Can Artificial Intelligence Make Sales More Human?

Steve Woods, Co-founder and CTO

The fear-mongering is everywhere; artificial intelligence will replace humans and kill jobs by automating the things that we do. It’s effective click-bait because it seems like the plot of a Hollywood action movie pitting robots against humans. But, is it reality?

To get to the answer of that question, we need to dig beneath the surface and understand what artificial intelligence is all about, and what it is likely to do to each industry that it affects. At we spend a lot of time looking at the future of sales as the industry is affected by artificial intelligence, and it’s an instructive example of what is likely to happen.

First, let’s look at AI and understand what it is good at. Quite simply, AI is very good at repetitive tasks that involve recognizing patterns in data. Whether that is applied to facial recognition, natural language processing, recommendation systems, or topic detection, the concepts are similar; understand a pattern, then detect that pattern quickly, accurately, and at high scale.

It’s a powerful toolkit, and it will definitely change jobs, but much of what we do, especially in sales, is much more than that. To understand the future of sales, we need to break down the role a bit and see where AI will have an effect and where it will not.

Guiding Buyers

The role of sales is, in essence, quite simple – find potential buyers, and guide them on a journey towards the point that they decide to purchase the products or services you offer. In reality, however, things get a lot more complex. To guide buyers through a buying journey, you need to understand where they are at, what emotions and concerns they might have, and what you can offer to them to help build trust, guide their perspective, or nudge them forward in their journey.

This understanding of buyers, visualizing their emotions, and building trust is a quintessentially human endeavor. Artificial intelligence, in its current state, is nowhere close to being able to do this. Trust, relationships, postulating about another person’s emotions, and finding creative ways to help, are all things that are limited to the sphere of human effort. However, the role of AI in enabling these is not to be underestimated.

Building trust by guiding buyers relies on a deep level of knowledge about each buyer and where they are on their journey. The research to do this involves understanding the buyer, their company, their interests, and recent events in their lives. Only with this understanding can an astute salesperson form an opinion on the buyer’s emotional state and what would help guide them towards purchase.

There’s one thing about this research though – it’s highly repetitive work that involves recognizing patterns. Who in your network of potential buyers are you losing touch with? Who (or whose company) has had interesting news events lately? Where have relevant executives changed jobs? Who just won an award? Where did your advocate just go in her recent job change? And, more dauntingly, this work needs to be done every morning as things may have changed in the last day and the best relationship-builders are on top of each event that occurs.

Highly repetitive work recognizing patterns, performed at high scale, is perfect for artificial intelligence. At we’ve seen this dynamic in sales team after sales team. Artificial intelligence does the research on every person and company who matters. Salespeople leverage that research to better understand buyers, empathize with them, and guide their buying journeys. Together, this combination leads to bigger deals, more revenue, and more accurate sales forecasting.

Artificial intelligence in sales does not replace sales reps, it makes them more human. Smartly deployed, AI can do the heavy lifting of research and awareness, and leave the relationship-building and trust creation to the humans on the team. Ultimately, it’s a combination of skills that gets the most out of man and machine, drives more results, and is more satisfying to the salesperson and buyer.

Steve Woods is co-founder and CTO of, a relationship intelligence platform that helps businesses find and grow the right relationships that drive sales. Prior to that, Steve served as co-founder and CTO of Eloqua, a company he helped guide to a market leading position in marketing automation, while growing it to a $100M revenue run rate, through its IPO on the NASDAQ, and to ultimate acquisition by Oracle.