Forrester principal analyst Andy Hoar presented a frightening prediction for the future of B2B sales, “We believe one million sales jobs will be net displaced by 2020.”

Recent news over the last year has been buzzing about the dangers of robots and AI on our economy, specifically pertaining to job security. There’s even a Wikipedia article that explains the phenomenon: technological unemployment.

The question on everyone’s minds: Will jobs be destroyed faster than we can create them? Will salespeople be out of a job, and if so, what will the future of B2B sales look like?

To tackle these questions, I decided to look to the experts on our team to better address the growing concerns over AI and job displacement. I spoke with Vitaly Gordon, Chief Data Scientist at SalesforceIQ, where the team of data scientists builds sophisticated machine learning tools for Salesforce, the intelligent Customer Success Platform.

How AI is Changing the Way We Work

There’s been speculation that jobs will be displaced as AI and robotics become more prevalent. With “technological unemployment” a growing topic of discussion, what are your thoughts on the topic – do you think there’s truth to these predictions?

That’s a big question and to tackle it, I’ll begin with a quote from Aaron Levie that I think summarizes my sentiment:

“AI can seem dystopian because it’s easier to describe existing jobs disappearing than to imagine industries that never existed appearing.”

It’s undeniable that jobs will be increasingly displaced by technology, I don’t want to discount that. But I predict a next generation of industries will emerge to take their place and ultimately create jobs to replace the old.

A great example of this is social media marketing, a role that didn't exist as of 20 years ago, because social media networks are a product of the Internet Age. With every business needing and expected to have a strong presence on the web, new roles have emerged to create and manage that presence online, such as social media managers, SEO managers, and web developers, while roles in other industries became obsolete.

What job industries do you think will emerge because of AI? And how will people bridge the gap between the skills needed for today’s jobs and that of jobs in 10 years, 50 years?

All the discussion around AI, robotics, and machine learning makes it seem as though everything is here and now, but actually we’re in the early stages and there are still many unknowns as to what job industries will surface because of AI. 

The future we speak of right now is a nascent future. We’re not yet able to predict what industries will emerge.

What we can expect is jobs becoming more technical and increasing opportunity for those with technical skills. Today, you already see the popularity of training programs and hack schools trying to meet the talent demand for engineers.

So how do we bridge the gap and prepare people for jobs requiring technical skills?

I can’t give a definitive answer, but I think people do underestimate how much has changed in curriculum in the last 100 years. There will definitely be a transition period, but just think, the math that children learn in middle school today, is math that was established by leading mathematicians from hundreds of years ago. Another comparison may be, a 15 year old now knows as much as a math PhD student from 100 years ago.

People are capable of extraordinary things, and I think you’ll see people meeting the challenge to gain technical knowledge at incredible rates.

Our Future with AI

Let’s consider Sales in particular. What jobs will be replaced, and what sales jobs will emerge to take their place? Where do you see the opportunity for AI to change how we view sales?

First of all, there’s a discrepancy between what people imagine sales to be, and what sales really is.

We imagine salespeople focusing 100% of their time on selling to the customer - seems logical, but is actually far from the reality of their day to day. Many salespeople spend a large portion of their time chatting with disinterested parties, emailing prospects, and scheduling meetings. That’s an incredible amount of time spent navigating a flood of emails and recording their activities for their sales manager’s review. But what a salesperson really should focus on is less replicable activities, such as interacting with the customer, building strong customer relationships, solving customer needs, and improving on the business. 

With AI, more and more of a salesperson’s time can be spent on relationship enriching activities.

We’ll see a new generation of sales people whose skill base goes farther beyond the definition of the salesperson we see today.

Looking forward, do you envision a future where people may not need to work at all?

I’m fairly optimistic about our future, because of the opportunities to leverage technology rather than let AI hinder economic growth. In “centaur chess” matches that paired humans with machines, it was shown that humans working with machines have a competitive advantage over humans or machines on their own. Machines have a tactical advantage in chess in their ability to quickly calculate chess moves, while master chess players can contribute their own advantage: a strategic mindset that comes with a long history of chess playing.

In centaur chess, you can see machines augmenting human ability as long as humans adapt and train themselves to work alongside machines. The future salesperson can benefit hugely from this perspective, wielding new technology to their advantage and thinking of such tools as an integral part of their daily work, not an accessory.

At the same time, I believe that machines will change the way we perceive work, and we can expect a dramatic change in the job market, our incomes, and our education. 

We live richer lives at a fraction of the cost relative to our parents’ generation.

Look at the past 100 years, and already you see how much technology has already “replaced” and enhanced in our daily lives.

Want to hear more? This interview is a part of our new series called the “The Future of Data” (#FutureofData), where we're discussing how data science is changing the way we work and the world we live in. Stay tuned for the 2nd part of this interview, where we ask Vitaly for his thoughts on the 4th industrial revolution, automation, and more. 

Find our first conversation on the Future of Data Science here: part 1 and part 2. Get our latest perspectives delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.

Join the team that’s powering intelligence in the world’s #1 customer success platform. We’re building a team of data scientists and engineers who are changing the landscape of sales, service, and marketing, and want to hear from you. Find open positions at https://www.salesforceiq.com/careers.

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