With the widespread adoption of sales force automation and CRM in recent years, it is probably a good time to stop and ask: Is sales becoming too automated? What is the purpose of sales reps? Do we even need them anymore? A rhetorical question, but the expectations we should have with automation are worth looking at.
Sales automation software/services are definitely a valuable investment in today’s market. Increased competition, fragmented leads data, longer sales cycles and expanding sales force together can be a dreadful plight. The more effort you put to get sales, the more likely you are to feel frustrated by reduced productivity. SFA software eliminates the necessary (but time-consuming) tasks associated with selling. Result: sales professionals get freed up from the tedious, repetitive behind-the-scenes work. They are enabled to do what they are best at – hardcore selling. The well intentioned idea behind automation is that if we adopt a systematic view to sales, and squeeze greater efficiency out of the process – efficiency in the form of automation – we’d never miss an opportunity, driving higher close rates and revenue.
But with automation comes a potential risk – one that sales teams need to be aware of. Here’s the problem: last I checked, sales automation tools don’t close deals and make quotas – sales people do. Yet when we start relying too much on automating the sales process, we can stray away from the crucial sales component of delivering higher value, customer-specific conversations that are needed to let sales reps win. The human element in sales can be forgotten. But the saying is true – people buy from people. We are at risk of losing some of the core skills of selling and salesmanship when we over-rely on data.
This isn’t just a risk we face in the business world. We risk losing valuable (sometimes vital) skills in any job or activity when we begin to put our knowledge in the hands of machines. It is both a blessing and a curse of 21st century advancements in technology. A pilot, for example, doesn’t have all that much to do during an hour-long trip. Autopilot lets the software do the flying. Automation has become so sophisticated that on a typical passenger flight, a human pilot holds the controls for a grand total of just three minutes. But let’s say one day something goes wrong. The autopilot disconnects and the captain needs to take over the controls. But not being use to flying manually, the pilot may have forgotten some of the core training or skills for dealing with these situations. Reacting under pressure, he does precisely the wrong thing: he jerks back on the yoke, lifting the plane’s nose and reducing its airspeed, instead of pushing the yoke forward to gain velocity. Rather than preventing a stall, the pilot’s action caused one.
An extreme example, maybe, but this is what can happen when we depend too much on automation technology and start to lose core skills or knowledge about our craft. It can erode our expertise and dull our reflexes, leading to what Jan Noyes, an ergonomics expert at Britain’s University of Bristol, terms “a de-skilling of the crew.”
A pilot’s job is knowing how to fly. A sales person’s job is knowing how to sell. Automation, for all its benefits, can take a toll on the performance and talents of those who rely on it. Seeking convenience, speed, and efficiency, we rush to off-load work to computers without reflecting on what we might be sacrificing as a result. Sales force automation, marketing automation and CRM can be enormously beneficial for a company, but without talented sales reps who know how to close a deal, automation tools and software aren’t worth anything. These automating technologies are designed to facilitate talented reps to perform at their best – to equip them with the relevant knowledge they need and save them time and energy on research and other non-selling activities. The art of selling must not be taken for granted.
Business author, Cian McLoughlin, is concerned that the incessant driving of new technology and methodologies into sales and marketing sometimes overshadows the need for salespeople to be human. He says that it “can lead to a negative impact on the first impression you make with your customer”. He claims that the application of technology often has the unintentional effect in the mind of the salesperson of “reducing the customer to a line item on a spreadsheet.” What that does is it divorces the level of empathy and interpersonal skills that are actually required, certainly in the B2B world, to make that connection with your customer, and ultimately to move the conversation forward to a point where it might turn into a sale. If all our effort becomes focused on the commoditization of the sales process, we’ll lose the human element, and by doing that we’re missing out on a really, really integral part of selling, which is people.
But let me be clear – in today’s highly complex and competitive market, sales force automation software is a valuable investment that will help companies increase sales win rates, reduces the sales cycle duration, enhance sales representatives productivity and improve revenue. SFA software is designed to eliminate many of the necessary – but time-consuming – tasks associated with selling. But it won’t eliminate selling itself.
Automating your processes and workflow will help businesses generate sales revenue by enabling them to focus on what’s important — more selling and less administration. The rest of their time will be spent building customer relationships and closing deals. So once implemented, put technology and methods to one side and then focus on the human qualities that you bring to the table, the credibility and the authority. That’s what’s going to help you to establish rapport, and ultimately to get the job done.
We need to remember that the selling process is less about automation or even about technology. It’s about people and always has been. This is where most of a company’s focus should lie. Organizations need to be applying technology to help the pressured sales rep, NOT by automating away the people function, but in helping them find the right people, understand each prospect and their industry, and ultimately drive the relationship to sale.