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I was invited to participate in a roundtable on the topic, “Is technology hurting or helping our ability to sell and drive revenue?” It’s a fascinating topic, my response is an unequivocal YES!!!

Before I go further, I have proclaim my obligatory fascination and bias toward all things technology. Most of my career has been working for or with leading technology organizations, spanning electronic components/devices, hardware/systems, licensed/cloud based software, all things communications including devices through the operating companies, through to analytics and AI. I’ve been on the founding teams of several very successful software and analytics companies. To further buff my image, I’m a total geek. I’m one of those that’s in line at 4:00 am waiting to be one of the first buyers of every new geeky technology.

But the issue really isn’t a technology issue, any more than asking, “Does pencil and paper help or hinder our ability to sell and drive revenue?”

The issue is how we exploit the technologies, incorporating them into our customer engagement, sales and marketing strategies. By itself, technology offers nothing but promise and possibility. As implemented, too often technology enables us to create crap at the speed of light.

Technology, as a replacement to things that technology does far better than human beings is powerful. As we look at transactional/order taking selling processes, increasingly exploitation of technology creates greater value/convenience for customers and has the potential for significantly decreasing costs. Stated differently, if you are an order taker, you should be looking for a different career.

We have decades of electronic ordering including EDI, through web based shopping sites/shopping carts, to chatbots helping advise/manipulate us to making certain purchasing decisions.

Already, 10’s of thousands of sales jobs have been displaced by the increasing use of technology for order fulfillment, transactional selling processes. 10’s-100’s of thousands more of these jobs will be displaced in the coming 5-10 years.

But now let’s look at the application of technologies to complex buying/selling processes. It offers huge promise, in our own company it has enabled us to more quickly and more deeply research markets, customers, individuals. We are leveraging technologies to recognize patterns in markets, organizations, and functions within organizations. I get daily alerts that enable me to more accurately reach out and engage the right customers, with the right insight/messages, at the right time. Within our own company and a small number of our clients we have seen technology enable huge results and dramatically improve productivity.

Unfortunately, I have to say that most of the applications of technology I see actually hurt our abilities to drive sales and revenue. But it’s not the fault of the tool, but how we exploit–or fail to exploit the promise of the tool.

Some examples:

Marketing automation platforms have been around for at least a decade. They provide us very rich capability for segmenting, targeting, personalizing our messaging to our customers. They can tell us, “Based on Dave’s history with us, we should reach him with content about these issues/topics, but not send him materials about these issues and topics. We should also send him materials at this frequency, and we should make sure to call his company Partners In EXCELLENCE, not Excellenc (our web URL).

And this is the most basic application of marketing automation technology.

While these platforms have tremendous promise, very few organizations actually exploit it. Instead, it’s far easier to send everything to everyone. As an example, this morning, in the space of 75 minutes, I got three different emails from the same Sales Enablement platform giant. They were presenting 3 different things, only one of which was slightly relevant to me. The others had absolutely no applicability because they were for applications and businesses very different than ours. This company should have “known” me better, we’ve done business with them and have had lots of engagements of varying types.

We see data supporting this. Email data–opens, click throughs, forwards are plummeting. To get the same number of responses, volumes of electronic garbage have skyrocketed.

Other platforms have the same problem. I can’t imagine a sales person or organization not using CRM. Our own company would struggle if we didn’t have CRM. Yet, CRM compliance/utilization remains a huge issue.

We have all incorporated new technology language into our vocabularies–I suppose because it’s modern and cool, but we talk glibly about “sales stacks,” and get into the frat party comparisons, “mine is bigger than yours….” But when we audit utilization, people aren’t using them.

Other technologies–not because of the technology, but the way we’ve implemented them are driving customers away, rather than enhancing our ability to reach and engage customers. Power diallers and related technologies are supposed to help us actually reach customers and talk to people. Instead, we have managed to train prospects and customers not to pick up the phone. Do a random survey of your colleagues, customers, and friends. How many answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize–particularly those with the area code and exchange exactly matching yours?

Then there is the “distraction effect” of technology. Countless studies show how just the visible presence of our mobile devices create micro distractions. Cumulatively, these distractions accumulate to hours in a day.

We think–or rather don’t think–about technology correctly. We mis-apply it, using it as a crutch, not a tool, in effect, dumbing down our sales organizations. We are fast losing the ability to think critically, to listen, to engage in deep conversations.

We have technology vendors selling great technology very poorly. For example, one vendor tells me all I have to do is ask 4 questions in the discovery process or that my introductory pitch has to be 9.1 minutes, not 11.4 minutes. Doing these cause us to win–the data clearly shows this.

I tried this recently, I met with a prospect, I planned my call to focus on 4 discovery questions. Carefully crafted, rechecking the math, I asked, “Hi, my name is Dave, what’s yours?” “I see you’ve been having cold weather recently, how’s it impacted you?” “What did you think about the game last night?” “Are you the decision-maker?”

You can guess how impactful that call was. I left confused, I had asked 4 questions, that should have been a slam dunk for a win!

Technology is a great excuse for failure. It’s all too easy to blame the new tool, rather than our inept implementation and utilization of the tool–it’s never our fault, it’s the tool’s.

You know I can go on and on, but I’ll stop here.

The problem isn’t the technology. Technology can enable us to do great things to drive sales and revenue. It also can do the opposite.

The real issue is the people side of technology—how do we sell it, how do we use it, are we using it to maximum impact? It’s all the thinking that underlies the tools we choose and our strategies to exploit them to achieve the goals we want. It’s hard work, there are no shortcuts, and too often it is simply not done.

As had been said so many times before, “A fool with a tool/technology is still a fool.”