The Trouble with High Tech Sales Tools

I’ve been involved in the sales efforts of leading edge technologies for more than 20 years: ultrafast LCDs, liquid crystal holographic optics, virtual reality, digital micro displays, aerospace composites, etc. It doesn’t matter whether the company is a Silicon Valley startup or a Fortune 100 conglomerate–I see the same old types of approaches to selling. While product technologies being sold move ahead at light speed, “sales process technology” ambles forward at a more earthly pace.

You might disagree and rightly point out products from Salesforce, InsideView, comScore, and so on. However, I think of these as high-tech sales tools allowing selling organizations to do more with less. These are fantastic products, don’t get me wrong, but do they reach their full potential when the underlying sales processes have not changed all that much? I loved using Business Objects and had to beg permission from sales management to slice & dice my own data searching for hidden patterns left undetected by the canned sales reports.

I was working for 3M at the time and it was as if they’d purchased Ferraris for the sales force but detuned them into Fiestas before letting us drive into our territories. Even then it was still difficult for the sales (and marketing) people to understand and effectively use the sales technologies being adopted at the highest levels of the organization. I took part in a Six Sigma project to roll out a SAP CRM implementation. Time after time I was stymied when trying to take advantage of the power and flexibility of theses new technologies. Instead we essentially digitized the same old process that had been used in the prior system in a round-robin going all the way back to pencil and paper.

New systems were rolled out ostensibly for the benefit of the sales teams. How many times did I hear the pitch, “You guys are going to LOVE this!”? What would inevitable follow amongst my sales brethren was eye-rolling, groans, and the implicit understanding that we were soon in for a problematic implementation with a steep learning curve ending with more hours spent documenting at home for no additional pay. All this so that business unit management could roll up the information to make better predictions to senior management whose butts were on the line to the CEO whose butt was on the line to the Board of Directors and the shareholders. Did I ever hear a salesperson say, “This technology is awesome! I’m killing my quotas, getting home early for dinner with the kids, and sleeping like a baby all because of that new software management gifted us from heaven!”? No, I didn’t.

The better a sales person was, the more he or she could ignore any new system and keep selling the old fashioned way. One of the best and most senior of my sales colleagues would mumble, “Here we go again.” He’d survived 27 years of management shakeups, strategic re-orgs and new software rollouts, without being seduced by any of the changes. Ultimately, we all knew, it was “beating numbers” that made one successful, not early adoption of new technology.

That’s not to say it wasn’t possible: I used the power of SAP to organize several disorganized seller/buyer engineering teams. Derailed multimillion dollar projects needed to get back on track before going to corporate fisticuffs, e.g. expensive litigation and soured corporate relations. One project involved positioning systems for nuclear subs carrying Trident missiles, and another for anti-rotation systems for satellites needing to see terrorist nose hairs from outer space (well, more like near-earth orbit).

These were important projects that deserved the time and effort to master new software tools. But is that the typical case if you, for example, need to close a $50,000 abrasives purchase order with an aircraft repair station? Not as much. You have to close a LOT of those POs to make your number and you’re not going to do it at your desk (or in your car on a tablet).

My vision is to upgrade the sales process itself to match the software technology now available to selling organizations. I’ve spent the last ten years formulating my ideas. Now it’s time to build a team and raise some money.

Consider SalesPhase to be a catalyst that can supercharge the interaction between sellers, buyers and cool new CRM, data, and analytic tools. But first we need to go beyond the standard sales pipeline…far beyond.

Follow me on Twitter, John Clark, @SalesPhase to comment or discuss privately.

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