Years ago, Michael McCafferty, the inventor of Telemagic, urged me to write a story about the coming revolution in sales force automation (SFA). He insisted that computers and SFA software would replace such traditional contact-management tools as the Rolodex and index cards. At the time, our staff was using typewriters, our publication was still in newsprint, and our circulation department had just purchased an IBM computer with a 10MB hard drive.
After we ran a cover story on SFA, we witnessed a period of explosive growth in the field. In 1985, there were only a few dozen small vendors serving the market. Today, there are thousands of sales-software vendors operating worldwide.
Back in ’85, most salespeople could not envision email, sending faxes from a laptop, or remotely uploading new sales leads while sitting in an airline lounge. Today, SFA has accelerated and simplified the communication process. With one mouse click, a marketer can send a hot sales lead directly to a salesperson's computer.
Information technology also speeds up the buying process. Today, every four seconds a new Website is added to the millions already in existence. It’s commonplace for prospects to shop for products and solutions online, bypassing the salesperson. As customers become more educated, salespeople must know more – and more relevant –information to stay competitive.
Sales technology has fundamentally changed the way people buy and sell. Has selling become easier? No. Has sales management become easier? No. Has the cost per sales call decreased? No. But the speed of sales, sales and work volume, and complexity in data and people management have increased. The biggest paradox about sales technology is that, although in many ways it has simplified the management of information, it has increased the complexity involved in managing technology.
Who will win the race for sales success? Sales managers who are able to master the complexity of sales technology and thus simplify the process for their sales team. That involves choosing the best vendors, consultants, trainers, and selling system. It also involves a constant commitment to upgrading and improving the technology.
Companies that win today train their salespeople to reduce complexity for the customer. Top salespeople today have the best technology and possess a greater ability to access, comprehend, interpret, package, and simplify information for the customer. Customers will buy more from the salesperson who offers them all the information they need to make a decision. In the age of complexity, customers will seek out salespeople who make the buying experience faster, friendlier, and simpler.