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AI should stand for ‘Augmented’ not ‘Artificial’ Intelligence

Jim Preston, VP EMEA at Showpad covers where human intelligence is being augmented within sales and how this augmentation can help sellers reach their full potential.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a rise in discussions around Artificial Intelligence, from getting self-driving cars onto the streets to the implementation of smarter spam filters. However, most – if not all – of these applications have a very limited scope. This is largely because developing Artificial Intelligence that can deal with ‘real life’ is tough; because real life is messy, chaotic and difficult to understand, especially for a machine.

From a pragmatic point of view, today’s ‘AI’ is the evolution of the big data and analytics revolution, and consequently, it’s good at very specific jobs and poor at jobs that need a more generalised ‘intelligence.’ After all,

computers might be getting smarter, but they still need direction and programming.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we won’t have ‘proper’ AI – just that it’s not wholly appropriate to call what we do have today, ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Rather, what we have today is ‘Augmented Intelligence’: systems that help humans do the things that they’re not naturally good at. Although we, as humans, are generally ok at recognising patterns in simple datasets, it’s extremely difficult for all but the most gifted of analysts to dive into complex data without help from machines.

Augmented Intelligence is effectively a stepping stone to fully-blown Artificial Intelligence. It might not be the first stepping stone – and it’s certainly not the last – but it is an important one. It’s about supporting people, not taking their place, assisting learning and decision-making, rather than putting people out of a job.

Where is human intelligence being augmented?

There are many places where this kind of support can be applied, from the medical industry to education, but one interesting trend we have seen recently is the pairing of Augmented Intelligence and sales.

Pandemic aside, the sales industry has experienced a surprising problem in recent years: the democratisation of information. As a buyer, this works in your favour – the internet has made all kinds of comparative information available to help you choose between brands in both the B2C and B2B world. But as a seller, it means that your customers frequently know more than you in any given situation, and it’s much, much harder to ‘surprise and delight’ potential buyers approaching you.

In fact, analyst firm Forrester recently put out statistics estimating that 67% of customers would rather not interact with a salesperson at all during the buying process. This is terrible news for salespeople (although potentially good news for the marketing and e-commerce teams!) as it means that prospects who miss a crucial point or misunderstand something may eventually make the wrong decision without help from sales teams at vendor firms.

Sales Augmentation

Although Augmented Intelligence can’t force customers to get in touch, it can improve the buyer experience significantly when sales teams do interact with prospects.
For example, tools can analyse which marketing content customers have looked at online and predict where they are in the buying cycle, as well as what kind of content would be most useful to them next. This information can support salespeople, helping them to offer customers appropriate advice and timely content. 

This kind of algorithm can essentially help even the most junior members of staff make decisions that would normally take decades of industry experience; after all, a senior customer in one industry will need a completely different kind of content to make a buying decision compared to a more junior customer in a different industry.

Similarly, these systems can support those navigating regulatory environments. Buyers in the financial services or medical industries will face much more stringent restrictions to those in others. Consequently, sellers must ensure that they are providing all the correct information to tick the right boxes – something that algorithms excel at.

And even if all of your salespeople have decades of experience and an implicit understanding of how buyers buy, then Augmented Intelligence can simply focus on taking the hard brainwork away from them. This allows them to not only increase the quantity of sales deals being pursued, but also increase the quality, developing human rapport and building lasting relationships.

Ultimately, it’s uncertain whether we’ll ever be able to sit next to a robot and have a conversation as we would with a real person, but there’s absolutely no doubt about the value of Augmented Intelligence and how it can help sales teams today. In an age where there’s more choice, more information and budgets are tightening, today’s systems can help buyers buy better and sellers sell better – it’s a win-win!

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