As your reps rely more on sales technology, they may be forgetting how to actually sell. 

I used to add long columns of numbers and never had to check my math. I knew I got it right the first time. Not anymore. I usually still get it right, but I feel the need to double check. I’ve become reliant on calculators, because between my phone and my computer, I pretty much always have one on me.

While adults are forgetting how to solve problems without machines, kids aren’t learning how to do it in the first place. I read a Newsweek article years ago about how kids now depend so much on calculators that many are unable to recognize basic mathematical patterns, like when the answer to a problem should be 150,000 and not 1,500.

Why should this matter to sales leaders? Because sales automation could be making salespeople worse at their jobs.

Is Smart Technology Making People Stupid?

The more we rely on technology to think for us, the easier it is for us to get lazy, error-prone, neglectful, and maybe even a little stupid.

Bernard Marr addresses this issue in his post, “Is Stupidity A Dangerous Side Effect Of Big-Data-Driven AI? He writes:

As automation systems, deep learning algorithms, and AI get more skilled at certain tasks, humans have to do them less, which could over time make us less skilled.

Think about pilots who rely heavily on automated flight and guidance systems; the amount they actually fly is reducing all the time. Automatic transmissions in cars have all but eliminated the skill of driving a manual transmission. Many cars can now parallel park without any human intervention; will that mean we will forget how to do it on our own? And what happens when we have fully self-driving cars? … There’s a natural assumption that when we automate a task, the machine becomes a perfect replacement for the human, but that’s not the case.  Automation necessarily changes the nature of the task and the outcome.

Marr goes on to make the argument for how technology could also make us smarter—that assigning menial tasks to machines frees up humans for deeper and more creative thinking. But this is faulty logic, he argues.

The problem with this argument is two-fold. First, it assumes that all the tasks we will delegate to the machines will be trivial or repetitive, and second, it assumes that we will do something more important and noble with our spare time.

Is there a danger that at times when we increasingly compete with smart machines that they make us more stupid? Or is it okay to give way to machines and focus on the skills we need to co-operate with smart machines?

Are Salespeople Forgetting How to Sell?

Marr puts his finger on the problem for salespeople in that last line. The more we automate selling, the more salespeople are focused on “co-operating with smart machines,” when they should be focused on communicating with smart people.

This is particularly true for account-based sellers. Sales technology won’t get reps into meetings with decision-makers; relationships and referrals will. But if your salespeople are forgetting how to build relationships and ask for referrals—or if they never learned these skills in the first place—then you have a big problem.

For more from Bernard Marr, read the rest of his post. For more on how relationships—and referrals—drive sales, check out my book, Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal.