Why Your New Sales Technology Tools Won’t Solve Your Sales Problem

This post originally appeared here in the Selling Power blog.

All sales organizations have problems. Sales technologies or tools solve problems. Logic would seem to tell us that all we need to do is match a technology to a problem and voilà – problem solved!

Yet, as every sales leader knows, this is not how it works. All too commonly, organizations apply technology in an effort to fix their pressing sales challenges but their expectations for it go unrealized. Why?

There are a couple reasons for this dilemma. First, tools are just that – tools. They don’t conduct activities or think through problems – people do. When companies employ a tool expecting it to solve the problem, they set themselves up for disappointment since it is people who need to solve it. Second, there often isn’t enough direct linkage between the tool and the real problem. In many cases, a tool is brought in to address a symptom of a problem because the company has never identified the root cause of that problem. In these cases, implementation can sometimes exacerbate the issue or create entirely new problems.

Take CRM as an example. Let’s say a sales organization purchases a CRM system in order to improve forecasting through better visibility into the pipeline. And then, let’s say, a sales leader takes a look at the pipeline and realizes: “Uh-oh! Based on our average close rate and the number of deals in the pipeline, we aren’t going to make our numbers this quarter.” So he or she instructs the team to go out and make their pipelines bigger. They do. But now the pipeline is inflated and reps are putting time and energy into deals that won’t close. So the pipeline looks full and the pipeline math indicates the company should meet its quarterly targets. But it’s a mirage. The poor quality of leads means the forecasts are still off and, to add insult to injury, win rates are sliding.

When leaders bring in technology to solve a problem without fully understanding its root cause, we often see the emergence of additional challenges. In this case, the root cause of, say, uneven forecasting might be that sellers aren’t spending enough time qualifying deals in the early stages. By teaching reps how to better qualify deals and putting emphasis here, they would better learn where to spend their time and which deals are most likely to turn into sales. In turn, this discernment would improve forecasting and boost win rates. While CRM could certainly be helpful as an aid here, it is not the solution.

I recently worked with a client that had invested half a million dollars in an automated call planning system. It had been implemented in response to complaints by reps who, as a result of inconsistent performance in sales calls, were required to create 10 call plans a week. Done manually, this task had been taking them five hours a week. The technology, with templates and drop-down lists, reduced the burden to mere minutes.

When the quality of sales calls didn’t improve, the company brought me in to take a look at the issue, and I knew right away we had a problem. The whole point of call planning is to think through an upcoming call  – but the automated system had removed the need to think. Moreover, sales managers had suddenly found themselves with 100 call plans in their in-boxes for review every week. Overwhelmed, they weren’t looking at any of them. The situation was a classic case of trying to use a technology to solve a symptom of a deeper problem.

To get a handle on the situation, I asked the sales leader to find five great call plans out of the hundreds reps had created. He came up empty. “There are no good call plans,” he admitted. “Reps are just throwing things together to meet the requirement for 10 plans and managers aren’t catching it because there are too many to look at.”

We went back to the original problem: inconsistent execution of sales calls. To tackle it, I recommended the company drop the requirement for 10 call plans a week. Instead, I urged sales managers to spend one hour per month with every rep on the team and work to create one or two great call plans in that time. Quality over quantity. The recommendation raised a critical question: If reps were creating one or two great plans instead of 30-40 bad ones, which targets were worth a call plan? The question led the company to more clearly define what constituted a great opportunity, how to target those opportunities, and how to better plan interactions with them. Sales results improved and the company scrapped the half-million-dollar call planning system.

If you turn to technology to solve a problem, you are likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Rather than seeking a technology fix, seek the input of those who are living the problem and can help think through root causes so you solve the right problem with the right solution. Sometimes the answer is sales technology. Often, it is not.