Talk of an AI-automated workforce is making people nervous. With predictions nearing 50 percent of the entire US workforce being replaced by some form of automation, AI is a glaring threat for employees unsure of the capability of this burgeoning technology to replace them.

Last year, HubSpot published an article outlining the jobs that were most and least likely to be replaced by AI. Based on a landmark study out of Oxford University, it analyzed the likelihood of AI replacing jobs depending on their level of repetitiveness and the amount of specialized training and social intelligence they required.

The website Will Robots Take My Job used that same Oxford study to create a searchable database of jobs and their likelihood of being replaced with computerization. HubSpot searched a handful of job roles to see which ones were least likely to be replaced. Sales, marketing, and human resources (HR) managers came out the safest, each with a less than 2 percent likelihood of being replaced by AI.

There is a noticeable trend among these positions: They involve a level of empathy, creativity, and emotional intelligence that AI is not capable of replicating.

Instead of early AI adoption, which risks wasting money on a technology that’s not yet fully optimized for the small business set, having the right sales, marketing and HR personnel will be a bigger competitive advantage for small businesses.

Below, I’ll go through what makes sales, marketing, and HR managers a better investment for small businesses and where AI could be a better fit.

What do we mean by AI?

AI, or artificial intelligence, is the ability for a machine to simulate the behaviors of human intelligence, especially those involving learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and motion. Machine learning, a form of AI, uses tons of data to help a machine learn things more quickly so that it can perform certain tasks.

The use of AI is broad and seemingly limitless. AI is already being used heavily in industries including manufacturing and supply chain management to comb through data and automate processes. It’s improving everything from fleet management and logistic processes, to the speed and quality of manufacturing.

But it’s also expanding to simulate more customer-facing, interactional roles.

One of the most common uses of AI to simulate human interaction is in customer service. A chatbot is programmed to answer questions based on how a person interacts with it. The more interactions that it has, the better it becomes at answering questions or routing them to the appropriate customer service agent. With a larger pool of data and queries to pull from, AI becomes smarter and can handle a larger number of requests.

This is a relatively simple implementation of AI, and it generally works (to varying degrees).

When it comes to more complex human-like interactions, however, AI is far from being able to simulate the emotional intelligence exhibited by cinematic robots including HAL, Sam, Ava, and GRTA, this season’s dangerously clever creation.

GRTA Maniac

GTRA, from Netflix’s Maniac, is far more emotionally adept than any real AI machines (Source)


Because this level of human understanding, compassion, and creativity doesn’t exist quite yet among AI (if it ever will), machines won’t be able to replace humans in roles that count those traits as a critical part of the job.

That’s why sales, marketing, and HR managers are safe.

Sales managers

Sales covers an extremely broad and varying range of industries, roles, and sales cycles. Sales reps in retail, wholesale, B2B, and telesales all have different processes, some of which are more likely to be automated than others. Retail and wholesale is already seeing a shift online without the need for a sales rep to facilitate, while B2B and telesales still rely heavily on sales reps to connect with customers.

This is where sales managers become extremely important and unlikely to be replaced by AI.

Instead of selling a product or solution, they’re selling insight. Customers now find out about products or services on their own. The role of a sales manager is to reframe customer thinking in order to identify an intrinsic motivation and empower the customers to make the right buying decisions.

According to research from CEB, now Gartner (available to clients), there are three key factors for driving sales manager success:

  • Judgment facilitation: Instead of being directive, the manager supports sales reps in achieving their goals. This involves helping them connect with others to complete their work, encouraging reps to share ideas, and promoting a healthy level of debate.
  • Coaching: Coaching sales staff involves diagnosing and reinforcing or discouraging the behaviors of individual sales reps. It requires tailoring and adjusting to fit the specific needs of each individual on the team. Good coaching can increase rep performance by up to 19 percent.
  • Sales innovation: Innovation among the sales team involves investigating, creating, and sharing by managers. Identifying obstacles and potential solutions, creating innovative ways to position an offering, and making sure that this information is shared among the sales team is critical for sales manager success.

    Three skills of a successful sales manager


    Where we will see AI: Predictive forecasting

    Sales managers need to make forecasts that account for sales trends and seasonality. Using data from previous periods, predictive analytics, and forecasting can help make predictions so that sales managers can better plan resources and set sales targets. CRMs are incorporating predictive analytics into their offerings to make this process data-driven.

    Marketing managers

    Similar to sales, marketing covers a whole range of activities. SEO, social media, content, email, and advertising all fall under the marketing umbrella and play unique roles, often with distinct teams. The role of the marketing manager is to ensure that all of these teams are operating within the same marketing strategy while fostering creativity and reinforcing brand consistency.

    A CEB, now Gartner report (available to clients) outlines some of the key roles of a marketing leader. The skills that a marketing leader must foster include:

    • Creativity: The marketing manager understand the content that resonates most with customers and use their experience to direct marketing materials towards content that can drive sales.
    • Customer insight: Marketing leaders drive the charge for deciphering customer preferences, finding the most optimal way to appeal to their target audiences. This includes mapping and understanding the customer journey and interpreting customer motivations for making a purchase.
    • Collaboration: There needs to be an especially strong relationship between sales and marketing managers to ensure that marketing materials, especially those created for sales enablement, are useful for sales teams.

    GRTA Maniac

    Three skills of a successful marketing manager


    Where we will see AI: Conversational marketing

    Conversational marketing aims to alter marketing from a top-down to a more back-and-forth approach. Taking cues from chatbots like those used in customer service, it delivers marketing messages to consumers at more convenient times using proactive chats. Once customer intent is established, the bot can either push a customer along in the buyer journey or be routed to an appropriate sales or customer service rep.

    It’s an even more personalized way to deliver marketing than what are now considered more traditional methods like email or targeted ads. This is just one of many ways we’ll start seeing AI incorporated into marketing strategies.

    Human resource managers

    Where there are people within an organization, there will need to be someone who can handle the human side of business. Again, HR roles can span far and wide, but the crux of an organization are the people that help things run smoothly. As the name implies, the human side of a human resource manager would be difficult for AI to imitate.

    Research from CEB, now Gartner (available to clients), once again outlines the top three goals for HR managers:

    • Employee development: Being able to advance the career of employees within the organization requires mentorship and training. This involves closely working to determine the right track for employees (not just management), supporting transitions into new roles, and performance improvement by doing (as opposed to just reading about it).
    • Improving recruitment: A better understanding of a person’s cultural and network fit will ensure that HR managers are hiring the best candidates for the position. It’s also important for HR to market the brand for influence. This means that instead of telling everyone why they should work at your company, you appeal only to those who want to work for the company.
    • Employee engagement: Instead of just assessing employee engagement using a questionnaire, effective HR managers will ask employees about the past, present, and future of what they expect from their organization to help keep them engaged.

    GRTA Maniac

    Three goals of a successful HR manager


    Where we will see AI: Removing recruitment bias

    Though the entire recruitment process cannot be automated, AI can assist with some of the early stages of recruitment. Notably, recruitment bias—a conscious or unconscious tendency to hire people similar to you—can be eliminated with smart technology that filters candidates systematically without involving the bias of the recruiter.

    Use AI to improve processes

    Some roles cannot be replaced by AI, but that doesn’t mean that these roles won’t benefit from a bit of artificial intelligence. Where there’s data, there’s an opportunity to speed up processes and tap into insights to help managers make more data-driven decisions.

    Start collecting and organizing your data now to be able to make use of it to drive decisions.

    Having the right software can help managers collect and organize data to make it useful.

    • CRM: CRMs are developing to include more AI features that help automate processes, including activity capture from emails, and predictive forecasts for sales based on daily sales numbers.
    • Marketing automation: Marketing platforms have a huge amount of data that they can pull from to help measure, test, and optimize marketing campaigns. This comes especially handy for personalization and adapting to customers based on previous behaviors.
    • HR suites: Recruitment solutions that use AI make sourcing talent and whittling down candidates less of a tedious process. It can even improve on the process by removing bias.

    Keep in mind that you can only benefit from AI if you have the data: Data plays a critical role in the effectiveness of AI. According to a report from Gartner, “data isn’t always ready for AI. Effective use of data in an AI context requires that the information is of both sufficient volume and pristine quality to train the system” (available to clients).

    In the meantime, ensure that you have the right managers in place to help drive your organization.

    Don’t want to replace top talent but still want to incorporate AI?

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