A colleague specializing in sales and marketing automation tools is fond of saying, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” My variation of this is that often tools enable us to “Create crap at the speed of light.”

Tools have a wonderful way of amplifying our capabilities. We can not only drive greater velocity, but also far greater volume and reach. In the hands of fools, tools enable us to not only execute poorly at very high velocity, but to spread the pain of that poor execution across a much broader range of victims, I mean prospects/customers.

With that as a starting thesis, there some interesting and ironic pieces to this story. One of the hottest segments is Marketing And Sales Automation. Every year organizations like Martech inventory the number of vendors supplying sales and marketing automation tools. The number of firms providing these tools is skyrocketing. Literally 1000’s of new tools appear on the market every year.

Companies are spending 10’s of billions in providing their sales people these tools. Presumably, they invest in these tools to help their people sell more, more effectively and more efficiently.

The other side of the coin is the data on sales performance. One of the favorite data points is percent of people making plan. For some years, CSO Insights has shown a continued decline in that number. Right now it’s somewhere in the mid 50% range, dropping from the 60’s some years ago. Other market research firms show similar trends.

As you pause to reflect, none of this makes sense. If we are investing more and more in tools, along with that, training, content, and other things to enable sales people, we would expect performance to be improving quite remarkably.

Instead we see the exact opposite, performance is declining.

As I speak to sales executives, qualitatively, I see similar things happening. They are spending more and more on these tools, but not seeing the return. A lot of it is people aren’t using these tools. It’s astounding that we are seeing second and third generation CRM tools, yet compliance is still the dominant issue—people aren’t using them.

Should we blame the tool suppliers? Well, not entirely. They have outstanding data about producing great results. Tools in the hands of great sales people amplify their abilities to perform tremendously. I’m a great fan of many of these tools and we leverage them to great impact.

It seems the problem is that we aren’t addressing the “fools” piece of this issue. We aren’t looking at the sales people, improving the quality and capabilities of the people in our organizations. We can’t take mediocre or poor sales people and expect them to get better by providing them tools.

Yet too many managers have this strategy. Too many managers think that providing the tools will make mediocre and poor performers get better. Rather than addressing the selection and performance of sales people, they think that technology will make the mediocre or poor sales people better.

“If we just give them better leads……”

“If we give them more insight about the customer….”

“If we give them tools to be more productive…..”

Whatever the rationalizations, a fool with a tool is still a fool. Extend that to our average and mediocre players, they will still be average, unless we directly address the issues that stand in the way of performance.

There are basically two strategies to address this.

One, as many people write about, is to displace the sales person. To move as much online as possible, enabling the customer to self educate, evaluate, and buy completely untouched by human hands. In some sense, one might think of Amazon as the greatest sales automation tool invented.

Clearly, there are products and services that are more transactional in the buying/selling process, where it makes huge sense to move these to some sort of online platform—there go all the order takers (even the good ones).

But we’re still left with the complex B2B buying processes. Where customers really need help.

Digital helps, it enables customers to conduct some of their buying journey digitally through web research. Huge amounts are being invested here, unfortunately, too much of is is still self promotional, offering little more than web based billboards screaming “buy my product.” But learning about a product is just a small part of the customer buying/problem solving journey.

We need sales people to help customers with the remaining parts of that journey.

It’s here that we have the problem, and the tools won’t fix this. Until we address the basic issues of performance of our people, we will never be able to leverage the tools to their full potential.

Managers can’t ignore this. Managers can’t keep thinking, “just give them more tools….” Managers have to make sure they have the right people in place. They have to coach and develop those people to reach the levels of performance required in the organization. Only then, will we be able to leverage the real value of the tools. Until managers focus on this, we are just providing fools more tools.

Afterword: There’s an interesting way to think about AI in this context. There are those that speak about Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence is really focused on displacing the sales person. It’s just the next generation of web based shopping tools. There are those that speak about Augmented Intelligence (I tend to be in this camp). These tools can help great sales people perform even better, but a fool with Augmented Intelligence is still…….