Many sociologists have tracked the evolution of industrialized societies. One key trend these sociologists often discuss is the definitive impact of new technologies on these civilizations. Since the dawn of times, technological changes such as fire, the wheel, farming, the cotton gin, steel, and automobiles have led to rapid advances in quality of life for individuals. While these advances have translated into huge gains for civilization they have become so mainstream the impact these advances have are long forgotten.
A more recent technological advancement has also had a huge impact on society. Advances in information technology and the Internet are still being felt, not only on consumers and individuals, but also within sales teams trying to cope with the rapidly evolving set of knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to fully harness the dearth of knowledge and information created. Needless to say, salesperson competency has been buffeted by technology in multiple ways.
First, salespeople are no longer the gatekeepers of information about products and services. Buyers arm themselves with information long before the sales call ever occurs. They have access to buying consultants, automatic replenishment systems, decision making models, and customer reviews of products and services. Buyers hold less inventory, want just-in-time inventory, and embrace systematic purchasing.
Second, salespeople are also called upon increasingly to use technology in their jobs. Handheld devices, mobile computing, instant messaging, social networking, and search engines have revolutionized prospect identification. Customer relationship management systems are intended to help salespeople manage and prioritize their contacts. Selling takes place in new venues and channels. For example, the “click to talk live” feature of many websites blends customer service with telesales in a call-center environment. Selling is also becoming the responsibility of nontraditional sales roles, and companies are cross-training installation, service, product-development, and other staff in sales techniques.
While technological advances have shifted the power in the buyer-seller landscape, sales teams have sometimes struggled to keep up. Sales managers and sales trainers have tried to deliver technology into the hands of their sales team and had to improve salesperson skills and knowledge. As a result, sales training needs have evolved at an quicker pace than ever before. Customer Relationship Management software, contact management, email, Internet capabilities, and handheld devices provide more information to today’s salesperson than ever before, yet many salespeople struggle to master the technology (let alone keep up with it). Technology has also helped salespeople stay abreast of product changes, customer changes and market changes. Unfortunately, many sales team members have so much information at their finger tips they have trouble retrieving it quickly.
However, where technology has created many challenges to sale team performance, technology has also provided help. Use of technology in sales training has exploded with the advent of podcasting, video-on-demand, and virtual classrooms like second life. Technology has also provided access to new markets and new prospects through online networking tools (such as LinkedIn) and customized search engines that quickly retrieve the most relevant information. Sales portals organize content and provide an easy way to refresh knowledge or brush up on an industry. And learning management systems allow HR professionals and training professionals to customize course content for new and experienced salespeople.
With all these technology challenges facing sales teams, how can sales managers and sales trainers help?
The following recommendations are given:
RECOMMENDATION 1: understand that technology is not an enabler, it’s now the status-quo. Many organizations implement technology for the sake of technology without understanding the impact to the sales team. More importantly, companies can negate technology roll-outs by not focusing on helping sales teams deliver value, in the eyes of the buyer. Since so many buyers use technology daily, sales teams are expected to use technology in a transparent way. It’s now something like breathing. Everyone does it. However, not every company can leverage technology to align to the customer, streamline communication, and facilitate an exchange of value.
RECOMMENDATION 2: realize that one technology platform or tool doesn’t solve every single challenge faced by the sales team. While some technologies help sales team members serve the customer better, others can actually bog down processes or stifle the creativity needed to truly customize the buyer experience.
RECOMMENDATION 3: realize that bad processes are not helped by technology . Many companies fail to realize that poorly aligned processes and poor policies can impact the buyer-seller relationship more than the use of technology . When these processes and policies are facilitated by technology , the organization just become “better” at getting in it’s own way.