Will Artificial Intelligence Be the End of Reps? — Part 2

by Charles Cohon, President and CEO, MANA

In my last post I started a discussion about why Artificial Intelligence (AI) won’t be the end of reps. Now I will share two stories that show why AI can’t replace reps.

AI Can’t Ask for a Favor

Someone at my principal in Europe decided to ship mounting hardware by ocean freight (eight-week delivery) instead of air freight (two-week delivery), so mounting hardware stock dropped to zero for six weeks. The factory’s message: “Tell your customers they have to wait.”

My principal’s products were useless without mounting hardware and customers’ production lines were shut down.

My largest customer was about to switch vendors. So I called another customer who had ample mounting hardware and asked for a favor. “I need to borrow 1,000 meters of mounting hardware for a month.” That customer let me borrow that hardware and I saved my largest customer. AI can’t do that.

AI Won’t Push Back

My largest customer had a rule. If you don’t increase your prices, you get to keep the business.

Every year my principal announced a routine 5 percent price increase. Every year I pushed back because prices in this product category actually were going down, and if the customer shopped around, they could get the same product for 30-40 percent less. Every year the factory backed off and this became one of their most profitable customers.

Then a sales manager who never met the customer took the account away from me and gave it to a direct salesperson 700 miles from the customer. And, when the factory announced its annual 5 percent price increase, the direct salesperson did exactly what he was told and insisted on the increase.

The customer found a new source for half the price.

AI is just like that direct salesperson. It does exactly what you tell it to do. Unlike AI, reps will push back when the factory does something foolish.

AI can’t do jobs that require trust and independent thinking. Those jobs will always go to reps.

Charles Cohon, CPMR, is CEO and president of MANA. In 2016 Cohon earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation after completing American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) coursework and testing. Cohon also earned an MBA with honors and with concentrations in strategic management and entrepreneurship from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and was founder and owner of a very successful Illinois manufacturers’ representative firm for nearly 30 years before joining MANA.

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