Are you prepared for the new era of Sales Management?

No force has been as disruptive as digitization - reshaping industries and constantly keeping us on our toes. Sales management is no exception. Will artificial intelligence replace sales managers? How can we exploit digital transformation to the maximum in sales business? You are about to find out.

By Lei Lu, Program Director of Digital Transformation of Sales Management at ESMT Berlin.

Rapid advances in digital technologies are disrupting well-established sales practices just as they are opening new and exciting opportunities for innovation and creativity in sales practice.

  • Will salespeople have to coexist with AI [artificial intelligence] in the future?
  • Will technological advances portend a better future in sales for its contribution toward creating value for customers, organizations, society and sales professionals themselves?

To answer the questions raised, we may start with a quote from Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee:

“Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.”

There is no doubt that digital technologies, particularly AI technologies, can be used to power any company’s decision-making process, helping you make better business predictions. Sales digitalization is, first of all, triggering fundamental changes to the value creation function of the sales profession.

Considering the broader contribution of the sales profession toward their customers, their organizations, and society in the age of exploding information (abundant but noisy), intelligence (powered by AI), and technologies (complex and dynamic), we have spotted three major approaches companies are pursuing in order to create and convey more value for their customers.

  • Digitize sales channels to simplify selling and buying processes.

Aiming to increase selling efficiency, reduce costs, and increase customer value, business-to-business (B2B) companies are increasingly digitizing sales channels and complementing their sales forces with channels that require online rather than personal interaction. We have observed that several B2B companies are introducing self-service technologies for customers, such as online shops that allow browsing for items, placing orders, and tracking shipping. In a similar vein, in many B2B industries, vendor-independent online platforms where diverse suppliers compete for customers are emerging.

  • Digitalize sales funnels through AI-powered decision making.

We are all familiar with Netflix’s personalization of movie recommendations or Amazon’s suggestion based on a customer’s purchase history. Just as in business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, the field of B2B selling is also witnessing a similar infusion of AI technologies along the sales funnel. AI is used to identify and qualify leads that can benefit from a company’s value proposition. To understand the customer better, companies use marketing automation tools to track prospects‘ interaction with a company and “intelligently” nurture them until they are ready to be approached by a salesperson.

  • Digitally transform offerings in a way that helps customers deploy products more effectively.

This is not a brand new concept at all, however, with the rise in digitally transformed offerings, companies are increasing the information component in the era of AI. Examples such as predictive maintenance analytics of machine manufacturers or precision farming technologies for the agricultural equipment industry support the potential of value creation in such approaches. But what does this mean for sales managers? Digitally transformed offerings certainly evoke substantial complexities, so sales profession’s value creation function is required to evoke and change accordingly. New revenue models are evolving, such as usage-based pricing. As a result, salespeople still need to have knowledge of the technology of aircraft engines, but in addition they need to understand modern information that is beyond their expertise.

There is no question that digitization and AI technologies represent a disruptive force that is likely to be more significant and pervasive than previous sales technologies.

ESMT’s executive program Digital Transformation of Sales Management explores these disruptions as a source of threat and opportunity. During three days in December, we evaluate the influence of analytics, automation and artificial intelligence, assess the consequences for sales managers, and turn new ideas into a specific action plan.

If you have any questions or need more information about the program, do not hesitate to call (+49 30 21231- 3130) or e-mail ( us.

Resource: Jagdip Singh, Karen Flaherty, Ravipreet S. Sohi, Dawn Deeter-Schmelz, Johannes Habel, Kenneth Le Meunier-FitzHugh, Avinash Malshe, Ryan Mullins & Vincent Onyemah (2019): Sales profession and professionals in the age of digitization and artificial intelligence technologies: concepts, priorities, and questions, Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, DOI: 10.1080/08853134.2018.1557525

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