AI Is Like An Actor. It’s Only As Good As Its Script

If your business is like most, it probably has some automation or AI in its sales process. It might provide information to customers or reinforce your value proposition. Maybe it helps close a sale. Given the market conditions that are driving greater investment in AI and automation, you may be looking to upgrade the sophistication of these sales tools by introducing intelligence to optimize sales and cut costs. Wherever you are on your journey, it’s important that you remind yourself that AI and automation are like actors. Without a well-developed character in a well-told story, they can’t do their jobs effectively. Let me explain.

Recently, while visiting my parents, I had an encounter with an intelligence-triggered email outreach that gave me pause. I won’t name the company. All I’ll say is that it’s a global provider of costly, home-based technology that one may need for medical reasons. My family was in need, so we were in the market. We spoke with a sales representative. We were quoted an understandably high price, but we balked at the high monthly service fees and bid this company goodbye while we looked at other options.

Then the emails came. From a sales perspective, leveraging technology in this way is a reasonable tactic. A salesperson codes a missed opportunity in their CRM. In our case, maybe it would be “Customer thought service fees were too high.” And then a system will deliver pre-written messages by text or email to encourage the customer to give the company a second look while the salesperson sells to new leads. So, what did these messages contain? Articles about the importance of quality for this product? Awards that their business had won? Declarations that their customer service is unparalleled? Not even close.

First, my elderly parents received a somewhat nastily-worded message that suggested we would “never” find equipment that was both affordable and safe. The second and third attempts were fear-mongering missives about how dangerous all other providers in the country were, with no direct proof. And finally, she received an aggressive email insisting that this company’s products are the most affordable, which was odd after the previous emails seemed to imply that the high price was worth the quality. What’s hard to convey here was the tone of the emails as well. They felt angry, as though losing the sale provoked an artificial sales rep to harass my parents. Did they claw back their sale? No. In fact it had the opposite effect. They alienated us as potential customers.

No matter how sophisticated your tools are, if your sales team’s philosophy is predatory, if you’re not customer-centric and honest in your dealings with customers, if your sales messages are poorly constructed, throwing automation or intelligence on top of these failings will only amplify them. Before you invest in AI to help drive sales, ask yourself the following questions:

1.     Is my team’s approach too aggressive to translate into text? Many reps enjoy selling the way others enjoy competitive sports. They love the challenge of winning back a resistant customer. They use words like “dominate” to describe their intentions at the start of the day. If this works for your organization, I won’t disparage it, but consider how these kinds of tactics may read in text, without the charm of a human being to temper the assertiveness?

2.     Are we being 100% honest? Again, I won’t disparage your methods. OK, maybe I will. Be honest, will you? People are more skeptical of sales messages that don’t come from a human who they can look in the eyes. It’s also easier for them to Google the validity of your claims. Go out of your way to be honest.

3.     Who writes my sales copy? If your solution involves pre-written sales, be sure to hire someone to at least edit what you’ve written, if not draft it. You’ll need folks with experience writing quality, effective sales copy. Don’t hate me for saying it salespeople, but that probably means you need to work with marketers.

Just as badly written characters make actors look bad, Ill-considered sales practices will make your AI or automation look bad. I’ve worked in sales, analytics and technology for most of my life. As I’ve witnessed us moving toward a more automated future, I’ve been struck by the increasing importance of our humanity. No matter what you’re doing with technology, it starts with a human element. We’re not replacing humanity with technology because we can’t—at least not effectively. We’re augmenting humanity. So whatever your project may be, don’t start with the tech. Start with your people.

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