I remember when the first Unplugged wave came up in music. Bands and singers were made to ply their craft or art, all without the aid of technology, automation, sequencing, sampling lip-synching or any of those things that required a socket and cord to work. You quick found out who can play, sing and perform music, and just plain couldn’t, to borrow a phrase “Who was a musician and who was just a star.”
I sometimes wonder what would happen to many people who have a sales title on their card, could survive in an “unplugged sales” world.
I want to start by highlighting that I have nothing against technology, in sales or otherwise. And I also hope that that I do not come across like a luddite, hell bent against progress; in fact the opposite, any progress that drives sales is good. But it should be about sales, not tools that support it. But when you see posts and presenters at conference bragging about the size of their “sales stack”, even as most of their team is struggling to hit any of their metrics including the biggie, quota, it’s time to step back and ask. Maybe it is truer than ever that it’s not the size that counts, but what you do with it. As I highlighted in a piece leveraging data from CEB, the bigger the stack, the smaller the result.
I have witnessed many sales organizations, where during onboarding, reps spend more time learning systems, and processes about the systems; reps hit “field” knowing more about how apps are integrated into their CRM, and how that relates to other systems, than they know about selling, their sales process, and most significantly, understanding their buyers or their buyers’ process. Often to the point where their sales approach is dictated more by their systems capabilities than customer or market realities. There are many benefits to enhancing and extending sales skills with technology, but it has to start and be rooted in sales, not as in many instances, replacing skills and execution.
When watching some sellers in action, you find yourself think about other industries that have transitioned to technology and robotics. While there is a lot of noise about the auto jobs that may or may not have shifted out of the country, when one opens their eyes, and allows a little room for facts along side the emotion, it is clear that many of the jobs were displaced by technology. Which certainly has human implications for the displaced, it does make business and progress sense. The result are better cars, more efficiencies, and for those humans left employed, their skills will have advanced from operating a bolt tightener, to highly technically skilled robotics engineers, or operators.
While this may be fine in an industrial setting where humans were doing repetitive low skilled menial tasks on inanimate objects, does it work as well in sales, where it is still very much a people’s game.
Are You A Seller or App Operator?
Not long ago I was on Andy Paul’s Accelerate Podcast, when we discussed this issue. (I really like Andy’s podcast, having been on twice, it is very much a genuine conversation about sales, good fun). We discussed some of the impacts of over reliance on technology in sales. It often appears that rather than having sales teams, some companies have operators for their sales apps. Gee, I wonder why buyers can’t relate. We agreed that organizations should teach or develop their sales people’s ability to sell before they introduce technology.
It often seems that many of the apps, not all, were developed solely to do things sales people should do but don’t. Again, there are many apps that in the hands of a capable seller enhance the process, client experience, and overall results for all involved. What I am talking about are the ones that really just do things sales people are already paid to do, and don’t, so they by the apps, and consciously or not, the rep goes from being a seller to an app operator, one with much less value to the process than their counterpart at the auto plant.
I saw a recent stat, I believe it was dated February 2016, that cited the following stat that Salesforce’s AppExchange offered more than 2,800 apps, that have led to 3.5 million installs. Surely many of these replace or do things reps should do but are not, rather each enhancing the hard effort reps are bringing to the game.
The question that finally came up on the podcast, is how many of today’s sellers could sell without technology, could they do as well or better than they are now? Can they sell unplugged?
It brought to mind a recent article I read about someone who carjacked a car, only to be foiled by the fact that the car was stick, and he only know how to drive automatic. No car, just jail time.
Source: Huffington Post
Recharge Your Sales
The key is to find the balance, where can technology enhance and add to sellers being able to execute, focus on execute. Once you have developed your reps to the point where they can do all they need to do to engage and take the buyer through the buying cycle successfully, then it is time to add apps to extend their skills and abilities. Any app or tech that can do that is well worth the money. But if you lead with apps, and retro fit the people, then call them what the are, operators, not sellers. Many seems to look at apps as they do at KPI’s. While KPI’s were meant to drive actions and results, they are now things we just check off, and it often feels that the check mark has more value than the desired results they were supposed to deliver.
So please, do plug your reps in, but make sure it is adding to the process, not just doing things that should be done by the rep. If that is where you find yourself, meaning you only need one or the other, invest in the one that can drive results without the other