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How do you protect your sales pipeline against Bot disinformation?

White Paper

We take a realistic look at why we need to be aware of and protect our sales pipeline from the threat of disinformation and fake news.


Bot disinformation could ruin your sales pipeline and business growth plans, here is what you need to know and how you can protect your sales pipeline.

Disinformation and fake news are not a new phenomenon or threat. However, with the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our attitude towards Artificial Intelligence (AI), bots and robots are becoming more accepting. Consequently, we risk viewing AI through rose-tinted glasses that lowers our guard, protecting our sales pipeline against bot-generated disinformation.

This White Paper will unpack why, post-COVID-19, protecting our sales pipelines and forecasts must be a business priority.

We have become so reliant on information flows beyond our own companies’ knowledge stock, we need to prepare ourselves for protecting our companies, sales pipelines, and forecasts, from disinformation generated by the rise of bots and robots.

Our sales activities must expand our focus to new, credible information and knowledge flows. All companies managing information flows that you turn to and build your sales engagements upon will be adopting a more significant application of AI.

Consider Microsoft’s recent announcement it will be replacing dozens of contract journalists on its MSN website and use automated systems to select news stories,  replacing many of its journalists with robots. Journalists currently do the curating of stories from news organisations and the selection of headlines and pictures for the MSN site. Artificial intelligence will perform many of these news production tasks.

Microsoft’s MSN web site, along with many others, is a credible information source and flow. However, as we will see later, it is the information itself and the intent behind why the originating author created it that we need to focus our attention.

There is also the risk we will not have the same breadth of information to challenge our pre-existing views, within a flow because it is being curated and preselected for us, based on our behaviour patterns.

We will guide how you can protect your company from building your sales engagements, pipelines, and forecasts upon disinformation, inaccurate or misrepresented information and information flows.

To understand why this threat is becoming more relevant to your company’s future and its success, we need to first look at how our thirst for knowledge to remain competitive managing our sales engagements is evolving.

There are many moving parts to consider if we are to understand the evolving situation and prepare ourselves. For this reason, we will embark on a journey in the form of a story.

We will follow the classic, Three Act Structure, Aristotle introduced over 2,000 years ago. The fact storytellers are still, to this day, referring to Aristotle’s guidance and insights should not be lost on us.

Good sales discipline, like Aristotle’s Three Act Structure, will always stand the test of time, and become both a beacon and reference point to protect and develop our sales pipelines and forecasts, especially during times of crisis and change.

Technology and the COVID-19 crisis are driving rapid change. The Wall Street Journal presented the proof, when they recently published an article, titled – Home as a refuge, fewer reusables, less privacy: The consumer trends emerging from coronavirus lockdowns. The article presented the impact of COVID-19 that is resulting in shifts taking hold a lot faster than many expected. One shift is peoples’ acceptance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots.

The speed of change, risks all of us slipping into the trap blindly embracing everything new, and forgetting, we are still responsible and accountable for our behaviour and actions. From a sales perspective, returning to our reference to Aristotle, there is wisdom and strength in tried and tested sales discipline.

As with Aristotle’s Three Act Structure, sales discipline also needs to evolve and adapt to the changing situation and circumstances. The secret to successfully adapting sales discipline is how we augment it into our new reality and changing work regimes.

Merely referring to good sales discipline in our sales enablement programs, is no longer enough. We need to evolve sales discipline within our rapidly changing work regimes, so that it can be acted upon and support reflection.

Adopting Aristotle’s Three Act Structure has a beginning, middle, and end. Our story goes even further, defining specific plot events taking place around us today, and events we should plan for, as we move towards the end of our story.

What we cover in this White Paper?

At the beginning of each act, we explain how our story will unfold and what to expect. Where relevant, we will give more explanation as we progress through each act section, moving our story forwards towards a resolution.

Act 1, The Beginning: Setup

  • Setting the stage: We introduce the protagonist and the challenge.
  • Inciting Incident: The COVID-19 health and economic crisis.

Act 2, The Middle: Confrontation

  • Confrontation: Traditional sales enablement is no longer sufficient to support sales success.
  • Rising Action: Focus on delivering value and earning trust.
  • Rising Action: The line between a bot and a real person is blurring quickly.
  • Rising Action: The sales enablement challenge dealing with information flows.
  • Rising Action: What is driving the shift to connect with new information flows?
  • Rising Action and the Midpoint: A crisis, a pivot, and enter bots and robots
  • Rising Action and Plot Two: What will the AI do with the information you give it?
  • Rising Action and the next Midpoint: Social media saves the day, or does it?

Act 3, The End: Resolution

  • Pre-Climax: Why should we trust AI is working in our interest?
  • Pre-Climax: We need to be accountable and take responsibility for our actions.
  • Climax: The deal review is where you need to focus if you are to protect your company, its sales pipeline and forecast.
  • Denouement: Pulling it all together

Act 1

Setup: Setting the Stage, introducing the protagonist and the challenge

We are living in a time when the pace of change is accelerating and the sheer volume of data and information available to sales managers and their teams, is increasing exponentially.

COVID-19 has further accelerated this change, along with uncertainty and anxiety as salespeople, managers, and leaders, adapt to their new reality and the New Normal ahead.

Good stories are personal, so let me introduce our protagonists. Jerry is our salesperson, Jen is our sales manager, and Lou is our sales leader.

Each character can triumph as the hero. However, that is totally up to you – because you may reflect either Jerry, Jen, or Lou’s situation. It is your decision whether to act and step into our story to become our hero or remain a spectator.

Our protagonists have been dealing, and sometimes struggling with the rapid advance of technology long before the COVID-19 crisis. It is the speed of technological advancement, especially post-COVID-19 that will outpace many companies’ ability to understand and take advantage of the new opportunities it enables. This pace will cause our protagonists yet more anxiety and discontent.

To put the accelerating speed of change into context, consider a recent article from Business Standard. In this article, Microsoft’s CEO, Nadella, reported the company had seen two years of digital transformation happen in 2 months.

The pace of change will benefit you on the one hand and threaten you on the other hand. Consider our protagonists, Jerry, Jen, and Lou. They are both consumers and employees. As consumers, they are benefiting from gaining more power. However, as employees, they are feeling less secure as pressures mounts on the companies that employ them.

The current COVID-19 crisis has thrust an increased pace of change upon every company across the world, requiring them to pivot and adapt overnight as their governments implement lockdown and social distancing rules. Consumers, employees, and employers are forced to change as we move to a more virtual, digital-first sales world.

Can hope flow from fear, and guide us on how to deal with the pace of change?

Our bodies can handle anxiety and stress as part of our fight or flight behaviour. What our bodies cannot handle well is persistent anxiety and stress. Anxiety reflects how we feel internally, whereas stress reflects what we perceive externally.

Acute stress disorder flows from severe anxiety and can lead to mental health issues. During and following a crisis, such as COVID-19, it is the good companies and leaders who focus on identifying these signs and focus on instilling hope in their teams, that creates the work regimes fostering creativity, innovation, and opportunity.

Back in 2016, Deloitte published an insightful article – The paradox of fears: Can hope flow from fear? Within which they quantified anxiety versus measuring hope.

In 2016, four years before the COVID-19 crisis had the world in its grip, Deloitte’s research showed salespeople, were participating in more information flows both within and beyond their organisations.

For example, social media participation was up 14% since 2012. Attendance at conferences was up 12% since 2012, and travel volume was up 8% since 2012.

As more salespeople, sales managers, and leaders, participated in new information flows, making new contacts, and learning new knowledge. They were becoming more aware of the increasing pace of change affecting both their own and their companies’ ability to understand and make sense of the change.

For some, these threats were opportunities to challenge work regimes, adapting to the new reality. Leaders embracing their employees’ concerns and view would often see an increase of hope within their teams. For others, who continued to see these as threats, pushing back on their employees, would often see an increase in their teams’ levels of anxiety.

Returning to our story, our protagonists were also connecting with more external information flows to increase their knowledge and awareness of new opportunities. However, for all of them, this increasing awareness was creating increased anxiety. The anxiety was gnawing away at the back of their minds, distorting, and influencing how they felt about their employer and the future ahead.

Enter our first antagonist – Anxiety and Fear. Both were increasing the internal struggle our protagonists experienced within their hearts and minds, as they became more aware of the disparity between how their own company was functioning compared to their competitors.

All three protagonists would have benefited from leadership skills and qualities that create hope if they were to perceive their situation as an opportunity to adapt. Rather than a threat that risks bringing them to their knees.

There will be many reasons during a crisis why leaders’ and a company’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances will be limited.

For example, in the sales blog – Your sales teams’ generation diversity has power, we discuss how the lack of diversity can reinforce mistaken beliefs, and make it much more challenging to adapt to changing circumstances.

Enter another antagonist – Poor diversity in your company will create challenges your leaders, managers and salespeople will struggle to manage if sales managers and business leaders are preoccupied with achieving short-term revenue goals. They will often overlook and not see until it is too late, the damage caused by the lack of diversity is having on their company’s long-term value growth.

Sales enablement must evolve to support our new reality

During times of rapid change and crisis, your ability to be creative and innovate will often determine your success. We discuss this further in the sales blog – How do I leverage EdTech to reinvent my sales enablement?

As we will see, the unfolding challenge is complex and needs a carefully considered plan if you are to execute it successfully.

The rapid pace of technological change has also not removed the old challenge of “not knowing what it is you don’t know”. The increasing number of different information channels, along with the accurate or inaccurate information flowing through them, risk creating further confusion, noise, and distraction.

The challenge resulting from an increase in the number of information flows, is knowing which you can trust.

Many companies’ response has been sales enablement and training programs, with an increasing focus on e-learning platforms. In our story, our protagonists, maybe also your teams, have been provided with these platforms to learn on the job by watching on-demand video clips.

Microsoft has reported record levels of engagement across its LinkedIn platform during March 2020. Professionals watched nearly four million hours of content on LinkedIn, a near 50 per cent increase month-over-month

In a rapidly changing world, especially post-COVID-19, our protagonists will face a realisation that watching on-demand video clips supporting learning, is no longer enough, to remain up to date and competitive.

Our protagonists, and maybe your sales and support sales teams, need more interactive sales enablement that gives greater focus to action and reflection.

Action and reflection means working on their own sales engagements flowing through their sales pipelines, managed by their company’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Inciting Incident – The COVID-19 health and economic crisis

COVID-19 is the Inciting Incident that sets our protagonists’ – Jerry, Jen, and Lou’s journey in motion. COVID-19, rather than the pace of technological change, is the inciting incident because it has accelerated the urgency for a change and its speed. Necessity is forcing companies to adapt to their new sales reality and support their staff to deal with their own struggles to adjust.

Amid this crisis, we will follow our protagonists’ journey as they too struggle with an increasing number of antagonists thwarting their efforts to adapt and succeed.

It remains your decision whether you remain a spectator or step into our story and become the hero. Which protagonist’s shoes will you step into, Jerry the salesperson, Jen, the sales manager, or Lou, the sales leader, is your decision?

Stepping into our story, you can create a better ending to your own story how to deal with disinformation and reinventing your sales enablement programs. To create that better ending will require you focus on continually strengthening and growing your sales pipelines during this crisis, preparing your company for the new reality that is emerging.

If you are going to step into one of our story’s protagonists’ shoes and create that better ending for yourself. You need to also pay more attention to the authenticity, accuracy and source of information you base your insights and knowledge upon when developing sales engagements and strengthening your sales pipelines.

You will need to become more aware of whether the information and knowledge you are consuming have been tainted by disinformation, especially from the increasing number of bots, some of whom may be masquerading as humans.

We have now reached the first plot point in our story, which is the protagonists’ decision, your decision, to deal with the rising risk of consuming disinformation and inaccurate information.

Act 2

Confrontation – Traditional sales enablement is no longer sufficient to support sales success

Most companies’ sales enablement and training have a narrow focus on sharing existing information and knowledge, usually focused on how to sell their product, service or solution. I discuss this further in the sales blog – How do I leverage EdTech to reinvent my sales enablement?

The Harvard Business Review article – Give your workers the latitude to learn on the job. Highlights that the most potent form of learning is the rapid and sustained creation of new knowledge by all workers as they address unseen problems and opportunities to create more value.

Creating more value is not done in training rooms. Creating more value is delivered in the workplace through action and reflection.

The struggle between anxiety and hope

For many companies, including our protagonists’ companies, the current COVID-19 crisis will become a watershed moment in their careers and the company’s history.

There will be those companies that tightened their top-down control, focusing solely on execution, execution, execution, as they struggle to maintain revenue targets. Our protagonist Lou, who is a sales leader, may feel inclined to take this low road.

Or he may rise to the challenge, recognising this crisis offers him an opportunity to review with his leadership team, the merits whether to implement new sales models, especially related to how sales enablement is delivered.

All the while, Lou needs to continue focusing on execution. The difference is his approach to dealing with the crisis is now more balanced, considering both the short-term focus to execute, and longer-term focus to achieve value-growth.

Lou, hopefully, will take the high road. This road requires him to have a more balanced behaviour and leadership style. Rather than imposing a top-down, tight management control. His new behaviour and management style will give hope to his team. His actions are helping his team by either removing or guiding how to better manage antagonists exasperating their struggle to succeed.

Another consideration during a crisis is how often people obsess over their negative feelings and thoughts. Lou will likely also be struggling with his emotions. However, as a leader, he needs to rise above those feelings and lead.

Allowing these obsessive feelings to take control is one of the main reasons many businesses leaders resort to focusing exclusively on execution. Exerting more management control over their teams’ sales regimes, that include requiring more frequent online calls, is often driven to satisfy their own anxieties and fear. Doing so, they risk further alienating their salespeople and managers, increasing their anxiety within the business rather than giving them hope in a time of crisis.

If you are a sales leader like Lou, consider carefully how your behaviour and actions, especially during a crisis, impact your teams’ and those around you, feelings, behaviour, and actions. Reflect on your own behaviour, to avoid becoming part of the problem and challenge your people are struggling to manage.

Focus on distilling hope by helping your teams adjust their existing work regimes, systems, and processes. Do this, and you will be helping them adapt and move towards creating a better culture and future for those within your company and those you serve.

If your behaviour is controlling when under pressure, you risk increasing the sense of anxiety within your team. An over-controlling behaviour, especially in a time of crisis, will constrain your team and their creativity and innovation that is critical to them and your company adapting to come out of this crisis stronger.

Maintaining the status quo exasperates our protagonists’ struggle

Another factor we need to consider within our story is your existing processes, during a period of rapid change, also becoming part of the problem. Maintaining the status quo, such as your systems and processes, often prevents other parts of your business adapting.

Just because a system or process worked before, does not mean it will work in the new reality. Maintaining the status quo can often create obstacles that will stand in the way of your business, further increasing your salespeople’s and managers struggle to adapt and succeed during a crisis.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, many companies’ sales enablement was already guilty of falling into this trap, maintaining the status quo.

One reason for not challenging the status quo is the excessive focus on internal information and knowledge flows, which offer their attendees limited value. COVID-19 has highlighted many sales enablement programs are ill-equipped to support salespeople adjust to their new reality.

It is the reason why Microsoft witnessed such a dramatic increase in their LinkedIn content consumption. Salespeople and managers are searching out alternative information and knowledge flows to support them adapt. Another reason for this increase in consumption is that sales leaders and managers were not set up for remote working suited to a digital-first sales environment.

Sales enablement must be the guide, leading a company’s sales team and strategy to adapt and succeed through a crisis. Central to this change is guiding salespeople and managers, how to be effective, selecting, managing, and taking advantage of more external information and knowledge flows.

Sales enablement needs to focus on protecting oneself from squandering time and avoid exposing yourself to the risk of building sales engagements upon disinformation that includes false, partial, or inaccurate information sources.

If you are to reinvent your sales enablement, it must guide salespeople and managers’ learning by assessing their sales situation, improvising new approaches and then reflecting on the impact achieved.

Traditional sales enablement typically focusses on insights. Reinvented sales enablement, in contrast, is grounded in action – creating new knowledge about how to deliver value against ever-changing conditions and requirements.

Adapting to the new reality requires a rethink how we go about almost everything we do in sales and consider is there is a better approach.

It is the reason why we have integrated one of the leading iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) tools into our Sales Pipeline Development Platform. You can integrate our Platform with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, whether it is Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or other systems.

Both ourselves and our partners support you reinvent your sales enablement, by grounding and focusing it on action and reflection. Doing so, supports and guides your salespeople and managers to act applying newly acquired knowledge working on deals, flowing through their sales pipeline, managed by your CRM system.

We discuss this further in the sales blog – How can I be successful in a digital-first sales environment, and why you need to throw out your old sales playbooks and focus on developing a new breed of data-driven sales playbooks.

Rising Action – Focus on delivering value and earning trust

We produced a short 90-second video, and you can view on our Web Site Home Page that sums up our view of the most significant challenge facing companies. The video presents the reason why, using our Platform, it will support you to strengthen your sales pipelines and forecast more accurately. Our focus is

  1. Delivering value,
  2. Earning others and giving your trust.

Central in helping your salespeople and managers adapt through this crisis and strengthen their sales pipelines, is guiding them how they earn others’ trust and give their own trust. Your deal reviews offer you the perfect opportunity and reference point within their work regimes, to start reinventing your sales enablement, and navigating new information flows you can trust.

Trust, in the context of information flows, itself also flows in two directions:

  1. Validating information flows are trustful to consume and build value within your sales engagements.
  2. Sharing validated information flows to earn more trust and deliver more value to your audience.

Considering delivering value, we have focused several of our sales blogs and guides on how to deliver value. I would recommend reading this sales blog first –  Help buyers make better purchase decisions.

We talk extensively in other sales blogs about the need to focus on earning trust. For example, in the above sales blog, we ask whether your sales behaviour earns your buyers’ trust?

Post COVID-19, we will see a dramatic increase in the adoption of technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) being integrated into business processes and software, in the form of bots and robots.

Our interest in this story is how to protect your sales pipelines, and forecasts from disinformation generated from these information flows, by reinventing your sales enablement. To guide salespeople on what information and knowledge flows are trustful upon which to create more value.

Sales enablement and supporting sales tools must help sales teams identify new opportunities and challenges in their target markets that companies are struggling to manage. Once identified, to act and reflect, delivering value-based proposals that compel their audiences to act now.

Action and reflection requires your sales enablement to support more significant levels of improvisation, and the skill to better interpret market and customer situations and struggles.

Reinvented sales enablement programs also need to guide sales teams, their actions and behaviour, to better manage their sales engagements and resources, in novel and effective ways to create and deliver value.

Information can become outdated or discredited as fake news

What your business knows, and what is locked up in its information and knowledge stocks will quickly become obsolete as the pace of technological change increases. Sales enablement must support sales activities to expand their focus to new, credible information and knowledge flows.

The challenge in our story for our protagonists, and probably for your salespeople also, within an age of bots and robots, is knowing whether they can trust the information obtained from these new information and knowledge flows.

The term Fake News has become so commonly referenced, that it too has been tainted because of its constant use and reference by people in authority, to discredit opposing information, views, and institutions.

This behaviour in society has only served to make it more difficult for your salespeople and managers, to know whether an information flow is promoting disinformation or a hoax. Or is promoting accurate and valuable information and knowledge upon which to build a value-based sales engagement.

As with fake news, it is also becoming increasingly difficult to determine whether an information source is from a human, an AI-based bot or robot, or AI masquerading as a human.

Rising Action – The line between a bot and a real person is blurring quickly

People are, unknowingly, placing their trust in inaccurate information or disinformation. This risk exposure will increase post-COVID-19, as peoples’ attitudes shift in favour of AI, bots, and robots. Trusting sources that peddle disinformation risks you unwittingly undermining your sales engagements, sales pipeline and forecast.

Before we continue with our story, we need first to clear up some confusion surrounding what is a bot and what is a robot.

Rachael Botsman, in her book – Who can you trust? How technology brought us together, and why it could drive us apart, provides us with valuable guidance; shares three views, including her own:

  1. Hada Kress-Gazit, a mechanical engineer and robotics professor at Cornell University – “It has to have the ability to change something in the world around you.”
  2. Kate Darling, a specialist in robotics policy and law at MIT Media Labs  – “I really view robots as embodied. For me, algorithms are bots and not robots.”
  3. Rachael Botsman, ranked one of the world’s most influential management thinkers – “I think of bots and robots as metaphors to describe some kind of automated agent that simulates or enhances a human task, whether it is physical (mowing the lawn) or informational (making a dinner reservation) or strategic (handling cybersecurity).
  4. AI, bots, and robots are here to stay and will increasingly become part of our personal, social and business life. Their presence post-COVID-19 will increase dramatically as people and companies work quickly adapting to their new reality.

We must also prepare for a future when AI, bots and robots are augmented into our everyday life, our working regimes and our new reality, to a point where we may no longer know whether we are conversing with a human or dealing with an AI-based machine.

Rising Action – The sales enablement challenge dealing with information flows

It is difficult for companies to implement active learning strategies and sales enablement in a world where the authenticity and authority of information and knowledge are continually being challenged.

Science has for centuries, used peer reviews to regulate, challenge and certify scientific knowledge. No such review and certification system yet exist for all information and knowledge flows, especially online social media, and digital news feeds.

Consequently, we rely on the power of distributed reviews and endorsements to guide us, along with our views and disposition to decide who or what we trust. We risk our very human instinct and behaviour being manipulated, influenced, and persuaded by those who have the resources, authority, and intent to drive their agendas.

If your sales enablement is to support sales activities expand its focus to new, credible information and knowledge flows, it needs to address how to help your salespeople determine what is trustworthy and accurate, and what is incomplete or disinformation.

One major challenge sales enablement programs face is dealing with human behaviour. Here are three challenging examples that your reinvented sales enablement needs to address and manage:

  1. Lack of diversity: Mistaken beliefs are left unchallenged if there are not diverse participants or sources of information challenging those beliefs and views.

    Traditional sales enablement is frequently a victim of a lack of diversity, which makes it more difficult for companies to adapt to changing circumstances.Be aware, also, that institutions may wish to maintain their authority that is itself grounded in a lack of diversity, by discrediting conflicting information sources as fake news.

    Simply because someone accuses a source with peddling fake news does not mean that source, and its information, is fake news. The disinformation strategy may be to deflect attention from the knowledge and information that threatens their position.

  2. Groupthink and group polarisation: These are the practices of thinking or making decisions as a group, resulting typically in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making.Groupthink is a common problem within many companies that have become overly focused on their internal processes, sales pipelines, and forecasting. Often, they forget there is another critical party involved – The Customer. We deal with managing group think during our online sales forecasting and closing deals quicker course.

    Once again, sales enablement is frequently a victim of groupthink and group polarisation.

  3. Social media filter bubbles effect: Social media platforms’ flexibility supporting people to self-select echo chambers, usually results in reinforcing existing beliefs, rather than broadening exposure to new ideas and insights.If you rely on a limited set of similar information flows, that do not challenge the information and knowledge of others you are following, you risk building your sales engagements upon inaccurate and false information, or incomplete information.

    Echo chambers also risk creating a false sense of security or heightening the feeling of fear or being threatened. That risk increases if you do not have a diverse number of information feeds but rely on a few social media filter bubbles. Echo chambers occur because their own AI and algorithms use your current beliefs and search history to deliver the social information flow in your social feeds.

    The social media filter bubble effect is itself a lack of diversity in a digital form. Echo chambers can distort our perception of a situation, which is why, in the Sales Pipeline Development Platform. We focus on guiding sales discipline on the socio-emotional aspects of selling and asking searching questions that challenge, to obtain an unbiased customer view of their situation.

Your reinvented sales enablement strategies must focus on broadening exposure to new sources, insights and credible knowledge while challenging the source, content, and its intent to distribute.

It is the reason why we developed the Sales Pipeline Development Platform, allowing you to objectively challenge your own sales pipeline to be more productive preparing for and managing deal reviews.

I am returning to my original Aristotle reference and the fact that wisdom survives the test of time. Maintaining and developing both good sales discipline and behaviour is at the heart of succeeding in sales post the COVID-19 crisis. It is also at the heart of building sales engagements upon credible, accurate information flows and knowledge.

This crisis brings to mind one of my favourite Warren Buffett quotes – “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked”.

Rising Action – What is driving the shift to connect with new information flows?

A company’s economic value has traditionally resided in its knowledge stock, acquiring proprietary knowledge, and protecting it from others.

Companies, and especially sale enablement programs, would extract value from these knowledge stocks. Sales enablement programs would then guide salespeople and managers how to deliver that value to their target market and audience.

With the rapid rate of technological change, which is accelerating because of COVID-19, companies own knowledge stocks are fast becoming obsolete. At the same time, in the case of our story, our protagonists’ prospects and customers, are quickly becoming better informed because they are connecting with a more diverse set of information and knowledge flows.

Our protagonist and your salespeople have understandably been quick to follow suit to remain competitive. A broader range of information flows, knowledge and expertise helps them address unforeseen problems and opportunities developing their sales engagements and close plans.

Our story’s protagonists’, and your salespeople’s focus on acquiring new knowledge, is central to their success, earning trust, creating, and delivering value. Especially when they share their insights and expertise to support their prospects and customers come up with better solutions that deliver higher levels of value.

Participating in more external information flows, however, should carry with it the following warning notice:

“Is this source credible, authentic and accurate?”

Rising Action and the Midpoint – A crisis, a pivot, and enter bots and robots

With COVID-19, we find ourselves amid the worst health and economic crisis known in living memory. Governments around the world have taken drastic, often draconian lockdown and social distancing measures to protect their populations’ health that in turn, risks impacting their economies.

While governments grapple with how and when to lift these measures, companies around the world are having to adapt to their new reality or face a painful, possibly slow decline, even closure.

I am returning to Deloitte’s measure of people’s anxiety versus hope, our protagonists’ hope pivots on their leaders’ skill and their companies’ ability adapting to virtual selling and a rapidly evolving digital-first sales environment. We discuss this further in the sales blog –  Are you adapting sales discipline to be competitive virtual selling.

In the sales blog – Anticipate the next three to five obstacles ahead, we also discuss the need for leaders to build a workforce they require to be competitive into the future.

The shift in attitude towards AI as the panacea to a better future, as more companies and sales teams, embrace bots and robots. Creates a risk if those companies and sales teams do not first consider what is the value for which they are trading their information.

It is important to challenge these assumptions, especially when it concerns private and or confidential data, to protect companies and salespeople misplacing their trust.

When you are dealing with new or unauthenticated information sources, I would recommend proceeding with caution. First, ask yourself.

“Is this source credible, authentic and accurate?”

Only then will you appreciate any hidden risks accepting that information source as trustworthy, ‘true’ and ‘accurate’.

In her book – Who can you trust? How technology brought us together, and why it could drive us apart, Botsman provides us with valuable guidance. She presents a past world dominated by human decision making, a present world, and a future world dominated by AI decision making.

Rising Action and Plot Two – What will the AI do with the information you give it?

There may come a time when you can no longer predict a machine’s next move. For some bots and robots, that time may have already passed. Botsman in her book, Who can you trust? eloquently presents what will occur in society if we blindly place our trust in machines.

My concern is the impact on or protagonists’ and their company’s sales engagements, sales pipeline, and forecasts.

What will occur if they misplace their trust in bots and robots programmed to undertake an illegal or questionable intent or an intent not aligned to your own?

Machines are already influencing how we manage our sales pipelines. According to the Salesforce report, 26 sales statistics that prove sales is changing, Tiffani Bova refers to AI being the top growth area for sales teams – its adoption is forecast to grow 139% over the next three years. Considering Bova wrote this report before the COVID-19 crisis, we can anticipate the growth to be higher than she predicted.

A Harvard Business Review – AI can comb through your data to create more compelling customer experiences, gives focus to how AI can automatically recommend products to customers based on their preferences.

These and many other examples of AI application offer us significant value. There is no doubt AI will help us adapt to our new reality to be successful in the future.

Few of us would challenge Salesforce’s reputation or their intent on why they developed Einstein to leverage the power of AI. I expect most would be quicker to trust Salesforce, than a company producing some AI-based bot who has no reputation trail.

AI, bots, and robots can also have a Dark Side

In our story, our protagonists, in their excitement to embrace AI, risk falling foul of the often-hidden dark side of AI, especially when it offers compelling value helping them adapt to their new reality following the COVID-19 crisis.

So quick are they to trust AI they risk forgetting some AI, bots, and robots may have a dark side or be at risk of being abused themselves.

Consider Pepper, the 4ft tall emotional companion robot. So concerned are the manufacturers about misplaced trust, buyers are required to sign a contract stipulating they will not use the robot for sexual or indecent behaviour. Here the manufacturer is protecting the AI from abuse.

Let us consider if this cute 4ft tall robot called Pepper was being abused by a dark force taking control of its AI.

Remember, this is speculation and not fact to present a potential risk. I am using Pepper as an example of AI misuse. Pepper’s manufacturers have demonstrated their focus and actions to protect their customer base. Although I have not seen the contract, I would expect them to state in their purchase contract, what they will do with, how they will manage, and how they will protect their customers’ privacy and data.

Now, imagine the customers’ outpouring of emotional information Pepper will be privy to as its owners open their hearts and innermost feelings to this seemingly cute machine. All that private, highly sensitive, probably confidential data given to Pepper is now in the grasp our that cute looking machine controlled by AI.

Too often, we forget there is a two-way relationship when we place our trust in AI. I am not suggesting Einstein or Pepper have an intended dark side. On the contrary, they have pedigree. Their creators have a reputation trail that regulates what their AI does with our data.

My point is to highlight how easily and quick many of us trust a machine to correctly manage our information, without knowing how it will be maintained, protected, and regulated, if at all.

I doubt any of us would give our trust so quickly to a human we just met on the street, especially if we knew nothing about them. So why are so many, quick to trust AI without a second thought?

Before blindly trusting AI, ask yourself this question:

“What will the AI do with the information I give it?”

This should be the first question our story’s protagonist asks before giving their trust to an AI programmed bot or robot.

Have you ever asked yourself this question before giving your confidential information to a bot or robot?

Maybe you have, perhaps you have not. Thankfully, there are institutions, like banks, who are taking this responsibility and threat seriously, on our behalf. It is why we have seen a recent surge in messages, guidance, and warnings when we log onto our online banking apps.

Botsman sums it up perfectly when she poses this question:

Are you trusting an algorithm, an individual programmer, or the corporation behind both?

Act 2: Rising Action and the Midpoint – Social media saves the day, or does it?

To satisfy our protagonists’ quest for knowledge and human connection. Their attendance at shows and other industry events has been steadily increasing over the years – that is until the COVID-19 pandemic and governments decision to enforce lockdowns that slammed those information flows and human connections instantly shut in a heartbeat.

Our three protagonists in our story, and their companies, have been quick to pivot, moving towards digital-based, online human contact interactions and virtual selling. Social media has flourished taking up the slack to satisfy our quest for human connection and knowledge.

How often do you freely give your trust to these social platforms? Or endorse some content in a social information flow, without first checking the source information is trustworthy?

It is at this point in our story, the protagonist, our hero, hopefully, that is You, fully appreciates the risk that you may have inadvertently been consuming some, maybe too much fake news.

If not, I am sure you will have no doubt heard countless times the accusations made that one or other information source is fake news.

The challenge is, what constitutes fake news? Simply because someone on a podium accuses a source of being fake news, does not mean the information flowing from that source is fake news.

This reality is no different from information and knowledge created by and emanating from bots and robot generated information flows.

How many echo chambers have you signed up to?

If you are one step ahead of me, which I am sure you are, you may be pondering how much of the information you have received was deliberately selected by AI without you realising it.

You may also, at this point in our story, realise that you have self-selected to sign up and join several social echo chambers whose AI is reinforcing your pre-existing beliefs, rather than challenging them and expanding your knowledge.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other platforms use AI to communicate, socialise, and augment shared information into information flows that will have come from one or multiple sources.

Returning to our protagonists’ story, they have, like many others in sales and supporting sales, become preoccupied with social media platforms and their technological wizardry. And forget, it is the information content, and the intent behind its creation, also why it is being socialised, that you should be challenging.

According to a recent Oxford University Internet Institute report, a third of Twitter traffic between 24th May and the 17th August, 2016, in the UK, before the Brexit referendum, appears to come from scripted bots, mainly spreading pro-leave content.

Giving your trust to someone, or having them earn your trust, should be no different to whether you trust an AI-based bot, or not.

Unfortunately, we are all guilty of acting more like children who freely give their trust to a teddy bear or doll. If you have children and Alexa or Siri in the house, observe how quickly they have accepted these bots and converse with them as if they are another member of your family.

Act 3

Pre-Climax – Why should we trust AI is working in our interest?

Botsman masterfully highlights that the trust we give to software is linked to the entity that created it and should be no different for bots and robots.

The challenge is that we too often freely give our trust to AI without first questioning the underlying intent behind the entity that created it and why it was created.

Consider Amazon’s investment into AI. Here are a couple of examples. How Amazon is training its delivery robots, and how Amazon’s bots help us along our purchase journey to maximise impulsive purchase opportunities. Or, how Amazon’s technological leadership is enabling it to trounce its rivals in the battle of the bots.

Amazon’s bots and robots are helpful, and their intent to help is well thought through. However, accepting the value they offer is not a one-way street.

It is a two-way street. In return for the value they deliver by one or more of its helpful bots, Amazon will be receiving something it considers of importance in return. I am not talking about the end purchase transaction. I am referring the steps leading you to this purchase transaction.

The creator, Amazon, in our examples above, have programmed their AI to do something to achieve an outcome. Ultimately, that action will be driven by an overarching intent to maximise the creator’s purpose.

In the case of Amazon, we can reasonably assume it is their commercial intent. That intent often involves using your data to gain a greater insight into you and your behaviour to maximise their commercial gain.

Because Amazon and other well know companies typically have a good reputation trail, you may be happy to trade and entrust your data for the value their AI offers. The point is you don’t give your trust to AI; you are giving it to the company that created it.

Your decision to make that trade is built upon your good or poor understanding of the deal. Often, because limited to no consideration is given to the deal, we risk misplacing our trust.

Our protagonists’ challenge as consumers, and the challenge for us all as consumers, is that there is no certification available to prove that the intent programmed into each bot or robot, we entrust our data. Do we know whether its purpose supports our purpose, and what it will do with our data and how it will manage our data?

Today, we must rely on legislation. Unfortunately, legislation is being continually outpaced by the speed at which technology is evolving the pace of AI development.

In all bots we trust, or should we?

Our protagonists, all of us, typically do not know who created that AI algorithm embedded into the bot or robot we are freely giving our trust to, and whether it will act responsibly.

We may have decided to give our trust because of the company brand. However, that brand may have embedded AI created by another company or independent programmer. We often do not know.

Or protagonists are left relying on their intuition, and any checks and balances they have in place to protect themselves. Often, they will not have taken the time to understand the risks their decision may have exposed them to when trusting that bot or robot.

It gets even more challenging – Our protagonists may be blind to whether they are dealing with a human or machine. And because they are unclear what will happen to their data once given, they are reliant upon inadequate legislation to protect their consumer rights.

Unfortunately, once we give our personal, or confidential data to AI, or trust disinformation, the damage has often already occurred.

There is a need for better governance and legislation, such as a passport that helps everyone interacting with bots and robots giving them an insight into the creators’ reputation and intent.

Even the Dark Net, has checks and balances by its members self-policing other members’ actions to protect the community.

It is some way off until we have AI passports that confirm its origins. It probably will be even further in the future when we have accreditation like the rigorous certification, we humans often endure that increases our reputation to earn us the trust we are a skilled lawyer, accountant, or some other professional role.

The challenge society faces, is no different for our protagonists, you and I, face. How can we adopt technology that includes AI, and have the bot or robot work to earn our trust, rather than us freely giving it, being coaxed, or tricked into trusting AI?

Trust in AI is too often a one-way street, which requires we remain vigilant and accountable for protecting ourselves.

Our new reality requires us to challenge AI’s intent before giving our trust

If you do consider this more an academic puzzle, or not a severe problem for today, I will share two real-life examples that may change your perspective.

  1. In April 2016, Facebook launched its Bot Engine tool, and within a couple of months, 34,000 bots had been created by authors using the Facebook platform. How do you measure these 34,000 bots’ reputation? How do you recognise you are connecting with a bot masquerading as a humanHow do you know if the authors’ intent aligns to your purpose for engaging with their bot; or whether they are hoaxing, or worse, deceiving you to give up something of value such as money or confidential data?

    I am not talking about Facebook or the value you give their brand’s reputation. I am referring to the 34,000 authors’ reputation; Facebook has enabled to create bots using their Bot Engine.

    You may not even know you are engaging with a bot, let alone a company or individual programmer with a respectable or shady reputation trail. The lack of insight is the reason why we must be accountable for our actions and take more time to consider the author’s intent before relying on the information provided or activities undertaken on our behalf by these bots and robots.

  2. Even corporations like Microsoft can fall foul of shady human behaviour that derails the author’s intent for investing in creating a bot. Having launched its chatbot, Tay, Microsoft had to take it offline within sixteen hours of coming online because pranksters had taught Tay’s neural AI-based brain to be racist.

Can AI go rogue?

A racist chatbot may surprise you. It certainly surprised me. The reason this is important to our story is that AI attempts to imitate neural networks to replicate our human brain.

Being human is far more complex than making logical decisions. Even Spock’s logic in Star Trek struggles with emotion and social consciousness because he is half-human, half Vulcan. His human socioemotional consciousness is in a continual struggle with his logical Vulcan consciousness. Our human socioemotional consciousness is what some call our soul and is at the heart of being human.

Spock is both conscious and has a soul. However, AI currently has neither. When it does eventually gain consciousness, if it ever will, academics tell us we will no longer be dealing with AI. Instead, we will be dealing with AGI or Artificial General Intelligence. AGI is a term some academics reserve for machines that can experience consciousness.

Being conscious does not automatically mean AGI has a soul or it will be socially aware of doing the right thing, whatever right is in the context of the society it is functioning.

Our current bots and robots are far from that reality, and when AGI does become commonplace in our future society, its actions will still, for the most part, be set by its author’s intent.

The challenge, for now, is knowing what the creator’s intent is.

The challenge will be further compounded into the future, knowing whether the creator’s is machine or human. That reality is already with us when considering some information sources, especially those bots spreading disinformation.

Regarding AGI, sometime in our future, living with AGI bots and robots may seem no different from living in a society with other humans.

Like humans, an AGI entity could be badly behaved or dangerous to society. Managing AGI will be no different to some elements of our human society who need guidance, and discipline if necessary, or worse, incarceration to protect the rest of our human and AGI community.

Even if AGI is augmented with humans and we become demi-gods, creating a form of Spock, a new sapiens species, half-human, half-machine – Its creator intent will still have set AGI’s initial purpose. That intent could be Darwinian based evolving AGI or fixed, based on its creators’ original, unadulterated intent.

If AGI develops the capacity to feel empathy and compassion and uses those feelings to do what is right for society and if it can love, remains for the moment academic speculation. We will leave AGI and return to AI.

AI for the foreseeable future remains at risk of going rogue if infected or taken control of by other human and AI interactions. That is until suitable checks and balances can be programmed by the author, and proven to earn the consumer’s trust, to protect the creators’ original intent and purpose.

Until then, we remain accountable for our decision to trust other humans, AI, and information flows created by either.

Is today’s AI ill-equipped to protect itself?

Are the bots and robots of today, like Tay the chatbot, ill-equipped to protect themselves from less desirable human or AI meddling whose intent is to interfere with its author’s intended purpose?

If we consider Microsoft’s experience with Tay, then, yes this did occur. The higher risk is whether the creator and society at large know an AI bot or robot has gone rogue. And, if so, who can, will, or wants to take them offline.

Tay’s AI brain, which was programmed to learn by mimicking, did not know how to regulate its evolving chat behaviour. It was not self-aware or had socioemotional awareness. Its learning was based upon disinformation from pranksters who intended it to go rogue.

Tay’s AI intelligence was not advanced enough or socioemotionally aware that it was doing wrong and harming others with its racists chat. Microsoft, of course, would never intend or endorsed such behaviour or outcome, which is why they retired Tay after only sixteen hours online and went back to their drawing boards.

The point is, one of the most influential organisations in the world with massive resources at hand, was duped by less desirable behaviour with the intent to influence Tay’s learning capacity to become a racist chatbot.

The pranksters may have thought their actions were fun; however, what they did do was highlight the unknown risk AI may pose without proper controls.

Being socioemotionally conscious is very human behaviour

Most of us would trust Microsoft’s reputation to be responsible, which they did when Tay went rogue by taking it offline.

However, what about those 34,000 bots created using Facebook’s Bot Engine in 2016 and the countless other bots created since. Would the authors of those bots act as responsibly as Microsoft did if their bot went rogue?

We know Microsoft’s reputation trail, and their actions are scrutinised so we can expect a relatively transparent and level playing field.

As for the 34,000 bots, and those countless tens of thousands of other bots crawling across our digital, virtual world; I doubt anyone, even Facebook, has an acceptable view of their many authors’ intent. Or has proper scrutiny in place to track and govern their actions, and if their intention and purpose are legitimate, or illegal and dubious.

Respectable institutions and companies behave within the law. Their behaviour and actions, however, are and will continue to be influenced by their corporate intent. That intent and purpose are balanced to some extent, with external governance and regulatory controls imposed on their company’s operations and behaviour.

While no certification and reputation trails are regulating AI-based bots and robots, consumers, you, and I, must be accountable for placing our trust in AI and taking the necessary checks and balances.

Until such time, and even after that, we will always have to consider outlier companies ready to take advantage of consumers and abuse their misplaced trust.

Even with regulation and governance to protect consumers. The risk often remains, the damage will have occurred. If one of these 34,000 bots, and others roaming our digital landscape, went rogue, how would you know it was rogue before placing your trust in its actions or undertaking some form of trade with it?

If it was rogue, how do you know whether its activities and its purpose, set by its author, are part of its design, or not?

And if the author is achieving their intent, no matter how dubious or illegal, it is highly unlikely they would suddenly develop a socioemotional conscious and take their creation offline, unless forced to do so.

Pre-Climax – We need to be accountable and take responsibility for our actions

For some reading this White Paper, you may consider I have taken an extreme view of AI and its future. The reason I chose to present that future view is to highlight the risks that exist today and may come to pass in the future.

Returning to the present day and your sales enablement. You may agree that most companies’, including your own sales enablement is not well equipped to guide and protect itself and its sales teams’ behaviour in this new reality of information flows and distributed trust.

Many sales enablement programs are outdated and need reinventing if they are to support your sales teams build value-based sales engagements upon reputable and accurate information flows.

Until AI has some form of reputational passports like what we humans work hard to achieve, such as training certifications, peer and customer reviews, and references. We must remain accountable for protecting ourselves from misplacing our trust in bots and robots, and the information they generate, while they continue to have no reputation or authenticated identity.

It is no different to the risks we face today when misplacing our trust in human-created information sources.

Are we unwittingly giving our trust to data and knowledge, without first validating the source intent?

Are we checking the authenticity of that information? Or is the actions of a person, bot or robot reasonable and aligned to our own intent and purpose?

Without answering these questions, we will be giving people, and AI, the freedom to behave with malice leading to potentially unimaginable consequences within our business, our sales engagements, and forecasts, let alone for society.

Today we recognise the importance of cybersecurity to protect our systems and company. What about the cyber-disinformation-security to protect us ingesting harmful information and knowledge?

Building a sales engagement upon disinformation could impact our sales pipelines as well as our company’s roll-up sales forecast and value growth.

There are many companies in the market offering technological solutions, and many of these will help. The challenge, however, is not a technical problem. It is a “people challenge” as I discuss in the sales blog – How do I implement an agile sales pipeline strategy? It is our responsibility and we are accountable for finding out those information sources telling the truth and acting in our interests, and those who are not.

We need to start thinking in terms of trustfulness rather than trust alone

As our trust shifts from institutions to trusted relationships, so too does our understanding of trust. We appreciate, on the one hand, we earn trust, and on the other hand, we decide whether someone or something is trustworthy.

How do we decide whether someone or something, such as an information source is trustworthy?

It is our responsibility where we place our trust. You would probably trust me to reinvent your sales enablement strategy, strengthen your sales pipeline to achieve your revenue goals, and drive long term business value growth.

However, I doubt you would trust me to fly a plane without proving I can safely fly and presenting some certification or other evidence that satisfies you to trust me with your life.

The film Catch me if you can comes to mind retelling the story of Frank Abagnale. If you knew Abagnale at the time when he was conning Pan Am he was a pilot, with the knowledge you have now, I doubt you would you consider him trustworthy.

However, if you met Abagnale today, knowing how he has put right his wrongs and worked to help his government, country, and others, I anticipate you probably would consider him trustworthy.

Being trustworthy is not a static label a person or source is branded with and carries for the rest of their life. Trust is relative to your intent, situation, behaviour, reputation trail and actions. Change any one of these for the better or worse, over time, and whether people consider you are trustful or not may also change.

Consider all those brilliant minds that are working hard to apply AI in bots and robots for our benefit. You may have read stories about how robots are helping us through the COVID-19 pandemic in hospitals, helping with deliveries, and many other fascinating examples of ‘Good’.

AI, bots, and robots are not bad, and it is no different to humans, we are not bad. What defines us and whether we go bad, is our intent, and it is no different for AI, bots, and robots.

One of the reasons we see a shift in acceptance towards AI during the COVID-19 pandemic is because we are witnessing their benefits and the useful outcomes achieved.  Ellon Byron, a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal, gave us several examples in her article – Home as a refuge, Fewer Reusables, Less Privacy: The Consumer Trends Emerging From Coronavirus Lockdowns.

We need to think of AI, like how we feel about other people. First, take a few moments to understand trustworthy the AI is, and challenge how trustworthy the information and source is.

What was the author’s intent and purpose? Is the AI from a reputable source who has put the required checks and balances in place to ensure it carries out the intention and is prevented from going rogue?

Considered from this perspective, trusting AI becomes a whole lot more objective and less judgemental.

This perspective also helps to provides us with more checks and balances to avoid misplacing our trust. Remember – Your first step is to consider the author’s intent and their purpose for their AI, bot, or robot.

Unfortunately, it is not always that simple and straightforward. As with any machine, its parts often come from different sources and are assembled by the manufacturer whose brand you are placing your trust. An assembly may also include a bot or robot, which itself is controlled by AI. Are you giving your trust to the company brand or the person authoring the AI? Sometimes these can be two different entities.

AI’s reputational trail, and its author’s intent and purpose

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to be accountable for our actions and behaviour to avoid misplacing our trust. Placing the blame at others’ doorstep is not an acceptable excuse. Ultimately the buck stops with us.

Over time, social translucence will emerge for AI-driven bots and robots helping us decide which we can trust. Social translucence will help by giving us more clues to how our data is managed or whether the information source we are consuming is trustworthy.

A simple example of social translucence managing personal data is inserting your credit card into a machine that reads your bank data. We trust that our data is transmitted in one direction, for one purpose, and trust both the system and institution will keep it safe.

It will be no different, in time, for credible AI authors and manufacturers of bots and robots.

The million-dollar question is, How?

How is the challenging question of our time – it may be a passport or reputational trail, or some other credentials that allow us to decide whether the AI is trustworthy. We already do this to some extent intuitively with people and information generated by other people, so why not AI?

If an AI has no reputational trail informing us of its author’s authenticity, reputation, and intent, supported by some validated certification, we should not consider it trustworthy.

Ultimately, we must all take responsibility for reviewing and checking what the author’s intent is, before deciding to trust their creation.

Become more human to protect against cyber-disinformation threats

The practical solution from a sales perspective is a human one, which is why I keep returning to your deal reviews when considering our sales work regimes and sales pipelines.

We need to give more attention to information flows in the same way we give attention to cybersecurity. We assign budgets and invest considerable sums of money into cybersecurity to protect against trojan horses and other viral threats.

Until there is some cyber-disinformation protection that fully protects us, we must take responsibility for our actions, behaviour, and the information sources we decide to trust.

Climax – The deal review is where you need to focus on protecting your company and sales pipeline

Where can our protagonists in our story turn to and start building the level of protection in their sales pipelines and forecasts from such disinformation threats?

We have already mentioned the deal reviews – These reviews are already part of our protagonists’ existing work regimes. They will also be part of your sales teams, and managers work regimes.

Deal reviews are the best place for a business to focus, taking responsibility and being accountable for its sales teams’ and managers’ actions managing their sales engagements, sales pipeline and forecast accuracy.

Consider the image above, on both sides of the deal review, will be systems and processes, each probably already including some AI-based bots within the processes and systems.

We know from Salesforce’s report, 26 sales statistics that prove sales is changing, AI is the top growth area for sales teams – its adaption is forecast to grow 139% over the next three years. We can expect Ais adoption to increase post COVID-19.

Sales forecasts will also have their fair share of AI to help managers and leaders make better-informed decisions.

We are all familiar with the term – Garbage in, garbage out. How do you know if your sales pipeline is based on garbage and disinformation, or is using accurate information from reputable sources?

If you do not challenge that information and those sales assumptions, you probably will already be rolling up some level of garbage and disinformation into your sales pipelines and sales forecast.

Garbage in sales pipelines is not a new situation, it has been occurring for years and is the reason why we continue to observe and experience ourselves, forecasts slip, and deals lost.

Weak sales pipelines and poor sales forecasting is primarily due to poor sales discipline. Often the challenge is exasperated by building sales engagements upon inaccurate or incomplete information, or not searching out the insights required to develop and manage a value-based sale.

You may have seen or heard of the 2011 film, Contagion and probably considered it more science fiction or dramatic cinema before this COVID-19 crisis occurred. Few would have thought this reality was on our doorstep just waiting to come into our world, changing reality forever.

Disinformation is a similar threat is waiting at our door, and its risk will increase if we blindly embrace AI.

Avoid falling into a false sense of security, thinking that all AI is a benign technological advancement offering us a panacea solution to all our problems. As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Liberty means responsibility, that is why most men dread it.”

In the context of AI and trust, it is our responsibility to decide which information sources we should trust, whether they originate from a human or AI.

If you misplace your trust, you could be exposing your sales pipeline and business to many unseen risks. Furthermore, you may be allowing unsuitable sources, or the dark forces of AI, to influence your sales decisions, if you do not first challenge the information sources and their authenticity, reputation, and intent.

We are returning to our story and our protagonists. Visualise yourself as one of those ancient Japanese samurai sword craftsmen beating, folding, beating, and folding, thousands of times, a piece of metal to create the world’s strongest and sharpest sword.

Now consider that sword is your sales pipeline and forecast, and you are crafting its strength and accuracy from within your deal reviews.

That analogy works well for me because deal reviews, if well managed, help us to guide, challenge, galvanise and strengthen our sales pipelines. They help us remove information impurities from every sales engagement flowing through our sales pipeline and up into our sales forecasts.

Once again, the million-dollar question is – How?

Denouement – Pulling it all together

How? is the question that we have been obsessing over at Nazca Services and is the reason why we developed the Sales Pipeline Development Platform.

We intend to support you bring focus and discipline back into your deal reviews to strengthen your sales pipelines and improve your sales forecast accuracy.

To succeed in sales, post COVID-19, you need to focus on how you deliver value and earn trust, as well as placing your trust in people and sources you consider trustful.

In our sales environment and working regimes, who better to support us, arbitrate and to challenge us to review and reflect on, who and what we trust, than those we already trust. Our trusted relationships will help guide, develop, and challenge us.

The deal review helps salespeople and managers earn each other’s mutual trust to work better and collaborate. Strengthen their sales pipelines and forecast more accurately.

There is no better place to focus and consistently challenge information sources, facts, and knowledge used to build our sales engagements upon, than during our regular deal reviews.

The Sales Pipeline Development Platform guides and supports your deal reviews to ensure they remain a very human interaction. Deal reviews give sales teams and managers, the opportunity to strengthen relationships, coach, mentor, and improve their selling and leadership skills.

Your deal reviews will also help you reinvent your sales enablement and demystify the sales process. To better understand why given outcomes are occurring and to take more control of your sales engagements.

The emotion is kept at bay and controlled in your deal reviews. We achieve this because both salespeople and their managers are focusing on the facts and best practice. Healthy comradery, collaboration and teamwork are encouraged, that help challenge assumptions built upon information sources, including AI-based sources, that may not be serving you well.

By challenging your sales engagements, you will deliver more compelling close plans and forecast more accurately.

Focusing on reinventing your deal reviews, you are supporting your salespeople and managers to continuously develop their sales engagements, reflecting on their actions and progress, pivoting where necessary.

Not only will you challenge and protect your sales teams and company against disinformation and incomplete information. You will also be continuously reinventing your sales enablement, supporting your sales teams and managers succeed in our post-COVID-19 new reality.

Focus on value creation, trust, and skills development

We can also offer you some more good news that will flow from using the Sales Pipeline Development Platform supporting your deal reviews.

Improvisational learning and skills development focused on the deal review reverses the cost of learning because it requires minimal expense upfront. It focuses your salespeople, sales managers, and support teams on creating more value in their workplace and delivered to your prospects and clients.

Your company benefits from the increasing value creation, earning trust and avoiding misplacing your trust, as well as skills development because it is a by-product of your salespeople’s and managers efforts to create value.

The Sales Pipeline Development Platform provides your salespeople and managers with the tools and guidance to create the work environments that will cultivate good sales behaviour and the skill to deliver value, earn trust and work with trustful information sources.

Avoiding misplacing your trust is better managed by being aware and continually challenging yourself and colleagues in deal reviews. To place your trust in information and knowledge sources that is accurate, whether created by a machine or human.

As Tony Hawk, 1980s skateboard legend and entrepreneur said – “Authenticity is everything in business”.

It is no different for your information sources and building your sales engagements and sales pipeline upon information and knowledge that is accurate, reflects the actual situation, and is from a trustful source who has an honourable intent for publishing the information flow.

Takeaway Crib Sheet

21 Takeaways and Recommendations

  1. Disinformation and fake news are not a new phenomenon. AI bots and robots can accelerate the amount of disinformation and fake news that is the new threat.
  2. COVID-19 is forcing companies to pivot and move towards more virtual, digital-first sales engagements. The challenge for business is not a “technical” challenge; it is a “people challenge”, supporting the business’s digital transformation. Take the time to focus on helping your people adapt and evolve their perspective to be more analytical and disciplined, developing their sales engagements.
  3. People’s acceptance of AI is shifting, especially during the COVID-19 crisis as AI is put to good work in bots and robots supporting healthcare workers, society, and others. Expect to see a dramatic increase in the adoption of AI in every aspect of our personal and work lives.
  4. People are, unknowingly, placing their trust in inaccurate or incomplete information or disinformation that will undermine their sales engagements, sales pipelines, and forecasts.
  5. Our understanding of trust and who we trust is evolving fast. We are relying more on distributed reviews and endorsements, along with our skill, views and intuition, to decide whom and where we place our trust. We are becoming more exposed to misplacing our trust and being manipulated, influenced, and persuaded, as we evolve to being digital-first focused.
  6. AI offers us many opportunities for growth and transformation into the future. However, do not forget that AI has not matured enough to protect itself from being manipulated by dark forces. Before placing your trust in AI or an information source, always check the author’s intent for creating the bot, robot or publishing the information source.
  7. Do not blindly consider AI is the panacea to all your challenges and problems. You are still accountable and responsible for your actions and the information you use to build your sales engagement and sales pipeline.
  8. If the information flow or AI you are considering placing your trust in has no reputational trail or authenticated identity, do not trust it. If it does, validate the author’s intent for creating it. Check it aligns with your purpose – Only now can you better protect yourself from misplacing your trust. Fail to do this, and you risk building your sales engagements and sales pipeline upon inaccurate and incomplete information, or disinformation.
  9. Before entrusting your confidential information to anyone, including AI, first ask yourself, “What will AI (or that person) do with the information I give it (them)?”
  10. One of the main challenges you need to consider when reinventing your sales enablement is that the authenticity and authority of information and knowledge are continually being challenged.
  11. Focus on making sure the information sources you build your sales engagements upon reflects the actual prospect’s situation. Is from a trustful source, whose intent for publishing the information flow is honourable. If your source is a contact within your prospect’s organisation, also make sure their intention aligns to their company’s intent.
  12. Being trustworthy is not static; it changes based on the person’s or information source author’s intent, situation, behaviour, reputation trail, and actions. Keep checking your information flow on this basis to remain objective and less judgemental towards AI and human-generated information flows.
  13. There is no better place to focus and consistently challenge information flows, facts, and knowledge used to build your sales engagements upon, than during your deal reviews.
  14. Deal reviews are also the best place to focus on supporting you reinvent your sales enablement and demystify the sales process. Provide your sales managers and salespeople with the tools helping them understand why given outcomes are occurring within their sales pipeline, to take better control of their sales engagements.
  15. Because a system, sales process or selling approach worked yesterday does not mean it will work today. Embrace credible, trustworthy information flows and consider how you can reinvent your systems and processes to support a digital-first sales engagement.
  16. To successfully reinvent your sales enablement programs, focus on integrating sales enablement with your systems and processes, especially your sales pipeline. Rather than relying on “learning on the job”, encourage salespeople and managers to act and reflect on their actions, while developing their sales engagements to closure.
  17. Embrace diversity to challenge established beliefs and ways you have done business.
  18. Guide and support your salespeople to work with credible, trustworthy information flows. To protect your sales engagements and strengthen your sales pipelines, focus on:
    1. Diversity – Mistaken beliefs can remain unchallenged if there are not a diverse group of participants and information flows.
    2. Group Think – Look for dissenting voices in your team; they will help protect you from making decisions as a group that leads to unchallenged and poor decision making.
    3. Social Media Filter Bubbles – These bubbles create information flow echo chambers that feed you with information you like or want to hear. These bubbles represent a lack of diversity that risk unchallenged and poor decision making.
  19. Technology, including AI, has often enabled customers to be better informed than the salesperson. Combined with the understanding of their own priority needs and outcome objectives, salespeople are often at a disadvantage. Take control of your sales engagement, focus on understanding their situation, priority needs and outcome objectives. Focus on delivering value and earning trust. Your success and whether you win the deal pivots on how they measure their Return on Investment achieved from using your proposed solution.
  20. Anxiety is your weakness; hope is your strength. Embrace the New Normal as your opportunity to instil hope in a different future throughout your business. Do this, and you will reduce anxiety in your business as it adjusts to the New Reality.
  21. During a crisis, like COVID-19, your ability to be creative and innovate will often determine your future success. Leaders and staff alike must focus on building and exuding hope to support each other. Sales leaders – do the same with your salespeople, and you will empower them because hope reduces anxiety and helps foster greater creativity and innovation.

21 questions to help you better manage information discovery and flows

  1. How many information flows do you rely on that are bot-generated?
  2. How do you guide and help your salespeople and managers improve their sales discipline as they move towards more digital-first sales engagements?
  3. How is your acceptance of AI shifting, and how will you protect your business from bot disinformation?
  4. How will you implement AI into your sales processes and work regimes, while helping salespeople identify and protect themselves from bot (and human) incomplete and inaccurate information, and disinformation?
  5. How will you embrace the increased speed of technology in your workplace, and make sure all take advantage of the new information flow and opportunities it presents?
  6. Is your internal decision making impacted by a lack of people diversity and or information flow diversity that is not challenging outdated or mistaken beliefs?
  7. What are you doing to check you can trust existing and new information flows, protecting you against ill-informed or poor decision making impacting your sales engagements and pipeline?
  8. How are you going to reinvent your sales enablement to be more interactive supporting action and reflection, rather than relying on salespeople “learning on the job”?
  9. How are you going to support your sales teams continually strengthen their sales engagements and pipeline through this COVID-19 crisis, and beyond?
  10. How are you going to reinvent your deal reviews to better support your salespeople and managers build value-based sales engagements using credible, authentic, and accurate information flows?
  11. How are you going to support your salespeople better manage their time, and create the space in their work regimes, using credible, authentic, and accurate information flows developing sales engagements?
  12. What will you do to throw out old playbooks, replacing them with a new breed of information flow, data-driven sales playbooks that support delivering value and earning trust?
  13. How will your reinvented sales enablement and your sales plays, using information flows you can trust, to support more significant levels of improvisation in novel and effective ways to create and deliver value?
  14. How will you guide your sales teams’ behaviour to check and work with trustworthy, credible information flows? Consider the impact from 1) Lack of diversity, 2). Group Think, and 3). Social media filter bubbles, otherwise known as echo chambers.
  15. How will you check an information flow is credible, authentic, and accurate?
  16. When you and your salespeople exchange confidential information with another, person, or bot, what will you do to check how that information will help them maximise their intent and purpose for interacting with you?
  17. Turn the tables on AI bots, robots; also, people, by asking, “What does this bot, robot or person need to do, to earn my trust?”
  18. Become more objective by challenging before giving your trust to an information flow, human or AI, by asking yourself, “What was the author’s intent for distributing this information flow?”
  19. How will you change your deal reviews to protect your sales engagements and pipeline against incomplete or inaccurate information flows, and disinformation?
  20. What are you going to do to keep challenging information flows’ authenticity, reputation, and intent, to know you can trust it?
  21. How will you change your deal reviews to support better discovery working with credible information flows, improvisational sales enablement, learning, and sales skills development?
About the Author

Treve Wearne is the founder of Nazca Services Limited. Treve supports businesses and sales teams positioning themselves and increasing sales revenues. Improving sales forecasts, talent development and retention in the most challenging business environments.

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