There’s been a whole lot of press lately about the next big thing in tech being the rise of the chatbots.
First for the uninitiated a little definition about bots from Webopedia.
Short for chat robot, a computer program that simulates human conversation, or chat, through artificial intelligence. Typically, a chat bot will communicate with a real person, but applications are being developed in which two chat bots can communicate with each other. Chat bots are used in applications such as e-commerce customer service, call centers and Internet gaming. Chat bots used for these purposes are typically limited to conversations regarding a specialized purpose and not for the entire range of human communication.
Probably the most common known bots today are Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Echo and there is Microsoft’s Cortana and so on. The question for us in the B2B lead generation space is - could we eventually envision a world where instead of a human engaging in a sales discussion with a prospect, might it be possible for a chatbot to do this instead.
The ramifications are potentially substantial should there come a day when human interaction in sales situations will become marginal to obsolete.
Im my opinion: I think the adoption of chatbots will be quick. The potential productivity gains and savings make it inevitable. Especially for commoditized products and services.
Already apps or programs are being written for chatbots to interact with all types of online businesses. For example in the food business where instead of ordering online you might soon be able to use your Facebook Messenger, or Twitter account to order a delivery of Pizza or pre-ordering your pickup from Taco Bell. Why would that be any different for anyone being sold a computer or a camera or a TV set? Even in an industrial marketplace ordering a pickup from UPS or initiating a discussion with a salesperson (chatbot) about purchasing some Broccoli from a farm in California should be and probably will be handled by the bots. I think the obstacles are few and the bots can be set up to handle most common circumstances. Exceptions can easily be supported by a human (salesperson) that first helps the customer and second teaches the bot how to handle the exception the next time round.
Where it will become more complex will be in the non commoditized space. Here the conversations and the decision making process are more complex (and usually involve multiple stakeholders). This requires a level of intelligent interaction for a sales person or in our case a seasoned Business Developer who can navigate and together with the prospect gain an understanding of the problems and pain that the company’s solutions can solve. Only when both the prospect and the seller have a mutual perception of needs can one engage the prospect and all the stakeholders in more detailed and comprehensive discussion about the solutions a company can offer.
Envisioning a chatbot having the capability to do this - and at the same time be able to build and develop trust - is just hard to digest in the short term. In 10 or 20 years? I would hazard a guess and say yes!