Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International Inc.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that sales professionals and customers are more “connected” than ever before.
To prepare for the future of selling, we must contend with the fact that we have access to exponentially more information than we had just a decade ago. Companies are investing billions of dollars in sales technologies, such as customer relationship and sales force management systems (CRM and SFA, respectively), to increase the sales team’s insight on customer and prospect demographics and behavior; however, organizations are not realizing a return in sales performance improvement. In fact, just the opposite is true.
According to Accenture’s latest report, “Powering Profitable Sales Growth – Five Imperatives,” the number of representatives achieving their sales goals has declined from 67 percent in 2013 to 50 percent in 2014 (even with sales quotas generally lower in 2014 than in 2013), and revenue target achievement is down by more than 5 percent.
How is it possible that, in the face of this new insight and our extraordinary investment in performance technology, global sales performance is dropping? Because information does not ensure understanding, insight does not equal connection, and CRM is not a customer relationship.
It is time to consider that we have become overly dependent on technology and perhaps unrealistic in our expectations of its role in our sales performance. The result is an overly complicated, multitasking sales environment with a higher focus on technology and less on customer diagnostics, engagement, and experience. Neglecting the customer relationship undermines the influence and collaboration essential to a productive sales process.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Subtle Ways Our Screens Are Pushing Us Apart,” Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski introduces the phrase “virtual distance” to explain the dynamic of substituting screen intelligence for human connection. She writes, “Virtual distance is a sense of psychological and emotional detachment that begins to grow little by little and unconsciously when most encounters and experiences are mediated by screens on smart devices.”
Keyboard-tapping sales professionals who dive deep into data without proportional customer engagement and exploratory conversations will lack context that reveals who their customers are, their attitudes, and their motivations. Sobel-Lojeski observes:
…today’s workforce has more than enough tools to send information back and forth to people all over the world. But those tools – and the use of them – do not necessarily constitute collaboration… Genuine collaboration is achieved through ongoing meaningful exchanges between people who share a passion and respect for one another… Ultimately, new innovations and critical problem solving are realized through relationships.
The impact of technological improvements is dramatic and profound; at this juncture, not having the insight provided by CRM/SFA tools would put any sales organization at a perilous disadvantage. The key understanding, however, is that sales technology is not a substitute for the foundational role of the sales professional.
Technology cannot develop customer relationships nor interpret data to identify the strongest business-development opportunities and most valuable insight and solutions for customers. Savvy sales leaders will view sales technologies as tools to facilitate customer engagement, not as a substitute for customer engagement.