Every year, more sales technologies enter the market.
In fact, sales technology tools have grown in availability. 2019 alone saw an increase of 25% in the number of tools available. At the same time, many sales organizations continue to increase their sales technology investment year over year.
However, according to annual Sales Performance report from CSO Insights over the past several years, sales effectiveness has not grown at the same level. The report notes: “While much in the world of sales is changing rapidly, sales results have not changed much.”
Clearly, most sales organizations are not getting the results from their sales technology that they expect and, probably, deserve. In this article, we take a look at how sales organizations are currently spending on technology, the key mistakes most are making, and how to develop a technology strategy that will enable your organization to get the ROI you expect from your technology investments.
Stop throwing money at sales technology without enough yield
According to a recent Smart Selling Tools report, most companies “think” they are spending more than $150/month per user on sales technology. But the number didn't sound accurate. To get more insight, I asked Nancy Nardin, owner of Smart Selling Tools, about it.
Not surprisingly, most organizations were vastly underestimating how much they actually spend on technology. Nancy agreed. She said that when respondents reported their spending, they might not have a complete understanding of all the technologies that they’ve purchased, either as point solutions or as plug-ins, because they are often independently purchased by different teams and departments.
It can be assumed that the number is currently at $500-$1,000 per month/user for modern sales organizations. Whatever the number is, it’s too much for too little. The good news is that there are really only three main causes of overspending on sales technology.
3 mistakes cause overspending on sales tech
Most sales organizations do not have an effective strategy for managing their sales technology spend. Lacking a clear strategy, they fall prey to three big mistakes that cause overspending:
The Hydra of complexity
The siren song of AI
1. The Hydra of complexity
In ancient Greek myth, there is a story of a great monster that destroyed towns and devoured heroes who attempted to defeat it. This monster, called the Hydra, had many heads with sharp teeth and poison breath. But what made it truly dangerous was that every time you cut off one head, it would sprout two more.
Membrain, by Björn Andersson
Sales technology can be that way too. Organizations may purchase a large CRM product, expecting it to be a one-size-fits-all solution. But in order to get it to do everything they want it to do, they have to stack add-ons and customizations on top of it. Each of these requires custom coding and updates and upgrades in order to integrate with the CRM.
Each time a new element is added, complexity increases. As complexity increases, so do the opportunities for technology failure. When a breakdown occurs in one part of the technology, it impacts other parts. Custom coding designed to fix one problem, often causes problems elsewhere in the system. And every time one problem is fixed, another rises in its place, like the head of a monstrous Hydra, eating up the company’s profits.
2. Point pollution
While organizations are busy fighting their Hydras, many are also engaging in point pollution. This refers to the habit of purchasing separate pieces of technology to solve individual problems, which solutions may or may not integrate with the larger technology (the Hydra).
As the data cited at the beginning of this article shows, new sales technology point solutions are entering the market at breathtaking speed. They promise to solve all kinds of problems, from prospect research to call recording to proposal building.
But each time you add one to your team without a clear strategy, you add to the complexity of the sales environment and interfere with the sales workflow. Each new technology requires salespeople to switch between tasks and applications, to enter new information, and to manage new administrative tasks.
Salespeople who dutifully use all of the point solutions that their sales organization has invested in run the risk of damaging their productivity by constantly switching among tools. Most simply won’t choose to use all of them. Either way, the organization ends up spending money on tools that are not improving sales effectiveness.
3. The siren song of AI and automation
The same mythology that gave us the Hydra also gives us the story of the Sirens. These were merpeople who sat upon sharp rocks in the ocean and sang songs. Their singing was so beautiful, that it lured sailors onto the rocks where their ship was destroyed.
In many ways, artificial intelligence (AI) and the automation it promises are like a modern-day siren song. It promises to make salespeople more efficient, faster, better. But very often, it also annoys prospects and destroys goodwill.
In complex B2B sales, this is particularly problematic because trust and relationship are a key component of success. To be effective, AI for B2B must focus on enabling salespeople instead of completing tasks on their behalf.
Augmented intelligence is the practice of using AI to analyze and sort data, and serve it up in a useful format, while leaving salespeople themselves to make decisions based on the insights delivered by the AI. It’s called “augmented” intelligence because it seeks to support the human intelligence on the sales team rather than replacing it. This is one of the keys to making sales technology investments work for your organization.
Here’s how to make the right sales technology investments
All of the most common mistakes about sales technology are rooted in one bad assumption: technology can be the salvation of sales.
This assumption ends up making people the servant of the technology. Truly world-class organizations do it the other way around: They make the technology the servant of the people. In order to do that, you have to take a holistic approach to sales technology investment. You can’t make those decisions in a silo.
To get the ROI you want from your sales technology investments, you have to start with a solid strategy, and work your way down through process, training, reinforcement, and content enablement. Technology then takes its proper place as an enabler of all these functions within a holistic strategy. The result is a well-functioning sales team that exceeds expectations and, in most cases, outstrips the competition.
A customer-focused strategy must come before sales technology
At the heart of every effective sales strategy, is a human-first approach, starting with the customer. You must understand how your customers need to be helped, what they want to achieve, and how they ought to buy. This is accomplished by doing your research about your customer’s business challenges, asking the right questions, and listening to what they say.
Build a customer-focused sales strategy that helps your salespeople be both efficient and effective in guiding customers through their problem-definition and decision-making journey.
Your sales process must align with your sales strategy
Many sales organizations that develop a sales strategy fail to execute on it. This is usually due to a failure to connect it with an actionable sales process. Once you have developed your sales strategy, build a dynamic, milestone-based process that walks salespeople through every step they need to take to help buyers make the purchase.
In such a process, you will have not only stages, but also milestones within those stages, and steps to take to reach each milestone. Within each step will be activities to engage in toward achieving that step.
The process should be dynamic based on the needs of customer segments and their response at each stage, milestone, and step of the process. Such a process makes it possible to take the strategy and actually execute it in the field.
Your sales training must align with your sales process and strategy
With an effective strategy and process, it becomes possible to align training to support execution of the process. Many sales organizations treat training like a siloed activity that they send salespeople to for a week or a weekend, and then expect that to magically translate into improved performance.
But a holistic sales approach puts training in service to strategy and process. With your milestone-based process mapped out, identify where skills gaps are in your sales team, and develop training that focuses on what they actually need in order to execute on your process and any methodology you’re using.
Your sales training must be reinforced in daily workflow
Training that is not reinforced rarely sticks. This is not due to failure on the part of your salespeople. It’s simply the way it is. The well-documented Spacing Effect shows that people can’t remember information that isn’t regularly reinforced, so it’s not smart to expect them to.
Instead, build reinforcement into your salesperson’s daily workflow. This can take the form of checklists embedded in their CRM, dynamic reminders of next steps in the process, on-demand an in-context training content, and effective coaching cadences. This can be enabled by AI that identifies when individual salespeople can use reminders and additional training, and serves it up to them at appropriate moments.
Content enablement should be aligned with your sales process
Sales enablement software promises to help your team by making it easy to find collateral when they need it. Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t know when they need it, so they underutilize resources, or they create their own content off the record to fill gaps.
AI tools promise to alleviate this problem by intelligently sending sales enablement content to customers or to salespeople. Most AI tools fail at this task. AI is only as smart as the training it receives, and when content isn’t tied to an effective strategy, process, and training, an AI can’t be trained to use it effectively.
Instead, content enablement should be made subject to the strategy, process, and training your salespeople receive. It should be created and managed in context, and suggested to salespeople in the context of your best practice process.
Sales technology purchases should be made to enable everything above
As you can see, I have begun introducing ways that sales technology can serve the rest of the holistic system. When strategy, process, training, reinforcement, and content are aligned, the right technology tools can be chosen to help you execute on those things.
Instead of choosing technology and hoping it will solve problems, you have a holistic system designed to produce the most effective sales team possible. Your technology then becomes the servant of that system and the people in it.
It’s also important that your technology be beautiful and easy to use. Remember that your sales organization is run by humans. Technology that is complex and difficult to manage is demotivating, and will rarely be used. Even when it is used, it affects productivity.
But when the technology is easy to use, beautiful, and helps salespeople accomplish what they want to accomplish, they will be eager to use it. Adoption ceases to be a problem.
In short, effective sales technology:
Serves the needs of a holistic sales system
Is simple and easy to use
Helps salespeople accomplish what they want to accomplish
Serves up training reinforcement and sales enablement content in context
Supports a customer-focused strategy, process, and training
In conclusion, there is no one sales technology purchase that will be your magic potion to sales effectiveness. And, unfortunately, your sales technology “stack” is probably causing you more problems than it’s solving if you buy a point solution for each problem that you face.
Sales technology should not be a drain on sales productivity and profits, yet it often is. To solve this problem, align your customer-focused sales strategy, process, training, reinforcement, and content enablement with simple, beautiful, easy-to-use technology that supports your way of selling. The result will be sales technology investment that more than pays for itself.
George Brontén is the author of Stop Killing Deals and the CEO of Membrain, a sales enablement CRM. George has devoted his life to understanding the success factors that drive effective sales organizations. He shares his insights on the award-winning blog, Art & Science of Complex Sales.