Replicants replace salespeople?

26th March 2018 |   Professor Nick Lee

ill replicants replace salespeople?

“More human than human”: The motto of the Tyrell Corporation, from the 1982 film Blade Runner. Recently watching that movie again, in preparation for a showing of the sequel Blade Runner 2049, I was struck (as I often am) by the interesting differences in what we can imagine the future to be like for different technologies. Of course, Blade Runner was set in 2019, just one year from now.

The film’s world contained flying cars, off-world human settlements, and virtually perfect human replicants; all things which we are many years from even being close to (despite Elon Musk’s dreams). Yet, views from within those flying cars show almost laughably simplistic computer graphical displays and control systems, the likes of which the phone in your pocket is now generations beyond.

In some ways, I feel our current understanding of the potential impact of artificial intelligence on the future world, and by extension the future of the sales profession, is similar. Many are nervous, even downright scared, of how AI might change our world for the worse, creating vast social problems as it makes thousands of different human job roles completely redundant, without creating new roles.

Many in sales and similar sorts of roles that I speak with seem to be primarily concerned about AI somehow replacing them physically, with stories on “robot sales assistants” and the like appearing in the technological and business press. While I think there is some legitimacy to those concerns of course, I suspect we are not that much closer to a genuine AI “replicant” today, than we were ten or 15 years ago. Indeed, while I feel that AI will fundamentally change a lot of roles in the sales profession, I suspect that the changes we imagine today will – like the flying cars and replicants of Blade Runner – be significantly different to how things will actually pan out in reality.

Professor of Marketing at Warwick Business School | + posts

Nick Lee is Professor of Marketing at Warwick Business School and the Honorary Chair of Marketing and Organizational Research at Aston Business School. His research interests include sales management, social psychology, research methodology, and ethics. He is Editor in Chief of the European Journal of Marketing, the Section Editor for Sales Research Methods for the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, and he serves on the review panel or editorial board of several other journals. Nick is an Honorary Fellow of the APS where he directs research activities. Contact: Nick.Lee@wbs.ac.uk.