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The latest tools and apps are useless if they don't increase productivity Add to ...

A core promise of technology in business has always been increased productivity. Among the many benefits technology has delivered since the Industrial Revolution has been greater and better output. Looking at the many sales tools and apps that have become available to individuals and sales organizations, one would think that productivity would increase in some corollary fashion. But that has not always been the case – nor is it usually the fault of the technology, but instead the human side of the equation. Not only do sales people need to be more accountable for efficiency gains, but so do their managers and sales organizations.

Most organizations introduce the tools for the right reasons, but many fail to introduce a corresponding change in their process, expectations and management. Without that, many of the improvements touted in the brochure don’t materialize in the real world. The top apps on salesforce.com’s AppExchange are great tools, all purporting to change your sales flow and results, but only when rolled out properly.

I remember speaking to the CEO of an automated dialer provider. The company has documented how it can deliver the same number of conversations in two hours that traditionally took six or more hours. When I asked if there was a corresponding lift in results, he responded, “I can’t do anything about the human factor.” Productivity gains, yes; improved results, not always. This is where process and management come in.

Many companies take an either-or approach. “We can train our people or we can invest in technology, no budget for both.” Sales people tell their managers that they could do better “if only” – if only they had this tool, that app, access to this data provider, or the premium version of that service. Success is always just one app away.

To fully harness and leverage the productivity gains offered by technology, organizations need to MAP out a success path – right from the top, through to the front-line managers and the sales team.

Metrics Accountability Process – Change requires measurement, understanding the starting point, setting a goal, then measuring the incremental improvements that lead to desired results. Why are we introducing this technology? How will it change execution? If we automate the quotes process, where and how will we invest the time recouped? What’s the expected gain over what period and how do we measure it? Putting a technology into place and saying where it will reduce effort – without at the same time setting expectations for where and how to reinvest that gain – is a formula for failure. The natural tendency is for sales people and their organizations to say it will lead to more sales, but rarely how, or how the steps will be measured.

Accountability – This is a two-way street: Just as the front line has to be accountable for its adoption of the new tools and expected results, so, too, is leadership accountable for helping team members work through the change, and not on their own. Most failed CRM (customer relationship management) rollouts are a result of management only focusing on what’s in it for them, not how it will help the front line sell better.

Process – Sales teams need a process, highlighting the activities, objectives and desired outcomes to be measured, as well as other factors. Under normal circumstances, sales processes have to be dynamic, evolving with the market or ahead of it. Many sales processes are static, seldom changing – and when they do, it is usually in reaction to a negative, as opposed to a proactive, evolution. As you introduce technology, you not only need to update your overall sales process but bring in a process for the change you are about to introduce to a team that already has a full plate. As with training, this requires a long tail of support and reinforcement. Left on their own, or with only online tutorials, adoption and returns will be slow, non-existent or, worse, distract sales people and slow them down.

This is why front-line managers are crucial for success. They can lead the process, the activities and changes in execution required to assimilate the tool and benefits. Demonstrating accountability for the reps’ and implementation’s success, they are in the best position to use metrics to reinforce the process and the benefits that the new technology was introduced to produce.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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