Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.
If you have a smartphone in your pocket, chances are you’ve asked Siri or Google a question—directions to a restaurant, a sports score, or information to settle a debate with friends. While the intelligence and capabilities to answer these questions are evolving (who hasn’t chuckled at an odd answer from Siri?), this halting step in artificial intelligence has shown that it can work. It’s also opened up a fascinating world for sales.
Take this hypothetical example: Melanie, a small-business owner in Boston, needed a telecom plan for her rapidly expanding company. She did the usual research online, knew which provider and plan she wanted, and had even filled in a form online. She rang the provider to finalize the deal and get the service up and running. She was inevitably put on hold.
Sally, the sales rep, finally picked up the phone and asked Melanie a barrage of questions about herself, her business, and her predicted usage levels. Melanie was getting frustrated—she had done her research and knew what she wanted—but just as she was trying to explain this, Sally put her on hold once again to check some details with her manager.
By the time it was over, the whole painful process had taken half an hour with much repetition of tasks Melanie had already done online.
Almost a thousand miles away in Chicago, Phil was in a situation almost identical to Melanie’s. He’d also ...